Feng Xiaogang and John Woo on the future of Chinese Cinema

Feng Xiaogang's If You Are The Oneb8efd03d0150d01fbaa167b01

The above posters are for two Chinese movie that set new precedents in China this year. The one the left is Feng Xiaogang’s If You Are The One, which according to Variety, finally took away the title of “highest-grossing movie in China” from Titanic, and brought it back home. The on the right, John Woo’s Red Cliff didn’t do too shabby either, becoming the 43rd highest grossing movie world-wide of 2008, only second to Ponyo on the Cliff (Hayao Miyazaki’s latest) in terms of Asian films.

Both gave thoughts on the future of Chinese cinema. Actually while John Woo talked about presenting Chinese culture with Hollywood production values, Feng Xiaogang, who doesn’t have a career in Hollywood to worry about, was far less diplomatic, and flat out said, “We don’t need a foreign market at all, and in five years, our market will be too big to be overlooked” and then gave lots of statistics for support on how China is gaining on Hollywood.

This article was not written by me, but it was extremely interesting, and so it’s being reposted here.  This was originally from The Hollywood Reporter. Thanks to Sanney Leung from The House Where Words Gather for finding the link. Bolded are the parts that I found most interesting.


John Woo and Feng Xiaogang, the only two directors to break the 300 million yuan ($44 million) boxoffice barrier in China, said the country’s movie business is in a battle with Hollywood that will require it to honor the past while embracing the cutting-edge production values of today.

Woo, whose first part of “Red Cliff” raked in more than $44 million last summer in China, said that Chinese-language films need to reclaim the audience taken over by Hollywood blockbusters.

The secret to his success, he said, was to combine stories derived from Chinese culture with Hollywood production values.

“Many audiences in Asia and Hong Kong only watch Hollywood films nowadays,” he said. “The priority of the Chinese-language filmmaker is to retain the Asian sentiment and cultural heritage in their work but present it in a way that is comparable to what the audience is familiar with — the production values of the Hollywood blockbusters.”

China is a director-driven, not star-driven, market; directors are the ones who draw the audience into the cinema,” said Feng, whose films have been setting boxoffice records in China for the past decade and a half. His latest film, “If You Are the One,” grossed more than $44 million during the 2008 Christmas season.

Speaking on Wednesday at the Hong Kong Film New Action business forum organized by the Hong Kong Film Development Council, Feng stated that the future of Chinese-language films lies within the country itself.

“In 2003, the total boxoffice gross in China was 1 billion yuan; in 2008, the number rose to 4.6 billion,” he said. “The number of screens increased by 130% for the last year; two new screens were built each day. For the 4,000 screens in China today, a film can break 300 million yuan; we don’t have to wait until the number levels with what it is in the U.S. — around 40,000. By the time we have 8,000 screens, we can achieve $1 billion in homeland boxoffice gross alone.

“For a film with a $20 million budget, we can recoup the investment just within China, so there is no need to rely on the foreign market,” said Feng, who shared the panel with Woo, “Infernal Affairs” director Andrew Lau and helmer Oliver Stone, who was in town to promote “W.”

Feng also cited 350 main cities where the exhibition business is in early stages of development. Combined with the steady 25% annual increase for the past few years, “we can foresee that in five years, the total boxoffice gross will exceed 30 billion yuan ($4.4 billion),” he said. “That will be the time that Chinese-language films will take on an international importance that can’t be overlooked.”

Feng said he has proposed an initiative to the Chinese government and members of the film industry to speed up the process of doubling the number of screens in China — thus reaching the coveted $100 million (US dollars) boxoffice in the country — by setting a target of 5 billion yuan as the amount needed for the cinema exhibition project. He urged the government to pitch in 1.5 billion yuan from boxoffice taxes as incentive for the industry.

“We have to build the market within China before we can take on foreign markets,” Feng said.

The director added that Chinese filmmakers can’t solely focus on film as art or culture.

“If this is a battle between Hollywood films and Chinese-language films at the Chinese boxoffice, Hollywood is fighting in a business sense,” Feng said. “We can’t fight this battle as if film is culture. This is a business war, not a cultural war.”


Feng Xiaogang has only disappointed only once in his career, when he actually tried to cater to a foreign audience with “The Banquet”. It was beautifully shot, but it lacked everything about it that a Feng Xiaogang film is characterized by: Interesting personalities and soul. Catering to an audience that you are not familiar with simply does not work as a good recipe for movie making. It may be from that particular experience that he has learned his lesson, and perhaps why he is so eager for the Chinese movie market to grow.

His statement that I thought was most interesting apart from the quotes on numbers of theaters or box office was that “Chinese filmmakers can’t solely focus on film as art or culture”. For ages Chinese filmmakers like Wang Xiaoshuai would make artsy films, which is great, because he makes good movies too, but they can not be the staple of a Chinese entertainment scene that is growing and expanding rapidly. The Chinese market is expanding at a rapid pace, and more commercial fare needs to come out of China to meet that need. And no one knows crowd-pleasing commercial films better than Feng Xiaogang.

9 thoughts on “Feng Xiaogang and John Woo on the future of Chinese Cinema

  1. @ idarklight

    I really look forward to seeing Kungfu Cyborg and Jay Chou’s new series.

    And “Mo Huan Shou Ji” trailers looks intriguing. I’ll check it out because I’m interested to see how they’re going to incorporate the “Journey to the West”-type of stuff.

  2. You know, when I started this site…I had no idea what I was going to be talking about, because it wasn’t really to talk about Chinese entertainment changes. I thought I’d be like, posting up hot pics of Chen Kun (which we do still…everyone likes a bit of eye candy!) but I didn’t know that in this one year China would change so much. It came out with all those boybands. Some failed (RIP Seventeen), and some succeeded (yay for Top Combine!) but I was surprised at how well put together some were, for being the first boybands in China. Meteor Shower was also a pleasant surprise. Gao Xing was also a surprise…I mean, a musical with Chinese characteristics? They took the genre and combined it with indie Chinese movie making. I feel for one year, China’s definitely taken up the gauntlet for diversification, and it makes me really eager to see what will happen next year.

    Good point about the school-age series…I was pleasantly surprised by their quality when I saw them. The plots are fun, and the acting by those kids was great. I used to cringe when I saw Chinese child actors speaking in that fake baby voice. I was so amazed to see that’s changed rapidly and there are a good generation of Chinese child actors now. And they don’t even beat you over the head with moral messages like Full House/Family Matters etc at who would ham in up at the end of each episode with sappy music, and the parent saying something in that wise, loving tone of voice.

  3. there are a few new Sci-fi movie/dramas coming out. Movie-wise, the comedy “Kungfu Cyborg.”

    drama-wise, there’s Jay Chou’s Pandamen. and I suppose you could count the Power Ranger-like drama of the My Hero guys.

    but I would love more variety. I have a feeling that sci-fi movie/dramas will become popular as the younger generation grows up. There are a lot of pre-teen/elementary dramas in the sci-fi section. Last year’s most searched-for mainland modern drama on Baidu was “mo huan shou ji,” a CCTV drama about a cellphone/girl who can travel in time.
    For younger kids ,there’s also Magical Planet, where a 5th/6th grader travels to a different planet through his computer. China has really good dramas for school-aged children. They’re often better qualitied than most of China’s idol dramas.

  4. For the past 2 years I would say over 90% of what I watch is from China. Music as well. I feel like I missed out on so much that it’s great to “rediscover” it.

    So I’m really looking forward to seeing how Chinese entertainment evolves.

    And I’m hoping they’ll start exploring different genres, especially sci-fi-type scenarios, which seems to be something that Hollywood has a monopoly on.

  5. I guess I’m worried about sudden, 180 degrees change. It’s what’s been bothering me about Meteor Shower. Change is good, and necessary. But if you want to adopt another model, you should pick and chose its good aspects and integrate it with your original good traits.

    With Meteor Shower, they want to be hip so much that they tried to emulate everything that everyone else has, even if it’s not so great.

    It’s also what’s worrying me about China. China’s so bent on change, on modernization that many times, it feels like they’re just taking in everything that other cultures throws at them without really distinguishing the good and the bad. For example, the Engrish song lyrics and the annoying gangster talk. and cheerleading, for that matter.

    That’s why I love Hunan TV so much. They definitely take a lot from other countries, but they always localize it. They make everything distinguishably theirs and often times better. At the same time, they also come up with creative new things.

    Everyone else plays it safe. If they learned that commercialization and light-hearted drama/movie/bands are the way to go, they’ll all flock to it instead of trying to come up with their own, better improvements. Sort of like this new boom of boybands.

    There was a great article that a children’s writer wrote about how “shanzai” is only good if you improve upon it. I’m worried about a complete overturn (ie. Long Danni’s EE Media) where everything goes completely commercialized. I hope it’ll be more like Japan, where there are tons of idol dramas/bands but also a flourish of serious artists and works.

  6. When I first read that quote from Lu Chuan I didn’t agree with it. Not so much its actual correctness, but more or less what he was trying to imply. As China sees more and more movies there are going to a greater percentage, and thus number of movies that are bad, shallow, etc. But that’s just natural, as is the fact that there will be also a greater percentage of good movies.

    Actually during the course of looking at new articles in Chinese entertainment for this blog, my way of thinking changed towards the entertainment scene. Before I felt that things like boybands and idol entertainment weren’t necessary. And I’m still not saying that boybands are necessary. But I think there needs to be diversity in entertainment.

    I enjoy the artsy indie pieces by Chinese directors, but I also enjoy so mindless entertainment without pretenses like Clueless. Teen comedies, or chick flick with the barest of moral messages, when done well with a coherent plot, good pacing, and actors with a knack for funny facial expressions can be a very satisfying way to spend 2 hours, or more.

    My hope I think for the Chinese entertainment industry is diversity. It really needs more commercial stuff. It certainly at this point has the means to sustain such diversity, ie, a large talent pool and a huge market. The entertainment in China is now just catching up to its potential. I really can’t wait to see what two years will bring. I want China to have a whole slew of movies out each year. I want to be able to choose. Because people need that sort of satisfying escapism, that can’t be brought by Lu Chuan’s Mountain Patrol or his Nanking Nanking.

  7. The problem with a business mindset is that it produces highly commercial products without little real purpose.

    THR: How do you feel about the trend for blockbuster Chinese productions in the market?

    Lu Chuan: I think many of these blockbusters are like a dumpling with a large piece of dough on the outside but with lousy stuffing inside. They lack spiritual substance.

    On the other hand, if business worked according to Maslow, after it’s a big enough of a money-maker, movies that are more iffy and creative might be able to be made without too much worries about box office.

    China is so capitalistic now…but I’m worried that it’ll become capitalistic without the ideals that America has.

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