Hollywood’s scared to portray Chinese as Villains

Once upon a time, the Chinese characters on American movie screens were either rogues or swindlers; nowadays, Hollywood no longer dares to portray Chinese as villains.

An article published on the L.A. Times on March 16 reported that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) has taken the initiative to change the villains in the movie “Red Dawn” from Chinese to North Koreans before China voiced its complaints. The change without a doubt expresses the importance of the Chinese market to the global entertainment business.

”]When MGM decided to remake the movie a few years ago, it changed the invaders from Russians to Chinese, as Russia had already collapsed. In recent weeks, after viewing the film by MGM, several potential buyers expressed that they would not take the risk of distributing the film, as it might provoke intense protests in China. As a result, in order to protect its box office in China, the American media company is going to digitally remove the images of Chinese flag and Chinese military symbols, and it is going to alter the dialogue in the movies. On top of these changes, it is changing the invaders into North Koreans, who are irrelevant to America’s profits. The changes will cost around US$1 million, but it is a small investment considering the billions of dollars they can bring in.

A commentary published by Canada’s The Globe and Mail on March 17 said it explained the importance of the Chinese market, which the Canadian IMAX Corporation is well aware of. CEO Richard Gelfond said the company was going to lower the prices of IMAX screenings to draw more audiences. They were also planning on putting in more IMAX screens. “China is now the second largest market for IMAX around the world, after the United States,” said Gelfond.

We can see the trend of building more theaters in China from an article in the Chicago Tribune published on March 19. In the last four years, the number of screens in China has multiplied to a total of 6,200. It is predicted to double in 2015. Last year, China’s box-office revenue hit US$1.5 billion. According to the newspaper, the Chinese government is a major investor in film production, distribution and theaters. Film is a way to strengthen a country’s influence and to export its culture; it is part of a country’s soft power.

To say that China’s soft power is less than America’s would be an understatement if we compare their box-office revenues. There are 40,000 screens in America, where the box-office revenue was US$10.6 billion in 2010. If we compare the numbers to their populations, there is one screen per 220,000 people in China, and one per 7,500 in America. The biggest difference is that although there are less than 20 foreign films imported to China, Hollywood films still dominate the box-office revenue. On the other hand, Chinese films seldom make it to America. In order to overturn this situation, the article suggests that China coordinate with other countries.

On March 16, France’s La Tribune commented on the rapid growth of China’s film market. In order to support its development, the Chinese government should encourage international joint film production and strive to provide a suitable background for digital communication development. Hollywood producers have already realized that the film and entertainment business is part of China’s strategy. It is a win-win to make film with foreigners: It gives Chinese filmmakers easy access to globalization and to foreign partners, and their development will no longer be restrained by the quota restriction in China.

However, piracy is a big problem to Hollywood and Chinese filmmakers.

According to an article by the Los Angeles Times on March 22, since there are no legal outlets to buy or rent movies in China, Chinese film lovers choose to get their movies thorough illegal downloads or bootleg DVDs. In China, an increasing number of piracy activities have shifted to the Internet. Nevertheless, bootleg DVDs remain a huge business. In China, bootleg DVDs raked in US$6 billion in 2010, four times the country’s box-office revenue of US$1.5 billion.

During Hollywood’s Oscar season, DVD screeners that studios send out to voters are often copied by pirates. Member companies of the MPAA have taken various websites, DVD vendors and an unlicensed video-on-demand service to court in China and won cases, but the penalties aren’t severe enough to discourage other bootleggers.

“What we can do here is very limited,” said Li Chow, vice president for greater China at Sony Pictures International and Columbia Tristar Films. “There are too many factories and little enforcement. You can shut them down today and they reopen tomorrow.”

*Translated By Alice Cwern
*Image from google

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