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Chinese Movie Industry Tries To Kick 'Hollywood Dependency'

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Zhang Feifei

BEIJING — At the just concluded Beijing International Film Festival, the hottest feature on the bill was the business battle between Chinese and American film industries. The Fate of the Furious, a Hollywood blockbuster, has grossed 2.35 billion RMB ($340 million) since its release two weeks ago in China, and it is projected to become the top grossing movie of the year, as well as the all-time biggest Hollywood release in China.

However, the surge of Chinese capital entering Hollywood studios changes the equation: This supposed Sino-U.S. movie war must be reassessed in light of how Chinese elements are entering the DNA of more and more Hollywood productions. Still, the unprecedented entry of Chinese capital into the American film industry continues to be leveraged, above all, on their home market and domestic film release in China. In other words, the role they play ultimately relegates them to being financial investors, leaving the road still quite long to get real control over content.

Hollywood "dependency syndrome"

According to the statistics of the Weiing Institute, a Chinese movie database, in recent years certain Hollywood films have grossed more in China than at home. This is particularly true for action films such as The Fate of the Furious or for comedies such as A Dog's Purpose.

Over the past two months, apart from a small bunch of Chinese films made especially for the occasion of the Chinese New Year, foreign movies overwhelmingly crushed the home-grown ones at the box office. On average, a new Chinese film release grosses only 12 million RMB ($1.7 million) whereas a foreign one grosses about 450 million RMB ($65 million). This is in no way accidental. And with the upcoming big Hollywood releases such as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, and Transformers: The Last Knight, slated for the months of May and June, the Chinese film market is destined to be crushed by Hollywood blockbusters.

One can't help but wonder: If there were no limit on the number of foreign film imports, would Chinese cinema eventually vanish altogether?

Yin Hong, director of the Film and Television Research Center at Tsinghua University, explains that the domestic films have tended to rely more on the audiences of small rural cities. But as the film release channels have opened up, this public has also gradually been channeled towards foreign offerings, with their more sophisticated content and technical quality.

Action scene in Guangzhou, China — Photo: Jonathan Kos-Read

What may further accelerate the fall of Chinese movies is the upcoming renegotiation of the Sino-U.S. memorandum of understanding on bilateral issues related to the film industry. Though a member of the World Trade Organization since 2001, China has not liberalized its film market. A total of only 34 foreign films are released per year, among which around 20 come from the United States — and that is, provided that these films share their box office revenues with the local distributors.

Yu Dong, Chairman of Bona Film, a film production and distribution group and the first Chinese audiovisual company to be listed on the U.S. stock market, said the current number of 34 annual releases could be doubled, while the revenue sharing may be bumped up from 25% to over 35%.

In reference to the general worry of the Hollywood "dependency syndrome", Yu told Economic Observer that he is not worried. "As the volume of the market and production increase, even if China further increases the foreign film import quota and revenue-sharing proportion, China's filmmakers should be confident enough to face any outcome and any impact brought about by foreign films," he said.

Yu also stressed that integration is the best bet for Chinese films and is convinced that the cooperation of capital and talents will effectively create a "global market" where Chinese films can be distributed alongside all the capital, increasingly integrating with the international film industry, and ensuring better and better access to the English-speaking distribution market.

A Chinese audience is perfectly capable of appreciating good movies.​

Still, the most relevant change in the last few years is the injection of Chinese capital into Hollywood, with co-production on such films as Kong: Skull Island by Warner Brothers, Legendary Film and Tencent Pictures, or the handling of local marketing and distribution for A Dog's Purpose between Alibaba Pictures and Amblin Partners, or between Weiing Times and Paramount Pictures for the film Ghost in the Shell. Increasingly, Chinese producers are participating in the global revenue-sharing of box office and derivatives, and extending their presence from online ticketing towards the upstream cinematic content industry.

Given that many Chinese producers are increasingly betting on directly investing in Hollywood studios and that the American movie import quota will go up, many wonder if Sino-U.S. co-production is still worthwhile. This, in particular, comes in the context of the recent flop of The Great Wall, featuring Matt Damon as a European mercenary in China" s Song dynasty.

"I personally do not agree that it's the end of Sino-U.S. co-production of films," says Miao Xiantian, General Manager of the China Film Co-Production Corporation (CFCC). "So maybe it wasn't well received in the U.S. market, but the film has grossed pretty well in China, Russia, and southeast Asia. The Great Wall is the first big English-speaking production made by a Chinese director, Zhang Yimou. It's a very good effort."

As a semi-official enterprise to help oversee co-productions between Chinese and non-Chinese partners, the CFCC has established a set of specifications for such deals. First, both of the two parties put in not less than 20-30% of the funding. Second, the film involves a Chinese element. Finally, the creative staff include both parties and, in particular, Chinese actors have some of the main roles. Miao stated that so far this year co-productions continue to increase, up from 40 films per year before 2015 to more than 70 since last year.

Huayi Brothers' Vice President Ye Ning calls for a more open mindset for co-production. "A Chinese audience is perfectly capable of appreciating good movies. A filmmaker's job is to tell a good story. It doesn't necessarily imply a specific Chinese cultural content," Ye says. "Emotion and humanity are universal features."

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New Delhi, India: Fumigation Against Dengue Fever In New Delhi

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 வணக்கம்*

Welcome to Thursday, where America's top general reacts to China's test of a hypersonic weapon system, Russia is forced to reimpose lockdown measures and Venice's historic gondola race is hit by a doping scandal. French daily Les Echos also offers a cautionary tale of fraud in the crypto economy.

[*Vaṇakkam, Tamil - India, Sri Lanka, Singapore]

💡  SPOTLIGHT

A dove from Hiroshima: Is Fumio Kishida tough enough to lead Japan?

Japan's new prime minister is facing the twin challenges of COVID-19 and regional tensions, and some wonder whether he can even last as long as his predecessor, who was forced out after barely one year.

When Fumio Kishida, Japan's new prime minister. introduced himself earlier this month, he announced that the three major projects of his premiership will be the control of the ongoing pandemic; a new type of capitalism; and national security.

Kishida also pledged to deal with China "as its neighbor, biggest trade partner and an important nation which Japan should continue to dialogue with."

Nothing too surprising. Still, it was a rapid turn of events that brought him to the top job, taking over for highly unpopular predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, who had suddenly announced his resignation from office.

After a fierce race, Kishida defeated Taro Kono to become the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and pave the way for the prime minister's job.

A key reason for Kishida's victory is the improving health situation, following Japan's fifth wave of the COVID pandemic that coincided with this summer's Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The best way to describe Kishida is to compare him to a sponge: not the most interesting item in a kitchen, yet it can absorb problems and clean up muck. His slogan ("Leaders exist to make other people shine") reflects well his political philosophy.

Kishida was born into a political family: His grandfather and father were both parliament members. Between the ages of six to nine, he studied in New York because of his father's work at the time. He attended the most prestigious private secondary school — the Kaisei Academy, of which about half of its graduates go to the University of Tokyo.

However, after failing three times the entrance exam, Kishida finally settled for Waseda University. Coming from a family where virtually all the men went to UTokyo, this was Kishida's first great failure in life.

After he graduated from college, Kishida worked for five years in a bank before serving as secretary for his father, Fumitake Kishida. In 1992, his father suddenly died at the age of 65. The following year, Kishida inherited his father's legacy to be elected as a member of the House of Representatives for the Hiroshima constituency. Since then, he has been elected successfully nine straight times, and served as Shinzo Abe's foreign minister for four years, beginning in December 2012. A former subordinate of his from that time commented on Kishida:

"If we are to sum him up in one sentence, he is an excellent actor. Whenever he was meeting his peers from other countries, we would remind him what should be emphasized, or when a firm, unyielding 'No' was necessary, and so on ... At the meetings, he would then put on his best show, just like an actor."

According to some insiders, during this period as foreign minister, his toughest stance was on nuclear weapons. This is due to the fact that his family hails from Hiroshima.

In 2016, following his suggestion, the G7 Ise-Shima Summit was held in Hiroshima, which meant that President Barack Obama visited the city — the first visit by a U.S. president to Hiroshima, where 118,661 lives were annihilated by the U.S. atomic bomb.

In September 2020 when Shinzo Abe stepped down as prime minister, Kishida put out his candidacy for the first time for LDP's presidency. He didn't even get close. This was his second great failure.

But reading his biography, Kishida Vision, I must say that besides the two aforementioned hiccups, Kishida's life has been smooth sailing over the past 64 years.

When one has had a happy and easy life, one tends to think that human nature is fundamentally good. Yet, the world doesn't work like that. And Japanese tend to believe that "human nature is vice," and have always felt a bit uneasy with the dovish Kishida diplomacy when he was foreign minister.

Hiroshima has always been a city with a leftist political tradition. Kishida's character, coupled with the fact that he belongs to the moderate Kochikai faction within the LDP, inevitably means that he won't be a right-wing prime minister.

Kishida would never have the courage to be engaged in any military action alongside Japan's ally, the United States, nor will he set off to rewrite the country's constitution.

So after barely a year of Yoshihide Suga in office, how long will a Fumio Kishida government last? If Japan can maintain its relatively stable health situation for some time, it could be a while. But if COVID comes roaring back, and the winter brings a sixth wave of the pandemic as virtually all Japanese experts in infectious diseases have predicted, then Kishida may just end up like Suga. No sponge can clean up that mess.

Daisuke Kondo / Economic Observer

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

Top U.S. general says Chinese weapon nearly a "Sputnik moment": China recently conducted a "very concerning" test of a hypersonic weapon system as part of its push to expand space and military technologies, Gen. Mark Milley, the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Bloomberg News. America's top military officer said that this was akin to the Soviet Union's stunning launch of the world's first satellite, Sputnik, 1957, which sparked the Cold War space race. Milley also called the test of the weapon "a very significant technological event" that is just one element of China's military capabilities.

Brexit: France seizes British trawler: A British trawler has been seized by France while fishing in French waters without a license, amid escalating conflict over post-Brexit fishing rights. France's Minister for Europe said it will adopt a zero-tolerance attitude towards Britain and block access to virtually all of its boats until it awards licenses to French fishermen.

COVID update: Russia confirmed a new record of coronavirus deaths, forcing officials to reimpose some lockdown measures, including a nationwide workplace shutdown in the first week of November. Germany also saw its numbers spike, with more than 28,000 new infections yesterday, adding to worries about restrictions this winter there and elsewhere in Europe. Singapore, meanwhile, reported the biggest surge in the city-state since the coronavirus pandemic began. Positive news on the vaccine front, as U.S. pharmaceutical giant Merck granted royalty-free license for a COVID-19 antiviral pill to help protect people in the developing world.

Iran nuclear talks to resume: Iran's top nuclear negotiator said multilateral talks in Vienna with world powers about its nuclear development program will resume before the end of November. The announcement comes after the U.S. warned efforts to revive the deal were in "critical phase."

First U.S. passport with "X" gender marker: The U.S. State Department has issued its first American passport with an "X" gender marker. It is designed to give nonbinary, intersex and gender-nonconforming people a marker other than male or female on their travel document. Several other countries, including Canada, Argentina and Nepal, already offer the same option.

China limits construction of super skyscrapers: China has restricted smaller cities in the country from building extremely tall skyscrapers, as part of a larger bid to crack down on wasteful vanity projects by local governments. Earlier this year the country issued a ban on "ugly architecture."

Doping scandal hits Venice's gondola race: For the first time in the history of the Venice Historical Regatta, a participant has tested positive to marijuana in a doping test: Gondolier Renato Busetto, who finished the race in second place, will be suspended for 13 months.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"End of the ice age," titles German-language Luxembourgish daily Luxemburger Wort, writing about how the ice melting in the Arctic opens up new economic opportunities with a new passage for countries like Russia and China but with potentially devastating effects for the environment. The issue of the Arctic is one of the topics that will be discussed at the COP26 Climate Change Conference which kicks off in Glasgow on Sunday.


#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$87 billion

A new United Nations report found that extreme weather events such as tropical cyclones, floods and droughts have caused India an average annual loss of about $87 billion in 2020. India is among the countries which suffered the most from weather hazards this year along with China and Japan.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Air Next: How a crypto scam collapsed on a single spelling mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy from Laurence Boisseau in Paris-based daily Les Echos.

📲 The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system. Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation.

📝 On Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, the CEO admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

⚠️ What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond". Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


📣 VERBATIM

"A weapon was handed to Mr. Baldwin. The weapon is functional, and fired a live round."

— Following the Oct. 21 on-set shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, Sante Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza told a press conference that the "facts are clear" about the final moments before Hutchins was shot. The investigation continues to determine what led up to that moment, and any possible criminal responsibility related to how the "prop" gun that actor Alec Baldwin fired was loaded.

📸  PHOTO DU JOUR

Fumigation is used as a precautionary measure against the spread of dengue disease in New Delhi, India, where more than 1,000 cases have been reported — Photo: Naveen Sharma/SOPA Images/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Share with us your favorite gondola memories or worst crypto scams — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com

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