China looms large on movie screens

MAKING INROADS: X-Men: Days Of Future Past stars Chinese actress Fan Bingbing (above) as teleporting mutant Blink


    Jun 06, 2014

    China looms large on movie screens


    AN ALLIANCE between a robot and a food chain famous for duck necks might not seem like the most likely combination. But in Hollywood, nothing is impossible.

    Zhouheiya, a Chinese fast-food chain known for its signature spicy duck necks, is teaming up with Transformers 4 - the highly anticipated Hollywood summer blockbuster - for a comprehensive promotion campaign.

    "Snacks and films are a perfect fit, much like beer and football," said Annie Li, president of Reach Glory Communications, a leading entertainment marketing company in China.

    "Zhouheiya will benefit immensely from the association with a movie franchise that has grossed over US$2.7 billion (S$3.4 billion) across the world."

    Reach Glory, which is handling the collaboration between Zhouheiya and Transformers 4, also handled the product placement campaign of Chinese TV-set maker TCL in the popular movie Iron Man 3.

    According to Ms Li, the alliance between Zhouheiya and Transformers 4 includes cinema advertisements and viral videos, and the decoration of some Zhouheiya stores with a Transformers theme.

    "Zhouheiya has 400 stores in communities, airports, train stations and other major locations across China, which will work as easy promotion platforms for the film," she said.

    The studio has also incorporated some Chinese elements in Transformers 4, with an eye on the growing audience in China.

    Some of the fight scenes between the Autobots and Decepticons were filmed in Wulong, Chongqing. Popular Chinese actress Li Bingbing plays a prominent role in the movie, along with Mark Wahlberg and four rising Chinese actors selected from a national TV reality show.

    China Movie Channel, a TV channel affiliated to the state-run China Film Group, has helped Paramount with production-related work and will distribute the film in China. However, the film is still not an official co-production.

    China protects its film market. Every year, only 34 foreign films can be imported on a revenue-sharing basis for theatrical release. Foreign studios get no more than 25 per cent of the box office receipts.

    However, a co-produced film acknowledged by the top regulator, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and TV, is treated as a domestic film and, thus, exempt from the quota system.

    Foreign studios, as a result, can share the revenue as per their agreements with Chinese partners.

    In an official co-production, at least one-third of the lead cast should be Chinese, the story should have Chinese elements and there should be Chinese investors.

    Ben Ji, a veteran film producer and managing director of Reach Glory, said very few films which adhere to the guidelines for co-productions are appreciated by Chinese or international audiences.

    "Most of the usual prototypes are about foreign missionaries going to China or pilots in World War II - I know at least three projects on that, or stories about Pearl S. Buck, the American writer who lived in China," he said.

    Most official co-productions flop, and very few are hits. It is difficult to cite successful instances of a co-production that has captivated both audiences, experts said.

    In Sony's latest Spider-Man film, Chinese white-spirits brand Jiannanchun's bottle and logo are displayed prominently on a billboard in New York City's Times Square.

    Chinese milk brand Yili and clothing brand Meters/Bonwe were featured in the earlier Transformers film. The milk's name was even mentioned in a conversation.

    "To have your product appear in the film for seconds, that's the simplest cooperation now," said Wang Yifei, president of Herun Media, a leading branded content creative platform. "Clients are looking for more complicated projects now... Chinese people are sensitive to any Chinese element in a Hollywood blockbuster."