Busan 2012: China-Japan Crisis Sparks War of Words Within Asian Film Sector

Floating City - H 2012

Floating City - H 2012

Jackie Chan and Li Bingbing express support for Beijing, while Japanese execs stress the need for patience.

As the standoff between Japanese and Chinese naval ships in the East China Sea continues, producers and directors about to appear at the Asian Film Market in Busan are equally split about how the ensuing political crisis will affect the film industries in the two countries.

For the past month, a high-profile contingent of Chinese directors and actors have been vocal about their support for their country’s claims of sovereignty over what they call the Diaoyu Islands, known as the Senkakus to the Japanese.

Jackie Chan has publically declared his support of Beijing’s position, while actress Li Bingbing told the Chinese-language media last month she wouldn’t be visiting Japan in the near future. She subsequently did not appear to promote her latest film, Resident Evil: Retribution, in Japan, where the film premiered on Sept. 3.

Elsewhere, on Sept. 25, Hong Kong director Yim Ho and his producers withdrew his latest film, Floating City, from the Tokyo International Film Festival, which begins on Oct. 20. While they have not cited the political crisis as a reason, Yim told The Hollywood Reporter that the dispute has led him to think that filmmakers should not always be above politics.

“At this time, I would only consider working with Japanese investors if the film to be made is about this dispute itself and how it has affected the lives of the ordinary people in the region,” said Yim. “If someone is to come to me and suggest making a co-production between Hong Kong and Japan, or Hong Kong, China and Japan on just any topic, there would be no point, and I would decline such a project.”

For the most part, industry figures at the executive level remain diplomatic, adopting a wait-and-see approach to the situation. Tom Yoda, chairman of Japanese distributor Gaga, told THR ongoing struggle for sovereignty over the uninhibited islands northeast of Taiwan have “nothing to do” with doing business.

“Person-to-person and industry-to-industry, there’s no problem, but sometimes uncontrollable situations occur,” he said. “But I don’t think it will get too serious. We are neighbors, we can’t relocate somewhere else; so we have to stay and deal with each other. Sometimes we just have to be patient.”

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a Japanese television station executive said that while he is not worried about the political crisis eating into business, the situation could actually have a beneficial effect if the Chinese government were to take drastic measures against Japanese content.

“The tensions over the islands won’t make a big difference to us, because to be honest China doesn’t really buy programs from us anyway. Most of them are illegally downloaded,” he said. “The websites hosting the illegal content in China earn huge revenues from promotion their sites, so if the Chinese government were to ban them from distributing Japanese content, we’d be quite happy.”

Meanwhile, Katherine Lee, executive vice-president of the Hong Kong-based We Distribution, said the recent political antagonism will not pose an immediate impact on how Chinese and Japanese films are to be received, but deal making between the two countries could be affected if the crisis lingers.

“This is not the first time the Sino-Japanese relationship has hit rocky patches,” she said. “But it won’t be until the films are ready to be released that the local exhibitors would have to consider whether the timing is right… and films being traded now might not be reaching cinemas very soon.”

Cara Yuan, of mainland producer and distributor Zonbo Media, said her company’s latest film, the Zhang Ziyi-starrer Dangerous Liaisons, is close to having its release date in Japan confirmed. She added she did not foresee any potential disruptions to plans, saying this is “just a film.”

Karen Chu contributed to this report