China to build overseas film distribution networks

It was announced on Friday that China is going to build global networks to distribute domestic Chinese movies, aimed at Chinese audiences overseas and having a bigger say in the global film market.
Poster of "The Monkey King 2" [Photo: mtime.com]


Under the guidance of the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), China Media Capital (CMC) Holdings Limited together with China Lion Film Distribution Inc. announced they will build a platform to form global Chinese film distribution networks, which will help Chinese films to screen for target audiences overseas and help Chinese domestic-made films more actively participate in the global market.
Internationally famous Chinese actors Jackie Chan and Gong Li will take the job as the promotional ambassadors for the platform. "The Monkey King 2," an upcoming blockbuster fantasy film produced by Hong Kong-based Filmko Pictures, will be the first film through the new platform to be released simultaneously in Chinese mainland market during the Spring Festival season and in more than 50 major cities in North America, Europe, Australia and Asia. Another Chinese detective comedy "Detective Chinatown" will also be arranged for screening during China's lunar New Year. In future, the global distribution platform will gradually expand to more than 100 cities in the world, it was announced on Friday at a press conference.
Jing Junhai, vice minister of the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, said that Chinese films have had a growing influence in the world as China's cultural brand since the execution of the "Belt and Road" initiative. He hoped this Chinese domestic film distribution platform could not only help Chinese people around the world enjoy Chinese culture and Chinese film development, but also tell Chinese stories and show the Chinese spirit to the people of the world.
Tong Gang, the deputy director general of SAPPRFT, said Chinese films have achieved a great leap forward and will try to find new growth opportunities in the wider global market. The new platform will help the Chinese film industry's development.
Chinese film distribution wasn't profitable at all before CMC Holdings' investment into China Lion Film Distribution Inc. China Lion was founded by Jiang Yanming in October 2010 and has been the first company devoted to distributing Chinese films in North America. Chinese film giants Huayi Brothers Media Corporation and Bona Film Group Ltd. both have "strategic stakes" in China Lion. However, the Los Angeles-based company has been suffering from losses since its founding, and the US$4 million investment was spent very quickly.
The best box office results for most Chinese films released in North America in 2015 didn't amount to more than US$500,000, according to China Lion representatives, and many films can only earned hundreds or tens of thousands of U.S. dollars. Usually, there are no more than 50 theaters secured for Chinese releases, and most films can only manage to be screened in five or six U S. theaters.

2015 witnessed milestones for the Chinese film industry. In the domestic market, the total grosses of Chinese and foreign films screened in China was more than 40 billion yuan (US$6.08 billion), breaking various box office records. In the foreign market, Chinese home-made films made 2.77 billion yuan (US$421 million) in total, a 48.13 percent increase from the previous year. "Lost in Hong Kong," "Mr. Six," and "Goodbye Mr. Loser" all made around US$1.3 million.

"It was very hard to distribute Chinese films in previous years," Jiang said. "Chinese films lack international distribution potential and audiences have not established a movie going habit for Chinese films. But we still have faith for future Chinese releases overseas, and we have continued to explore the foreign market for more than five years. Now, we have reached a turning point. The distribution channels we have can already satisfy the needs of Chinese film companies and of Chinese audiences overseas. "

The No.1 Chinese film released in North America is still the Academy-Award-winning "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" with US$128 million income. Zhang Yimou's "Hero" came in second grossing US$53.71 million. No.3 is "Jet Li's Fearless" which earned US$24.63 million while Stephen Chow's "Kung Fu Hustle" grossed US$17.1 million. The most recent hit was Wong Kar-wai's "The Grandmaster," grossing US$6.59 million, according to box office tracking website BoxOfficeMojo.com. However, all of these films were distributed by local American distributors.

CMC Holdings wanted a Chinese distribution network. CMC will invest tens of millions of U.S. dollars into China Lion, Xie Li, an executive at CMC Holdings revealed to National Business Daily, "Chinese people in foreign countries are now in a new shape. More and more Chinese people living abroad want to see new Chinese films," Xie said, "We will work with China Lion to build a bigger platform."

However, he confessed that CMC didn't expect to earn much money from the platform. "Domestic Chinese films will not make good money for foreign distributors; they cannot even cover their distributing costs. It's considered very good to see an investment return within three years. However, it is time to place our positions on the map."

After the CMC funds come in, Jiang said China Lion will use the money to focus on exploring European distribution channels, targeting major theater chains.

"The time has come for overseas business for Chinese films," said Li Ruigang, chairman of China Media Capital, "there are 45 million Chinese people around the world who have a great appetite for modern entertainment culture from the Chinese mainland. Especially now, more and more Chinese students are going overseas, and the structure of the Chinese populations in the foreign countries has fundamentally changed as more and more Mandarin-speaking and highly-educated Chinese people are there. They are our audience base for the foreign release of Chinese films."

The growth of the Chinese film market will place rigid demands on foreign release channels while the establishment of the global distribution system will also help Chinese producers to nurture their international senses, he added.

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