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Asia Minute: China’s Shifting Movie Business

Jorge Simonet
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Wikimedia Commons

A new round of trade talks gets underway this week between the United States and China. One of the many topics covered by trade agreements is the movie industry. And in China, that business is undergoing some changes.

The movie with the biggest box office in the world so far this year is a Chinese science fiction picture. “The Wandering Earth” has sold more than 700-million dollars of tickets — mostly in China.

In the United States Netflix has already snapped up the distribution rights.

In the movie, planet earth is threatened by a rapidly expanding sun and engineers coordinate a plan to use fusion-powered thrusters to eject earth out of the solar system and find a new home, but complications ensue.

The engineers and the scientists are Chinese, so are the space scientists, and while all the nations of the globe have come together in a single government; its leaders are also Chinese. Traditionally, a Hollywood version would of course have Americans playing all those roles — although these days there would likely be at least some allowances for international participation.

But you can expect to see more Chinese made movies with an eye to developing that country’s “soft power.”

The trade paper Variety reports that the head of China’s National Film Bureau has urged filmmakers to make movies with “patriotic plots.” In case there’s any uncertainty about what that means, he also told an industry forum a few weeks ago that those making movies “must have a clear ideological bottom line and cannot challenge the political system.”

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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