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Cannes: Chinese Companies Conspicuously Absent From Croisette

A Touch of Sin
"A Touch of Sin"

With domestic fare taking 70 percent of local box office, the country’s buyers and sellers just say non to Cannes.

With a recent Motion Picture Association report confirming that Chinese filmgoers generate the second-highest box-office revenue in the world and Hollywood producers rushing to court China’s financiers, one would expect an explosion of China-related activities at Cannes this year.

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Indeed, China Film Group will continue to host its annual China Night party while the Shanghai Film Group will revel in events celebrating its Palme d’Or entrant, Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin. But the country’s privately owned companies have been comparatively low-profile this year — a sign that the country’s entrepreneurs consider whipping up a domestic media frenzy to be more useful than staging a costly event abroad.

Huayi Brothers, for example, has shelved plans for a big bash in Cannes, and will now unveil its slate in a lavish party at the Shanghai Film Market next month; Enlight Media, meanwhile, announced its lineup in Beijing last month. Now the proud co-owner of Digital Domain, Beijing Galloping Horse will not unleash new projects on the Croisette; another shingle, Le Vision Pictures, will not be at the market at all.

“The companies now know whatever events they do abroad are only to serve the domestic market — this is what they should aim for,” says Albert Lee, CEO of Hong Kong-based Emperor Motion Pictures, who will be at Cannes with his Filmart slate plus one announcement to be made during the market.

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Beijing Galloping Horse’s head of international sales, Ronan Wong, points to changing box-office trends as an explanation for Chinese companies’ reticence when it comes to spending big at Cannes this year. “This time last year we were looking at the Chinese market being dominated by Hollywood films such as Titanic 3D, The Avengers and Battleship,” Wong says. He
notes that by December the situation had changed, with domestic films taking nearly 70 percent of ticket earnings in China in the past four months.

With local productions such as Lost in Thailand, Finding Mr Right and So Young generating more than 3 billion yuan ($488 million) at the box office, film companies have become “more rational” in evaluating how a presence at festivals and markets will affect distribution in the market at home, says Shen Yang, Shanghai Film Market’s deputy program director.

“That’s why many of them have moved their usual emphasis of promotional activities from Cannes to Shanghai,” she says. “With Chinese blockbusters hardly attaining the proportion of the international market as [they do] at home … domestic film festivals are naturally becoming more valuable platforms for promotion.”