China's Hollywood Debut
Chinese are contributing more than just money
By Wang Jun  ·  2016-02-22  ·   Source: | NO. 8 FEBRUARY 25, 2016


Zhang Yimou, Director of The Great Wall , speaks at a press conference on July 2, 2015, in Beijing, with co-stars of the movie Matt Damon (left) and Jing Tian (CFP)

Domestic scenes and actors and actresses can be found in many movies, but the stories remain "Hollywood."

China-U.S. co-productions have been more frequent in recent years. Two movies in 2016 represent the budding iconoclastic relationship. The first is the animation Kung Fu Panda 3 . The second is The Great Wall , which is the first Hollywood movie with a Chinese directing team and a Chinese story.

Achieving success through its first and second iterations, Kung Fu Panda 3 , which was released in China and the United States on January 29, is an American-Chinese co-production, with Oriental DreamWorks representing the Chinese side of the partnership.

Oriental DreamWorks was established in 2012. It is a joint venture backed by investment fund China Media Capital, Shanghai Media Group, Shanghai Alliance Investment Ltd. and Hollywood's DreamWorks Animation SKG.

James Fong, CEO of the Asian animation studio, said that Kung Fu Panda 3   is the company's first movie, and it is also the first animated movie to be co-produced by Americans and Chinese--the entire movie's team was based in China.

The movie was created in both English and Mandarin-language versions, but it did not adopt the usual approach, in which a voice cast of local stars would have been recruited to record a dub over the English version.

In addition, the Chinese version is not a word-for-word translation of the English script. It not only modifies the mouth movements of the characters, but also adds puns tailored for Chinese audiences.

For example, when Po, the movie's protagonist asks his companion, Tigress, what kind of noodles she wants, in the Chinese version, Tigress responds "biantai la ," which literally means abnormally hot. In the English version, though, it is just "noodles with sauce on the side," according to Teng Huatao, the movie's Chinese director.

China's film regulator requires that a co-production must be jointly invested by Chinese and foreign partners with the Chinese side providing at least 20 percent of the total investment. In addition, a Chinese actor or actress must take one of the leading roles, and most of the shooting must take place in China. If this standard is met, a co-production will be considered a domestic movie and will therefore be excluded from the country's import quotas for foreign movies.

A variety of movie productions have collaborated with China by using Chinese actors, actresses or Chinese elements in recent years, such as Looper , X-Men: Days of Future Past , Skyfall , Transformers: Age of Extinction , Iron Man 3 , The Expendables 2 , Resident Evil: Retribution , and Cloud Atlas . Even so, only Transformers: Age of Extinction  has met China's official standards for co-production.

Set for global release in November 2016, The Great Wall , a $150-million China-U.S. co-production, is one of the most expensive movies that the Chinese movie industry has worked on. Partners include Legendary Entertainment, Universal Pictures, the China Film Group and Le Vision Pictures.

To many Hollywood studios, the challenge lies in integrating Chinese elements into their movies in a natural way. Take Marvel Studios' Iron Man 3  as an example. There were two versions of the movie released in 2013: One was the international version, and the other was the Chinese version, which had an extra four minutes of footage with Chinese actors. Even so, Chinese locations and actors did not appear in the international version, which irritated some Chinese audiences.

For The Great Wall , however, the challenge is reversed. What the movie maker must determine is not how to add Chinese elements to the movie, but how to attract global moviegoers with a Chinese movie whose story and scenes took place in China hundreds of years ago.

Zhang Yimou, director of The Great Wall , noticed the uniqueness of his position when he referred to himself as a "Chinese director... who doesn't speak English but has directed an authentic Hollywood movie for the global market." Zhang was speaking at a press conference held in Beijing on July 2, 2015. "This is unprecedented, but is of great significance, because it may create more opportunities for cooperation between the movie industries in China and the United States."

This production is the director's first English-language movie.

The biggest challenge for Zhang is to "make sure that young people around the world--not just Chinese audiences--will understand the movie." He claimed that during the shooting of the movie, he made many changes to the script and the story, often asking his foreign actors how they would interpret the change of certain lines.

Copyedited by Bryan Michael Galvan

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