Chinese films seem to struggle to find an international audience.  Why?

In the article “Chinawood: Why the Chinese Movie Industry Faces Challenges in International Markets” the author pointed to the recent mega budgeted, A-list star-filled film “The Great Wall” as an example of “uninspired storytelling, empty characters, and various problems and delays in production, can be traced back to larger issues in China-U.S. co-productions.” What can be done for Chinese films to cross borders?


The Chinese government enforces censorship so that films promote core socialist values. In the article, professor of political science at USC Stanley Rosen said “Content that tends to sell well in box offices—sex, violence, and rebellious individualism—is often screened out by censors. “The heroes of American films like Iron Man or Avengers go directly against the government,” Rosen said, “You can’t do that in Chinese films.”


In the THR article “Hollywood and China: A fad or Future of the Film Industry” Bob Simonds, Chairman and CEO of China-backed STX Entertainment said, “Americans have conditioned the world to consume a story a certain way. The key is to merge or create a new syntax that’s equally global”.

In another article “Chinese Films Need Right ‘Syntax’ to Win Over Americans” Mr. Simonds again spoke about the need for a universal script “syntax…Chinese films will begin to appeal to global audiences when they speak in a familiar cinematic “syntax” — with more traditional three-act structures and scene progression that will be easily recognizable in other nations.”


Uniquely the most controversial solution of the three is this – shoot in English. In the article “Chinese Films in a Hollywood World” the author pointed to the success of the film “Shanghai Calling” – a successful co-production about an American expat lawyer’s unexpected move to Shanghai.

“Films blending Hollywood qualities with Chinese cultural traits may prove to be the best way to introduce Chinese flair to the Western movie industry. The film Shanghai Calling retains the essence of Hollywood and its techniques. It is the perfect concoction of Western cinematic and Chinese cultural heritage. Hollywood is skilled at things such as screenwriting, story structure, production management, visual effect and post-production”. But as Janet Yang, the film’s producer pointed out “Hollywood needs some fresh ideas.”

Furthermore, Chinese films face a huge hurdle since most Americans prefer to watch their films in English. According to Professor Rosen, only about one percent of the film market in the U.S. included subtitled films.  He added “…so even the best films don’t do very well. Even if they made the kind of films that might be successful, they’d have to be in English. And it’d have to be high concept films.”

What do you think? Should Chinese filmmakers court an international audience? Should they shoot in English?  Share your views in the comments section.

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