Thailand Lobbies China to Restructure Its Film Import System

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Thailand is urging China to divide its import quota into Asian and non-Asian categories, so that regional fare won't have to compete against Hollywood for access to the Chinese market.

Building upon a surge in enthusiasm for all things Thai in China – following the record-breaking success of Chinese road comedy, Lost in Thailand, which portrays the Southeast Asian country in an effusively flattering light -- the Thai embassy in Beijing has announced the launch of its first-ever Thai film festival.

"We've selected six popular movies that we think will have particular appeal for the Chinese public," Thailand embassy minister Ureerat Ratanaprukse told Bangkok-based newspaper the Nation.

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The Thai embassy’s ambassador, Wiboon Kusakul, also revealed that his government is holding talks with Chinese officials about the possibility of getting China to revise its current import quota system, which allows just 35 foreign films into the country’s cinemas for wide distribution each year – meaning Southeast Asian film companies must compete against Hollywood’s most bankable action films, such as Iron Man 3 or Transformers 4, to secure a spot accessing to the Chinese movie market, now the world’s second-largest.

Wiboon told the Nation that his government has been lobbying China to subdivide its foreign film allocation quota into Asian and non-Asian movie imports, giving regional players, whose film budgets are often one-hundredth of Hollywood’s, a better chance of access.

"One possible way around the foreign movie quota would be for Thai studios to enter into joint ventures with a Chinese company and produce selected movies under a partnership," he added.

The co-production process in China is a notoriously challenging one to navigate. But the first quarter of 2013 at the Chinese box office has stood out for the major success of lighthearted comedies – a genre the Thai film industry consistently excels at – including Lost in Thailand ($202 million) and Seattle-set rom-com Finding Mr. Right, which is still on release and had pulled in $63.2 million as of April 8.

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The embassy says it launched a test screening of recent Thai rom-com My Name is Love (2012, directed by Wasin Pokpon and starring starring Arak "Pe" Amornsupasiri and Thunyasupan "Bo" Jirapreechanon) to gage whether there might be enough local interest in Thai film for a festival. After some promotion on Weibo (China’s version of Twitter), all 400 tickets for the first Megabox theater screening in Beijing quickly sold out, the embassy says.

"We know from the success of Lost in Thailand that the Chinese love comedies and the Thai film industry is known for its expertise in producing quality comedies. The audience laughed a lot in My Name is Love even though some of the subtitles were not translated correctly. The screening has helped us understand the kind of films they want to see," Wiboon said.

The embassy has followed up by scheduling its programming for its modest festival accordingly.

Taking part in the festival in Beijing, which runs April 18 to 23, are the romantic comedies My Name is Love and Chob Kod Like, Chai Kod Love, comedy-drama Seven Something, the playful action film Fighting Fish, the horror omnibus 3AM and Thai Tibetan road movie Shambala. The embassy also plans to fly in several of the films’ stars to interact with Chinese fans at the screenings.

"With help from the Thai government, I believe Thai films would be able to reach a far greater number of Chinese. We know they already like and favor Thai culture more than that of other Asian countries," Ureerat added.