Trade deal means more 3D and Imax movies from Hollywood for mainland
With two Hollywood films, War Horse and John Carter, topping the mainland box office in first two weeks of this month, mainland audiences will have access to 50 per cent more American films this year, with at least one new foreign film hitting the big screen every week.
A Sino-US trade agreement announced last month that will allow another 14 Hollywood 3D and Imax movies into the mainland's rapidly growing market each year has given rise to concerns about the future of domestic films.
The new policy increases the number of foreign movies allowed into the mainland each year to 64.
In addition, the US studios' share of revenue from showing their films will increase from 13 per cent to 25 per cent.
It is a move to resolve a complaint that China restricts the number of foreign movies allowed into its market, which led to a World Trade Organisation ruling against Chinese limits on the import of films, DVDs, music and books in 2009.
US studios and filmmakers have greeted the move as a breakthrough, but concerns have been expressed that domestic movies, particularly small and medium-sized productions, could be squeezed out by Hollywood blockbusters.
In the month since the new trade agreement was disclosed, domestic filmmakers have generally ignored media inquiries about the potential impact of the deal.
Two private filmmakers and one state-owned studio have said the issue is too sensitive, and they must be very cautious about expressing their opinions.
Director Yin Li told a press conference: 'Of course, it [the new quota] is a bad thing for filmmakers and good for audiences and cinemas.'
Liu Cuiping, consultation manager with EntGroup, a Beijing-based research firm which specialises in the entertainment industry, said: 'Small and medium-sized filmmakers will feel the pressure, as cinemas will screen more imported films.'
But Zhao Ying, an expert on China's film industry at Communication University of China, said the domestic industry would benefit in the long run.
'Competition will squeeze some poor-quality films out of the market,' she said. 'An increase for only 3D and Imax films has already taken into account the situation of small and medium-sized filmmakers.'
Mainland cinemas' box-office revenue surged nearly 30 per cent last year to more 13 billion yuan (HK$16 billion), making the mainland the third-largest film market in the world, trailing only the US and Japan.
However, imported movies accounted for nearly half of the mainland's box office revenue. The top two films last year were Hollywood blockbusters Transformers 3, which raked in 1.1 billion yuan, and Kung Fu Panda 2 (617 million yuan). Analysts say that allowing more 3D and Imax films to be imported will encourage investors to build more 3D or Imax cinemas, which will in return boost box office takings.
But this sparked concerns about the prospects for domestic 3D film productions.
Liu said: 'When the standard of China's 3D movies is not high, it's a heavy blow to 3D makers, because there is one newly imported 3D or Imax film screened every month.'
Co-production looks promising, with Oriental DreamWorks, a joint venture studio in Shanghai to be built and run by DreamWorks Animation and state-owned Chinese media companies, to produce original films and television programmes for the Chinese market.
The trade agreement will also help break a distribution duopoly by allowing more private film distributors into a business previously controlled by two state-owned firms, the China Film Import and Export Corporation and Huaxia Film Distribution.
The forecast for the number of cinema screens on the mainland by 2015, double the number last year and four times as many as in 2007