Shanghai Festival: Veteran Producers Explore What 'Made-in-China' Means for Movie Quality

Bill Kong, president of Hong Kong-based Edko Films.

“The biggest rival of Chinese-language films is the fact that too many of them are low-quality," says "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" producer Bill Kong.

SHANGHAI -- A panel of China production industry heavyweights addressed the issue of “quality” in the Chinese film industry at a production forum at the 16th Shanghai International Film Festival on Tuesday. Renowned director and secretary general of the China Film Director's Guild He Ping led the panel discussion, exploring films with “made-in-China” quality and quality films made in China.

“The biggest rival of Chinese-language films is the fact of too many low-quality films,” said producer and president of Hong Kong-based Edko Films Co., Bill Kong.

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Kong was joined by Monga and Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow producer Lee Lieh at Green Day Film Co., in Taiwan, Phillip Lee producer of Cloud Atlas at Javelin Pictures, producer of American Dreams in China, Qin Hong, Chairman of Stellar Mega Media Group, Ltd., and James Wang, president of Huayi Brothers Media Corp. and producer of Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons.

Kong said that chasing commercial success with low-budget films often produces poor quality results. He pointed out that he has supported new filmmakers in films that might not have been commercial successes, like Xue Xiaolu's Ocean Paradise. That relationship paid off with Xue's second film, Finding Mr. Right, which earlier this year broke broke box office records for a romantic comedy and became the tenth highest-grossing homegrown release ever in China.

“We did not expect that type of box office, but we paid attention to the quality of every detail,” said Kong. “We produce for our audience's taste and work with directors they like.”

Qin Hong admitted that he had led Stellar into the red with a string of films that weren't commercial successes, but he defended the films' quality and the directors he backed.

"No one can predict the box office but these films have passion,” said Qin. “Attitude is everything.”

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Lee Lieh intimated her dismay that many of the young filmmakers she encountered were not offering that passion. Rather than introducing a story they were excited about, they tend to provide pitches emphasizing what elements and features of the script they expect to add up to a formula for success.

There was no shortage of passion from Phillip Lee about providing from Asia the majority of equity in Cloud Atlas, the highest-budget independently produced film of all time. Despite its lackluster returns at the box office, he stood behind the choice and quality of the film, which did not meet mainstream taste in America.

“Mainstream is not everything,” James Wang concurred. “We invest a lot into helping new directors develop and succeed.”

In doing so, Wang said Huayi Brothers is helping o develop the industry as a whole. The company invests in big-budget films with their mature directors and seeks commercial success with these films, he said.

“One surprising thing is the strength of the social networks in the China market,” said Lee Lieh. “Many viewers rely on their peers, which is different from a more mature market.”

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She said critic reviews carry less weight in China, where a movie like Switch (2013) was panned but received warmly by audiences. It opened in mainland China on June 9 to box-office revenue of $7.8 million (47.9 million yuan), according to entertainment consultant firm Entgroup. The nationwide buzz surrounding the film on social networks was integral to it becoming a phenomenon, she said. 

“This is one way that audiences get more value for their money,” said Qin. "They become part of an ongoing conversation lasting beyond the box office."

He also pointed out that with the vast size of the Chinese audience, China's social media offers a powerful tool for promoting a film regardless of the quality, so the industry should expect more movies to seek that social marketing attention.

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