Bridging the Dragon explores Euro-Asian collaboration during its yearly lab on Majorca
- According to the experts present, it is everybody's hope that, in the long run, Chinese policies could ease up and the market will re-open up to foreign content
The eighth Bridging the Dragon Project Lab was held by producers’ association Bridging the Dragon (BtD), in collaboration with the Mallorca Film Commission and ICEX, from 25-28 November on Majorca, Spain. After nine years of connecting the Chinese and European audiovisual industries, this year for the first time, the four-day immersive event invited along professionals not only from China, but also from the whole of Far East Asia.
Since 2021, the performance of the Chinese film market has dropped dramatically owing to COVID restrictions, policies and a lack of new content: in the first three quarters, the total box office was down 26.1% year on year, and the number of moviegoers fell to 610 million, or half of the previous year. Domestic films dominate the market, accounting for 87.6% of the total box office, with epic war dramas, comedies and films reflecting local social issues emerging as the favourite genres. At the same time, there has been a sharp fall in the share of foreign films. As of 31 October 2022, only 47 foreign titles were released in 2022, accounting for only 12.4% of the total box office. The numbers of international co-productions have also been at their lowest ever.
So what can be expected from what used to be the biggest market in the world? In the short term, China will continue to focus on its home market, and foreign cooperation will still lag behind. But it is everybody's hope that, in the long run, internal policies could ease up and the market will re-open up to foreign content. In this sense, the release of Avatar: The Way of Water could encourage the return of the public to the cinema.
In such difficult circumstances, there are still some potential opportunities for cooperation. One of them is that of remakes. As was described during the workshop by Wang Qiao, vice-president of New Classics Media (the very successful production house in China involved in the Chinese remake of the Italian film Perfect Strangers [+see also:
film profile], among others), and by Ronan Wong (who has worked on numerous global productions, including the Chinese remake of Kevin Hill), when there is a general shortage of content, remakes provide a quicker route into production. Interestingly, many of the recent remade titles came from other Asian countries, such as South Korea and Japan, as their aesthetic is closer to Chinese tastes. The localisation of a foreign IP is often the most difficult challenge, and that's why both speakers repeatedly stressed the importance of having a reliable local partner with a proper understanding of the local culture. Several Chinese production companies are now even beginning to turn their attention to remakes of classic titles, an opportunity that the European film industry, with its vast library, certainly cannot afford to miss.
But, as the Chinese market is suffering, other Asian territories are showing incredible growth. This is why the lab decided to open up a broader space for pan Euro-Asian collaboration.
Two of the most important film markets in East Asia, Japan and South Korea, share certain similarities with China. According to Kaori Ikeda, director of International Support and deputy director of TIFFCOM (the market affiliated with the Tokyo International Film Festival), the Japanese film industry is, in principle, also a highly local one. In 2021, its annual box office reached US$1.42 billion, and the number of viewers increased by 8% to 115 million. 959 films were released, of which 490 were local and 469 overseas movies, with local Japanese flicks nabbing the top three spots at the box office. The vast majority of Japanese film companies follow a studio-like system with full vertical integration, as in the case of the KADOKAWA Corporation (represented at the Lab by Takeo Kodera, head of International Co-productions) with its publishing house and its library of thousands of new original IPs each year. For this reason, so far, they have not been particularly interested in collaborating with the international market, as they were confident of recouping their costs in their own domestic territory. As director of the Funding and Support department of KOFIC (Korean Film Council) Kim Hyoun-Soo indicated, a similar situation is occurring in Korea. Most of the Korean commercial films are delivered by a limited number of studios, such as CJ ENM, Lotte Ent, Megabox, NEW and Showbox.
However, with the economic crisis brought on by the pandemic and the consequent changes in the industry, the Japanese film industry is gradually acknowledging the importance of opening up to international collaboration. The activity of the streamers introducing Asian-themed content like Patchinko, Giri/Haji, which are Korean series, is helping to get the global audience more accustomed to Asian aesthetics. And, compared to China, South Korea and Japan also have a funding system in place to finance more independent titles, including co-productions. Until today, there have been very few of these. Now, the challenge is to encourage this trend by studying successful cases and creating opportunities for contacts between the professionals from the different countries.
One unique case is the region of Taiwan, which recently developed strong backing for international co-productions shot on the island. Patrick Huang, from Flash Forward Entertainment, a veteran Taiwanese producer (A First Farewell, The Road to Mandalay), explained in detail all of the available possibilities: from the gap funding of TAICCA - Taiwan’s International Co-funding Program, which is handled directly by the local companies recognised by the authorities, to the Taipei Film Commission - International Co-Production Incentive and the Ministry of Culture - BAMID cash-rebate system.
Other interesting regions that round off this overview are Singapore, Malaysia and Mongolia. As observed by producer Pui Yin Chan, Singapore is increasingly becoming a link to co-productions in Asia and the rest of the world with its funding programmes, but it's also the hub for most of the streamers and South-East Asian global companies, such as HBO+, Disney Asia and so on. Malaysia is a favourite shooting location for many Asian films and TV series. Its costs are competitive, and after racking up many years of experience, the shooting infrastructures and studios are highly prized. A recent addition to this circuit is Mongolia: its newly created incentives and breathtaking scenery are beginning to attract more and more productions.
Film markets like ACFM (Busan), TIFFCOM (Tokyo) and FILMART (Hong Kong) are beginning to function as hubs and a breeding ground for pioneering new film projects, offering different programmes for pitching and development. Given this scenario, BtD intends to support the expansion of these networks and connect them to both Europe and China.
Producer-director Cristiano Bortone, managing director of BtD, added: “After many years in the field of Sino-European collaboration, we are excited to be embarking on this new journey and look forward to the various new opportunities that this new triangle will bring.”
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