Chinese Studio Boss Yu Dong Calls For Censorship Reform

The Bona Film Group CEO says China's box office will hit $5 billion in three years but regulation continues to constrain domestic film companies.

SINGAPORE—Yu Dong, CEO and Founder of Bona Film Group, China’s largest private film company, called upon Chinese government regulators Wednesday to loosen censorship restrictions on the country’s domestic film industry. The remarks were part of an opening keynote speech Yu gave at ScreenSingapore’s new “Focus on China” panel discussion series.

While Yu celebrated the rapid expansion of the Chinese box office—which he estimated will hit $5 billion in the next three to five years, and match the North American box office at about $10 billion within a decade—the executive also said the lack of a ratings system in China and restrictions on the subjects that Chinese filmmakers can broach has been a constraint on the industry’s development.

“I think the film control authorities should make great determination to open up, so that we can elevate the status of the Chinese film industry to world class,” Yu said.

Because of the uncertainty that surrounds the censorship approval process, Yu suggested that domestic film producers have often fallen into a habit of self-imitation—whenever a film wins both government approval and finds market success, other companies are highly inclined to imitate its recipe, as the need to get both elements right makes development doubly difficult in China.

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“Because of this restriction on the topics we can use, we are now facing unfair competition,” he said.

During the course of his speech, Yu offered a detailed breakdown of the current growth trends in the Chinese industry, along with Bona’s targets within this broader framework.

Thanks in large part to the new US-China trade agreement announced in February that expanded the quota of foreign films that can be imported into China from 20 to 34, Yu forecasted that Hollywood studios will take more than 50 percent of China’s total box office for 2012—a departure from recent years past, during which Chinese films managed to hold onto the majority of their local box. Yu estimated that over the next five years, Hollywood will pull in an average 55 percent of the Chinese box office, with Chinese studios claiming the remaining 45 percent. Breaking down the Chinese take further, he said 40 percent of the Chinese slice will be comprised of films produced by leading Mainland Chinese filmmakers, 30 percent will be directed by Hong Kong and Taiwanese directors, and the remaining 30 percent will be made up by big-budget co-productions with U.S. studio partners.

Outlining Bona’s targets for the coming half decade, Yu said: “We want a 30 percent share of locally produced films, a 50 percent share of Hong Kong and Taiwan directed co-productions, and 50 percent [of the Chinese take] from Hollywood co-produced films.”

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Yu said the multi-picture deal between Bona and Fox International Productions announced last month will play a key role in helping his company reach towards these targets. Earlier this year, News Corp. acquired a 19.9 percent stake in Bona Film Group. During a presentation at ScreenSingapore yesterday, Sanford Panitch, President of Fox International Productions, said Fox is developing with Bona both Chinese language films targeted at the local market, and pictures they hope will have the potential to traverse Chinese and international territories.

Yu also noted that distribution is another link in the industry where China has yet to fully modernize. At present, the state-backed China Film Group handles all distribution of foreign films. Yu said he is optimistic that this system will change within the next five years, giving private film distributors such as Bona a share of imported Hollywood films.

“Whether or not our local companies will become world-class film companies will depend on how they perform in these next five years,” he said.