U.S. Sellers Face Cold Shoulder At The Shanghai Film Festival

By Jonathan Elliott 2010-06-15 00:14:20discussion comments
U.S. Sellers Face Cold Shoulder At The Shanghai Film Festival image
Like everyone else, I'm perplexed by the spectacularly unnecessary remakes of Red Dawn and The Karate Kid. And, just like everyone else, I'm worried about what happens when the Wolverines swap racially-insensitive war stories, or what happens when Ralph Macchio challenges Jaden Smith to a fight to the finish (sweep the leg, Ralph. He's got it coming). We've talked about the complicated situations these remakes bring to the surface--as American filmmakers aim for more access to China for both shooting locations and audience development, uncomfortable questions about content and portrayals of China in western media becomes, once again, a hotbutton issue.

This week the American-Chinese entertainment Cold War continues to heat up, following both the jingoist concerns over the upcoming Red Dawn remake and the curiously auspicious access granted to The Karate Kid revamp. Somewhere between the outrage and openness of these two cases is the firm cold shoulder U.S. execs and talent are facing at The Shanghai Film Festival.

Variety says China's box office is averaging $150 Million (US) in monthly receipts this year, placing it seventh in the world's largest film markets, bumped up from ninth last year. That's serious growth, and given the government mandated quota that two-thirds of films in Chinese theaters be homegrown, it marks the Chinese film industry as an entertainment force to be reckoned with. But it also feeds the frostiness U.S. reps are facing as they try to actively hawk and export their work to Chinese audiences.

Adding fuel to the fire is Chinese writer-director-actor Feng Xiaogang's open disdain towards the negotiating tactics of Harvey Weinstein. Feng went so far as to call Weinstein a "cheater" after the terse distribution negotiations over Feng's The Banquet. Weinstein, in turn, basically did the drive-thru version of The Shanghai Festival by coming late, leaving early, and keeping closed-lip about the cultural exchange issues at play.

So, what does all of this mean? The relationship between Chinese culture and American entertainment is at a crossroads, caught between a potentially dangerous villainous portrait (Red Dawn) and a cooperative willingness to trade access and spectacular shooting locations for positive cultural portrayals (The Karate Kid). The Shanghai Film Festival, however, points out a third option: ambivalence. And that sort of scares the crap out of me.

The linchpin of the ongoing developments between the film industries in China and America have been based on open dialogue--the Feng-Weinstein fiasco grew out of a rabid interest to distribute a new breed of Chinese-developed films in the West, and this whole debate stems from perceptions of Chinese culture in some of these remakes. But as I said before,there's been unprecedented growth in the bankability of Chinese-created cinema within China itself in the last year.

What happens, then, when China, instead of getting pissy or learning to play nice with us, just says "Thanks, but no thanks" and simply ignores us? As China's film industry grows and continues to prosper and develop both bankable audiences and worldwide clout, it gets easier to imagine an insular, walled-off film production system in China that produces high-quality, culturally relevant films without giving a second thought to the needs or qualities of a western audience. Think of it sort of like the Bollywood system, but with stricter cultural sanctions.

What do you think, readers? We've been assuming that Chinese filmmakers care enough about their relationship with us to either get pissed off or open up. What happens when they can't care less about us? And, in the end, what are those films going to look like?
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