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UPDATED: February 11, 2010 NO. 7 FEBRUARY 18, 2010
Entering the Spotlight

The General Office of the State Council promulgated the Guidelines on Promoting the Prosperous Development of the Movie Industry on January 25. During a recent interview with Guangming Daily, Zhang Pimin, Vice Minister of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, talked about the prospects and problems of the Chinese movie industry. Excerpts follow:

Despite the global financial crisis, Chinese movies achieved better-than-expected results in 2009. Why has the movie industry seen such favorable returns?

The Chinese movie industry witnessed remarkable growth in terms of box office figures, overall movie production, and the number of screens and audiences in 2009, the seventh year of its overall industrialization reform.

Encouraged by state policies, some 16 state-owned film studios in Tianjin Municipality, Inner Mongolia and Ningxia Hui autonomous regions, among other locations, established shareholding companies. Privately owned film enterprises continued to maintain their vitality. The successful listing of Huayi Brothers Media Corp. on China's NASDAQ-style ChiNext indicates that the investment and financing of Chinese movies has been officially brought into the financial system, compelling the film industry to develop and modernize.

Domestic films once feared competition with foreign rivals, but now quite a few Chinese-made movies have made substantial contributions to China's box office. Besides the substantial improvements to the quality of films, what are the advantages generated by film industrialization?

Competing against foreign movies such as Transformers 2, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and 2012, Chinese movies accounted for 56.6 percent of domestic revenues in 2009, beating their foreign counterparts for the seventh consecutive year. Chinese movies are more attached to the emotional appeals of domestic audiences and they reflect the social reality with plural ideas and techniques.

Industrialization has prompted domestic films to develop more diversified genres. The mainstream commercial film has entered a relatively mature period of growth, with movie quality and production skills substantially improving. In addition to action, drama and comedy films, which have already been well recognized by the market, other genres like espionage and science fiction have also started to attract audiences.

The Chinese film industry has both cultural and market advantages as more of a spotlight has been cast on Chinese culture and Chinese elements boosted by several thousand years of civilization and incessant changes from the reform and opening up policy in 1978. From history to modern society, the supply of subjects and themes for movie productions are plentiful. Besides, China has a huge market potential with a population of 1.3 billion, whose demand for culture and art is growing as living standards improve.

Chinese blockbusters play an integral role in the development of the domestic film industry, but low-budget films also need to make their way into mainstream cinemas. How do these films play into China's film industry?

Today, Chinese blockbusters are confronted with further breakthroughs in their artistic quality and spiritual function. They should disseminate mainstream values and promote traditional Chinese culture and virtue in more artistic way.

In China, low-budget films still predominate the market. Among them, those that are well conceived and include vibrant visual effects should be attached importance to. There were about 20 low-budget films popular among audiences in 2009, such as Sophie's Revenge and Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf. This year we hope the total number of low-budget films will increase to 50.

With the development of the film distribution and projection network as well as the popularization of the mid-range digital cinema circuit, a multi-level distribution and projection network has been formed covering the national mainstream market, the second-tier market and the rural market. As a result, while blockbusters reap huge box office profits, a wide variety of low-budget films are also being shown in cinemas to serve different audience tastes—a result of the fairly reasonable structure that has been formed in the film market.

What are the bottlenecks for the industrialization of the Chinese movie industry? What are the difficulties that need to be addressed?

The development of Chinese movie industry is still in its initial stage.

First, the development of urban cinemas lags behind that of the whole industry, with considerable regional differences. Modern multi-hall cinemas are mostly built in large and medium-sized cities. Small and second-tier cities are much slower in this regard, with some regions being designated "blind zones" for movie screens. Compared to the potential audience of 1.3 billion people, 4,723 screens are far from enough to answer this demand.

Second, the expansion of the market requires high quality films that are appealing to audiences. Generally speaking, there's a lot of room for improvement concerning the current quality of movies since films are goods with both entertaining and social functions.

We're making substantial progress, but there are still gaps to be filled. While pursuing maximum commercial value, films are relatively weak in representing cultural values and slow to make artistic innovations. Some films tend to be homogenous with unitary subject matter and monotonous techniques. They also contain too much violence. While learning advanced filming methods from others, we also need to think about such questions concerning how to maintain the traditional aspects of Chinese movies.

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