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Sino-American cinema collaboration: "The Great Wall"
The Americans and the Chinese had come up with it so nicely. To increase revenues from the global film business, production companies from both countries have teamed up and set up the $ 150 million project "The Great Wall". The film should usher in a new age. Both nations should benefit from it - a classic win-win situation: Hollywood could benefit because the Chinese market is the second largest in the world, so lucrative box office results can be expected there; China, because the US cooperation would be another step towards becoming a global player in the multi-billion dollar cinema business.
Uncertainty after Donald Trump's triumph
But just at the moment when "The Great Wall" hits the cinemas (in China it was released in December, then in many European and Asian countries, in the USA it only starts on February 17th), the new President Donald walks in Trump the world stage. That could thwart the ambitious Chinese and American film investors. Trump is currently railing heavily against China, flirting with a trade war.
The Chinese-American team proudly presented itself at a first press conference in 2015
And then there is the escalating anger of the future president against the Hollywood establishment. The fact that Trump will soon be campaigning for Hollywood of all things and promoting American-Chinese cooperation in matters of film and cinema seems to be ruled out at the moment. So the prospects for big business are gloomy.
Stars and money from both countries
On January 12th, 2017, "The Great Wall", the most expensive Chinese-American co-production to date, will also start in Germany. The film was directed by the Chinese star director Zhang Yimou, most of the actors are Chinese. The script comes mainly from Hollywood professionals, and with Matt Damon and William Dafoe, two stars of US cinema were hired as actors. The film was shot in English - but on Chinese soil.
The proud budget of 150 million dollars was shared by no less than five American and Chinese production companies, with the participating US company "Legendary Entertainment" recently being bought up by Wang Jianlin, head of the powerful Chinese Wanda group.
The great wall - tricked up with tricks
"The Great Wall" is less about a fact-saturated historical story about the Great Wall of China than about an action- and fantasy-oriented cinema spectacle with many digital special effects produced in 3D technology. A handful of European mercenaries headed by Matt Damon set out in the 11th century in search of black powder invented by the Chinese and, together with the Chinese army, fight against evil - and that consists mainly of large dragon-like monsters. "The Great Wall" is digital popcorn cinema with endless fight scenes without much depth, a blockbuster that has stolen tricks and dramatic details from many other popular films - artistically a fiasco.
In China, only 34 US films are allowed to be shown per year
But the last thing the Chinese and American filmmakers wanted was art. "The Great Wall" is primarily intended to make money, in the USA, in China, worldwide.
One of the Chinese stars in the film: Tian Jing
In the Chinese market this has not yet been taken for granted for Hollywood producers. The Chinese cultural authorities are still very strict when it comes to the use of foreign films. Only 34 canvas works from the USA are allowed to be shown in Chinese cinemas each year. What these are and what time of year they run, all of this is strictly regulated by the media authority (SARFT) in Beijing. The censorship also has a say. If there are too many fecal expressions in a Hollywood film, if it is too brutal or even brings too much sex to the screen, then it has little chance of being shown.
China could soon overtake the USA as the most profitable cinema nation
Lately there has been discussion about a slight increase in the US share of the film market, but that would not make the really big money either. If the Chinese are involved in such a cinema production, the film is not considered a foreign product. In this way, Chinese investors and producers can also benefit. For the Americans, China is the market of the future anyway. As in other economic sectors, the "Middle Kingdom" is also taking a leading position in the entertainment sector: the USA is still the most profitable cinema nation in the world, but experts predict that the rapidly growing cinema market in China will soon replace the USA.
A powerful player in the cinema industry in the USA too: Wang Jianlin
Over 20 new cinemas open in China every day. Since the big Hollywood studios are now more dependent on foreign income than before, the Chinese market is almost a must. A US blockbuster produced with many millions can hardly be refinanced without the income from the Chinese cinemas. Hence the endeavor to make common cause.
Numerous Sino-American joint ventures
On the other hand, Chinese investors are trying to gain a foothold in the American market. The Chinese group "Alibaba" has been cooperating with Steven Spielberg's company "Amblin Partners" since last fall. "Warner Bros.", "Sony" and "Universal" had already put out feelers to China and found willing partners there. It is also not a rumor that cinema mogul Wang Jianlin is interested in one of the major Hollywood studios. His "Wanda" group is already the world market leader in film theater and owns many US cinemas. As the latest coup, "Wanda" succeeded in taking over the US company that produces the "Golden Globe" show.
Skeptical look at "The Great Wall": What does the future hold?
The Chinese initiatives are also met with opposition from American politicians. Members of the House of Representatives recently called for a closer look at future Chinese investments in entertainment. And the fact that Donald Trump has appointed Peter Navarro, who is considered a critic of China, as chairman of the National Trade Council, should lead to deep worries among American and Chinese cinema investors.
Open Future: Trade Barriers or Cooperation?
Whether Trump actually wants to hinder their ambitious plans remains to be seen. After all, many jobs in their own country also depend on the US film industry. Donald Trump knows that too. It remains to be seen whether Trump will actually build a great wall between the trading nations USA and China. First of all, the makers of "The Great Wall" hope that the multi-million dollar cinema production will win through with viewers.
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