For the past few months, rumors have been circulating that China’s Beijing Film Bureau has been considering loosening its restriction on foreign films released in China each year from 34 to 44. This decision—which would “significantly improve” the extremely profitable, sometimes controversial, yet undeniably super-important partnership between Hollywood and China—has been officially confirmed by The Hollywood Reporter, yet the decision seems to be made on one condition: The “new guidelines will likely open the market only to art-house style releases.”
What led to this loosening of restrictions? For starters, last month a new license for the import and distribution of foreign movies in China was given to the state-run company China National Culture & Art Corporation (CNCAC), breaking the previous monopoly on foreign films in China enjoyed by fellow state-backed China Film Group, through which yet another state-backed group Huaxia has a license to distribute films.
Soon afterwards, it was announced that La Peikang is set to replace Han Sanping as the head of the China Film Group. This change has been described as indicative of a “likely increased focus by CFG on international cooperation and expansion“: Apparently, La has spent some time hanging with the artsy-fartsy crowd in France, which guarantees him as groovier than the odiously uncool Han, whose toe-the-party-line antics led directly to such controversial decisions as pulling Django Unchained from theaters on the day of the film’s premiere in China.
As one inside source told the Hollywood Reporter: “Li is much more international…Due to the many years he spent in France, he may improve the situation for movie imports.”
As the Hollywood Reporter puts it, limiting the new market conditions to arthouse films is a win-win for both Hollywood and the domestic Chinese film industry, since “‘prestige’ pics normally don’t take a bite out of China’s share of the box office…still, more access to foreign films means more opportunities for those all-important Hollywood-China partnerships.”
This added quota also will likely lead to the expansion of Hollywood stars traveling to China to promote their new films to Chinese audiences. A couple weeks ago, Johnny Depp made his first-ever China trip to Beijing to spread the word about his new flick ‘Transcendence’, including a super-sick jam session with local rock star David Tao: The two even did a rendition of “Nothing to My Name”, Cui Jian’s 1986 rock classic that became an unofficial anthem for protestors at Tiananmen Square.
Unfortunately, what the Hollywood Reporter failed to clarify on is what exactly determines a film’s “art-house” status: Does the status come from distribution through smaller, independent companies like Focus Features or Fox Searchlight? Regardless, it will be nice to finally have some other options available in Chinese cinemas besides, well, this. Or this. Or this. This too.
By Alex Stevens