Dalian Wanda movie deal can create a different view of China

While there is no better medium than film to teach others about a nation’s history, culture and thinking, the demands of an international audience must also be taken into account

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 January, 2016, 12:26am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 January, 2016, 12:26am

Global perceptions of China are largely shaped by stereotypes. They are flawed and perpetuated by a Western-dominated media, yet persist despite the ever-expanding reach of Chinese companies and tourists. The conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group’s purchase of a majority stake in Hollywood production firm Legendary Entertainment is set to change that. There is no better medium than film to teach others about history, culture and the ways and thinking of a nation.

Legendary is behind the blockbuster movies Jurassic World, Godzilla and the Dark Knight trilogy. The deal, for US$3.5 billion, is the biggest acquisition of a US film company by a Chinese firm. It is beneficial to both sides: Wanda, which is building a strong position in cinema on the mainland, wants to capitalise on a boom, while Legendary has long sought to tap into a lucrative market restricted to outsiders by an annual 30-film quota. But the arrangement also neatly fits Beijing’s desire for Chinese movies to garner an international following.

There is no better example of what the future holds than the upcoming Legendary action-fantasy production Great Wall. Starring Matt Damon and Willem Dafoe beside Chinese actors including Andy Lau and Jing Tian, it will be the first big-budget Hollywood movie made for global distribution that is entirely set, filmed and produced in China. Incorporating Chinese legends, it is exactly the soft power that authorities seek to improve global understanding of the nation.

Producing films on the mainland comes with restrictions on what can be said, done and shown. But the profits are too big for production companies to ignore: China’s film market is forecast to overtake its American counterpart at the box office next year. Chinese cinema-goers will win through high-quality productions. But the demands of an international audience also have to be taken into account, no matter how the nation wants its story to be told. With Hollywood’s help, there can be evolution and development.