The Chinese Box Office just keeps climbing and climbing. For the first half of the year it reached 2.3 Billion in revenue. The overall box office for the year is estimated at 5.5 million which would show a 32% increase from last year. This is the sixth year in which it has sustained a 25% + growth. Considering that number is a percentage, China’s BO’s ability to maintain it is very impressive. And now formerly indie directors are finding that there’s no reason to stay indie.
Sixth Generation Indie Director, Wang Xiaoshuai who was last heard lashing out at commercially-successful Chinese directors, has apparently decided he has had enough of sitting on the sidelines when everyone else is taking advantage of China’s film goldmine. He plans to shoot a romance film set during the Sichuan Earthquake with a $60 million yuan budget, and says he would like to cast Han Geng. He gave choices for leading ladies as Jiang Yiyan, Tang Yan, and Gao Yuanyuan.
Wang Xiaoshaui’s last film In Love We Trust, was about two parents that discover the only way to save their child dying of leukemia is to use stem cells from the umbilical cord of a sibling, but unfortunately the parents have divorced and already remarried. It was well-received but low-key, with low-key actors.
Han Geng may have natural acting chops, but casting him really reeks of commercialism, far more than Lu Chuan’s casting of Liu Ye and Gao Yuanyuan in Nanking! Nanking, one of the movies that took the brunt of Wang Xiaoshuai’s scorn due to its box office earnings. Tang Yan, who is quickly shooting to stardom this year with projects like Stormriders 2, Pandaman, and Chinese Paladin 3, also is a bit on the commercial side.
In the past, what seemed like such a short time ago, most of the biggest names amongst Chinese directors were indie, because there was nothing but indie. Much of their revenue came from international distributors who would slap a “Banned in China” on the DVD art to get it to sell (as with Wang Xiaoshuai’s Frozen).
Now however, the likelihood of box office success is too great with a Chinese audience eager for theatre-going. It seems that everything is a hit these days. Even a smaller flick like Searching for Jackie Chan, made enough to become a huge success. The biggest movie release recently in China was Transformers 2, which has so far made an astounding 360 million yuan (~50 million USD+), breaking the past record that was made…earlier this year. With the large Chinese box office growth each and every year, records are going to get broken over and over.
Fifth-generation director Zhang Yimou whose past indie films were also adored by foreign audiences, has dropped the international film festival crowds for those closer to home. His current project is a period-remake of Blood Simple, with Sun Honglei and Xiao Shenyang, both crowd-pleasers with the Chinese audience.
So perhaps it’s time for the Sixth Generation director to get with the program.
Turning commercial doesn’t necessarily mean abandoning art and quality, but rather opening up to more diversity and options. The cultural revolution left Zhang Yimou with a deep love of the countryside, and it still seems to be his favorite subject in film. Even after tackling his big-budget wuxia films in the mid-2000s, he went back to do his low-budget Riding Alone For Thousands of Miles.
Chinese films might be hampered by many reasons, but it doesn’t need to be restricted by budget as well.