English a must for China's future film stars

For the thousands of aspiring actors applying to the Beijing Film Academy this year, an English test might be what stands between them and their dreams.

More than 7,600 applicants competed for 45 places in acting classes during a three-day examination that ended on Wednesday, meaning only one out of 170 will be selected, said Sun Lijun, the academy's vice president.

He said 30,000 students had applied to the academy this year, a 23.4 percent increase on last year. They are competing for just 430 places. Other arts colleges, such as the Central Academy of Drama and Communication University of China, have also seen record numbers of applicants for film-related majors.

Luo Yi, from south China's Guangdong Province, was one of the hopefuls who traveled to Beijing to sit the exam.

"Being an actress would let me experience all walks of life. That's my dream," she said.

Total box office revenue in China has rocketed from 10 billion yuan (US$1.5 billion) to 44 billion yuan over the past five years, giving hope to many young actors that their dreams can become reality.

However, students specializing in film and other arts majors often load up on creative classes while skipping traditional subjects such as English.

A circular issued by the Ministry of Education in December required art colleges to establish a minimum standard for traditional academic scores.

At the Beijing Film Academy, drama applicants took three rounds of tests or interviews during the exam, including tests for academic knowledge and English.

"The English test included vocabulary, grammar, reading comprehension and writing. It was very hard for me," one applicant said after the test.

Hollywood has been targeting China, one of the world's biggest film markets, by including Chinese stars in movies. Chinese faces have appeared in blockbusters such as "Resident Evil," "Transformers" and the "X-Men" series.

Domestic and foreign companies are also working together to produce films.

China Media Capital and Warner Brothers Entertainment are forming a joint venture for film production and international distribution headquartered in Hong Kong and the company's first production is expected to hit screens this year.

In January, Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group announced its acquisition of Hollywood's Legendary Entertainment for US$3.5 billion, the largest overseas "cultural acquisition" by a Chinese company to date.

Film festivals in Beijing and Shanghai have also served as platforms for international cooperation. China has signed contracts with countries including France, Britain and Spain, to make films.

Hou Guangming, Party head of the academy, said the English test was to remind students of the importance of foreign language competence, in addition to their artistic talent, as China's film industry goes global.

Technical majors were also popular this year, which has been attributed to the recent popularity of sci-fi blockbusters.

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