Cultural Understanding between Chinese and American Film Industries

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On February 17, 2012, the Vice President of China, Xi Jinping, ratified a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Vice President, Joe Biden in Los Angeles; the agreement would allow 50% more American films to be shown in China. As a consequence, it will provide a dramatic enhancement of the revenues of U.S. film studios (Finke, par. 1). I felt so excited at first because I expected more varieties of movies that differ from “Transformers” or “Spiderman” to have access to Chinese audiences for a long time. Whereas, when I continued to read some articles related to this one, it says the pact only emphasizes the amount of 3D, IMAX and other similar format movies, which prefer to be commodity rather than art, will increase by an extra 14 films each year (Waxman, par. 5). The Chinese film industry should import more American movies with profound implications and deeper inspiration, rather than those which just depend on high-tech and stereotyped plots. The current impact of globalization between Chinese and American film industries does not improve cultural understanding. It even makes some Chinese filmmakers lose their own “cultural heritage and cultural identity” (Johnson 414); Hollywood movies dominate the life of young Chinese. Many of them seem to value American culture which they’ve learned from the cinema more powerfully than their own traditional culture.

The Chinese film industry had gradually released its market to foreign countries since 2001, when China joined the WTO. In the meantime, it has brought a significant impact to the indigenous filmmakers; they have to face the most challenging competitor around the world and try to find a way out. Admittedly, Hollywood is equipped with the most advanced filmmaking techniques and it is adept at producing big-budget movies; this is exactly what the Chinese filmmakers need, but these kinds of pressure made many of them too anxious for success. They have been imitating Hollywood’s shooting style. For instance, “The Promise”, which was directed by one of the best-known Chinese directors, Chen Kaige in 2005, was the biggest budget film at that time in China. It is seen as the lowest rated film in history, although it cost 30 million dollars and was made in cooperation with many international action directors, photographers and actors (Kozo, par. 1). At the outset of the production, Chen wanted to combine Kung-Fu features that belong to traditional Chinese culture, with dazzling high-tech effects that indicate classic Hollywood style, together to expand the audience base on worldwide dimension. As can be seen from the results, simply depended upon a huge amount of capital investment to imitate Hollywood-filming approaches does not get the same profits. Even worse, some Chinese filmmakers are gradually losing their own “cultural heritage and cultural identity” (Johnson 414). They think imitating Hollywood blockbusters is more profitable and more likely to succeed, while the domestic film industry is picking up the pace to enter a dimension of globalization.

Another example could be the black comedy film “Crazy Stone” which was shown in 2006. In spite of the 400 thousand dollars low-budget and cast of unknowns, it earned a 3-million dollar box office in China (McMillin, par. 1). After it had gained immense profits, several movie critics asserted that the whole story was based on the masterpiece comedy “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”, which was directed by the globally renowned British director, Guy Ritchie. More attention was placed on the immoral borrowing of the plot at that time within the Chinese film industry. In spite of how successful it did in box office, the suspicion still reflected the lack of originality of Chinese filmmakers. However, Ang Lee, who is the first Chinese Oscar-winning director, claims his secret of success is that Chinese movies should retain the inherited traditional character types. You are still perceived as imitating other’s work, regardless of how Hollywood-like your movies (“Ang Lee”, par. 6-7). Increasing cultural imposition through imported films is swallowing Chinese filmmakers’ creativeness and competitiveness. No one will understand Chinese culture better than China’s own screenwriters or directors. So those indigenous professional people should not undermine the power of domestic culture and should make full use of local advantages, instead of imitating Hollywood’s shooting approaches or plots.

Contemporary Chinese youth are dominated by 3D and IMAX films; they rarely choose low-budget homegrown Chinese films. Although there is a strict quota of imported films controlled by the Chinese government, China still represents the most promising international market for Hollywood film studios. In 2011, ten of the highest-grossing movies in China, six of them were produced in the US. “Transformers 3”, “Kung-Fu Panda” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” led the incredible box office revenues; each of them could take in 100 million dollars in China (Waxman, par. 13). With regard to the young generation, visual effects and audio effects are decisive for choosing a movie. When they decide to watch a movie, the first choice will be 3D or an IMAX Hollywood blockbuster, such as “Transformers 3”. It is not an exaggeration to say that most of the young people already know all the specific information about a Hollywood film, even before the film has finished its final cut (Zhu and Rosen 59). Compared with some Chinese independent films, which have fewer movie stars or spend less money on advertising, the remarkable and fantastic posters of Hollywood films are much more attractive to Chinese youth. The agreement, which was signed by the two national vice-presidents, not only indicates the US has won 14 additional 3D or IMAX films, but also provides a bigger chance to exert American cultural influence on Chinese youth. A college student explains why they only favor Hollywood movies, according to a Chinese TV report. Students always get a lot of assignments to do, readings and writings engage most of their spare time; therefore, they would rather watch some funny and less thought-provoking films than some serious instructive films. I think young people are the future and hope of a nation and their cultural value is directly related to the prosperity of the nation. If they worship American culture more than anything else, then traditional Chinese culture will not last for long. Similarly, no one wants to have his or her national culture replaced by another culture.

In contrast, some critics argue that the impact of globalization on the film industry “has brought new possibilities of pleasing everyone” (Johnson 414). Since Hollywood movies are allowed to be shown in Mainland China, they increased the competitiveness and openness of the Chinese film industry; Chinese audiences also have an enhanced understanding of American culture. On the other hand, some Chinese-language films have done well at the box office in the US market and other parts of the world, such as “Hero” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. Despite the cultural and linguistic obstacle, many American people have accepted Chinese culture by watching those Chinese films.

While, the production in China has reached more than 500 films every year (Hays, par. 37), the Chinese films that are exported to the US are extremely few. This imbalance cannot stimulate a healthy competitive environment and reasonable cultural understanding among the two nations’ film industries. In addition, even though there are some Chinese films that can be shown in the US, they rarely create international influence or are appreciated by American people. “Hero” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” are rare successes. They may not suffice to facilitate mutual understanding and achieve equal exchange. A famous Chinese director, Zhang Yimou, confesses that Hollywood films do challenge their domestic films a lot; many big-budget and all-star cast Chinese films still failed in foreign markets, because foreign audiences cannot understand and be touched by the stories (Hays, par. 50). As Zhang says, the unilateral exchange between the two countries will take a long time to overcome. So the current impact of globalization on the two nation’s film industries does not increase cultural understanding.

In terms of the recent landmark agreement that signed by Chinese Vice President, Xi Jinping, the US film studios will pour in more and more films with commercial purpose and boost Chinese audiences swarming into cinemas to watch those unrealistic stories. Filmmakers and the young generation are the essential components of the Chinese film industry. If both of them are swallowed up by Hollywood, how will Chinese culture have the chance to be shown in foreign countries? And how can the two film industries achieve mutual understanding? Since globalization began, cultural understanding has been always on the run.

Works Cited

“Ang Lee and Feng Xiaogang on Chinese Films Going International.” 23 Jun. 2006. 1 Aug. 2012 <http://english.cri.cn/3178/2006/06/23/60@105933.htm>.

Finke, Nikki. “Reaction To Today’s U.S.-China Film Pact.” Deadline. 17 Feb. 2012. 1 Aug. 2012

<http://www.deadline.com/2012/02/reaction-to-todays-u-s-china-film-agreement/>.

Hays, Jeffrey. “Foreign Films in China and Chinese Films Abroad.” Factsanddetails. Mar. 2012. 1 Aug. 2012 < http://factsanddetails.com/china.php? Itemid=241&catid=7&subcatid=42 >.

Johnson, June. Global Issues, Local Arguments: Readings for Writing. Seattle:   Pearson Education Inc., 2009.

Kozo. “The Promise.” Love HK Film. 2005. 13 Aug. 2012 <http://www.lovehkfilm.com/reviews_2/promise.htm >.

McMillin, Calvin. “Crazy Stone.” Love HK Film. 2006. 13 Aug. 2012 <http://www.lovehkfilm.com/panasia/crazy_stone.htm&gt;.

Waxman, Sharon. “White House Gets China To Open Market to U.S. Movies        (Updated).” Reuters. 18 Feb. 2012. 1 Aug. 2012  <http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/18/idUS420251887620120218>.

Zhu, Ying, and Stanley Rosen. Art, Politics, and Commerce in Chinese Cinema.  Hong Kong: Ho

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