Film industry faces challenges in storytelling

SHANGHAI — The prosperity of China’s film industry became apparent last year, but insiders believe the sector still faces challenges stemming from a lack of production talents and substandard narratives. 

The film industry recorded 10 billion yuan ($15 billion), in box-office receipts in 2010, compared with two billion yuan five years ago. 

“Money is not the problem — the film industry is desperate for creative talents,” said Wang Zhongjun, chairman of Huayi Brothers Media Group, the country’s first private film company listed on the growth enterprise market. 

China’s film industry has grown rapidly over the past few years. In 2009, when the global market experienced a massive economic downturn, the sector generated 6.21 billion yuan in box-office sales, up 42.96 percent over the previous year. In 2010, the industry expanded the number of film screens nationwide to 6,200 — 1,533 more than a year earlier. 

The burgeoning movie industry has sparked a “back to the cinema” revival in many cities. Domestically produced blockbusters boasting big casts, such as “The Founding of A Republic,” “Aftershock,” and “Let the Bullets Fly,” each recorded box-office receipts of more than $100 million. 

The film industry also saw a private business, Beijing Poly-bona, become its first movie publishing company listed on NASDAQ. 

While attending the 14th Shanghai International Film Festival, which concludes Sunday in Shanghai, media mogul Rupert Murdoch said that undoubtedly film workers from all over the world want to knock on the door of the Chinese film market. 

But industry insiders warn that future success should not be taken for granted. 

“Big box-office numbers don’t explain everything, as the number of screens has increased and market demand has been cultivated,” according to Ren Zhonglun, president of Shanghai Film Group. “The challenge comes from the quality of domestic films themselves, because they’ve yet to improve.” 

Quality is partly based on high-production technology, industry insiders believe. 

Feng Xiaogang, a well-known director who works for Huayi Brothers, said that Chinese movies don’t lack capital but production technology. 

When Feng shot “Aftershock,” numerous disaster scenes needed to be processed abroad. “As China is short of talents of specialized production involving audio and visual effects, imported equipment with more than 5,000 functions goes to waste as technicians can only use perhaps 500 of them,” Feng said. 

The dearth of technological professionals has plagued the industry for years. The number of college students pursuing directing or performing art degrees dwarfs the number of those in film production and technology. 

But beyond the technological shortcomings, in order to attract greater audiences and compete with Hollywood blockbusters, Chinese films need to elevate their storytelling ability. 

Award-winning director Barry Levinson, who is the jury chairman of the Shanghai Film Festival, talked about the techniques for telling a gripping story, which he believes is the fundamental element of a successful movie. 

He said that the allure of a good movie is effective storytelling, as the 100-year history of world movies shows. 

“Avatar” and “Kung Fu Panda” (I and II) made millions of dollars on the Chinese market. What stirred Chinese viewers most was not only their technological effects but the stories they told. 

Mark Osborne, one of the directors of Kung Fu Panda (I), said previously that if Chinese animation film makers want to learn something from Hollywood they should learn how to tell an interesting story. 

He said Hollywood’s story-telling method is not unique to the United States but a universal method to attract human souls. 

According to Yin Hong, professor of film and television studies with the Beijing-based Tsinghua University, only about 100 of the 500-plus movies China produced last year have met acceptable art standards. 

He noted that Chinese films have not yet found a cultural and artistic strategy for telling a Chinese story with a global perspective and for expressing universal cultural values through the language of film.


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