by Xinhua writer Gao Shan
The success of Hollywood films with Chinese elements at North American box office in 2018 has attracted interest from critics and Hollywood insiders, triggering enthusiastic discussions about cooperation between Chinese and American film industries.
The shark-themed thriller, "The Meg," and the racial diversity triumph, "Crazy Rich Asians," are among the most successful films incorporating China-related elements, gaining mainstream appeal in North America.
Hollywood films incorporating Chinese elements, including "The Meg," "Crazy Rich Asians" and Legendary and Universal's big-budget release "Pacific Rim: Uprising," have stayed atop North American weekend box office 5 out of 51 weeks as of Dec. 23 this year. Notably, "Crazy Rich Asians" led North American box office three weekends in a row.
"The Meg," a Chinese-American co-production, released by Gravity Pictures in China and by Warner Bros. Pictures in the United States, grossed more than 530 million U.S. dollars in the global box office against a production budget of around 150 million dollars.
"Crazy Rich Asians" was a Warner Bros. Pictures release, and produced by SK Global, Color Force, Ivanhoe Pictures, Electric Somewhere and China-backed firm Starlight Culture. The romantic comedy-drama film, based on Kevin Kwan's novel of the same name and directed by Chinese American filmmaker Jon M. Chu, has brought in 238 million dollars worldwide against a modest 30-million-dollar production budget.
"Chinese co-productions have been among the most successful films of 2018. Titles like 'Crazy Rich Asians' and 'The Meg' reflected a true understanding of what global audiences are looking for when they go to the multiplex," said U.S. movie analyst Paul Dergarabedian at Comscore.
Dergarabedian pointed out that "Crazy Rich Asians" became a comedy sensation in North America and drew audiences of all backgrounds who were attracted by its universal themes and relatable situations while "The Meg" featured an irresistible concept embraced by audiences on a global scale and also featured notable Chinese talent.
"Films like 'The Meg' and 'Crazy Rich Asians' are great models for how to perfectly combine the best of U.S. and China-based talent to create appealing filmed content for global consumption. In the future, we will likely see more such productions and perhaps there will be more China-based productions that reflect the taste and culture and Chinese point of view that could be produced in a way that will enable them to cross over in a more profound way to audiences outside of their country of origin," he told Xinhua.
"The Meg" is already the highest-grossing U.S.-Chinese co-production of all time and "Crazy Rich Asians" became the highest-grossing romantic comedy of the last 10 years in North America.
"The growth and importance of the Chinese movie market has been incredibly impressive, with a growth rate that has been sparked over the years by the building of state-of-the-art cinemas that inspired enthusiasm by audiences who flocked to a multi-faceted slate of home grown and U.S.-based productions. Its yearly revenue has come close to rivalling that of North America and is the second biggest movie market in the world," he noted.
The follow-up of "Crazy Rich Asians" is reportedly in the development stages. The team behind the film is planning to reunite for the sequel, based on Kwan's second book, "China Rich Girlfriend." Producers said the new film is targeting a shoot in Shanghai, and possibly as a co-production.
"There have been many earlier attempted co-productions where the story didn't really work for both audiences, and so it felt forced and strange. As the two film industries have worked together more though, they've found ways to make the Hollywood and China elements live together naturally, so then the story feels believable and strong, and movie audiences respond," said Elizabeth Dell, head of the China Task Force of the Producers Guild of America, adding that audiences love new stories and new worlds to explore, but they have to feel authentic.
She noted that the progress of China's film industry over the last ten years has been remarkable. "I think there is still more progress to make, especially in the areas of strengthening skills and understanding of story and of producing, but the Chinese film industry continues to impress me with the quality and breadth of the work," She told Xinhua.
"Successful cooperation and co-production needs to look to stories and creators that work between the two industries and so naturally know how to collaborate in a seamless way," said Dell.
"Experience is key. It cannot come from only one film or one collaboration; it comes from a history of many projects together and learning how each culture thrives," she concluded.
"The growth of the Chinese film industry reflects the growth of the Chinese middle class, which has been meteoric and will continue to be over the next five to ten years," said William Mundell, producer of "Better Angels," a documentary film examining the U.S.-China relations through the lives of ordinary citizens of the two countries.
Mundell added that China is an obvious target for American film makers who are looking to expand beyond their existing mature markets.
"The film industry in Hollywood has a history of over 100 years so it's very developed. China can learn from that and create its own distinctive version of Hollywood," he told Xinhua.