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Wake-up call to Chinese film makers’ Hollywood dream


San Francisco Chronicle: The $100 million ‘Asura’, China’s most expensive film, was a flop of historic proportions. (photo from Ningxia Film Group)

‘Asura’, which is “supposed to be China’s ‘Lords of the Rings’” with US$100 million production cost, was removed from the cinemas after 3 days on mainland as its opening weekend generated only $7mn ticket revenue.

Despite a dream team for production — Charlie Iturriaga (Deadpool, Furious 7) in charge of visual effect, Oscar winner Ngila Dickson (The Lord of the Rings) as costume designer, Martin Hernandez (The Revenant, Birdman) as audio director, and Peng Zhang (stunt coordinator for The Twilight Saga, Ant-Man) as director, the Chinese critics easily came to a consensus, namely, no story.

“The flop ‘is the final nail in the coffin for the erroneous belief that Chinese audiences will accept scale and visual effects over fundamental storytelling,’ said Peter Shiao, CEO of film production and marketing company Orb Media in Los Angeles and Beijing.”

However, some still believe that the Hollywood dream remains alive in China. “… despite the setbacks, China’s film sector seems focused on success. ‘Asura revealed China’s ambition to rival Hollywood and to show it has as much financial and transnational potential’ … the country’s rapidly-expanding blockbuster film sector is bound to have some teething problems as it matures …” Gary Bettinson, a film lecturer at Lancaster University, said that it would “take the country time to make international blockbusters. It will eventually, just not overnight.”

The inconvenient truth is that unless the story can touch the soul of humankind deeply, a movie with Chinese actors ‘speaking’ in English on silver screen, be they wearing ancient clothing or living in modern city, the chance of becoming a box office hit is slim. Culture, language and ethnicity are indeed fences, if not walls, between civilizations, though not necessarily in clash. Up to this moment, Asian languages are rarely included in primary or high school syllabus in the West. Where are the audiences from?

It was also rare to see superb German or Italian films making handsome profits overseas. The 1954 Japanese film Seven Samurai was not so popularly known in America until it was adapted to become The Magnificent Seven 1960.

Given the revival of the Silk Road on railway, brilliant Chinese and European movies in future would probably tell stories about people on the transnational trains crossing Eurasia. The entertainment industry may thereby enter into a new non-Hollywood era if it can be really so.

The opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of China Daily Mail.

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About keith K C Hui

Keith K C Hui is a Chinese University of Hong Kong graduate major in Government and Public Administration and the author of "Helmsman Ruler: China's Pragmatic Version of Plato's Ideal Political Succession System In The Republic" (2013).

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