When Jean-Jacques Annaud “Wolf Totem”, a co-production between France and China, is launched during this end of February, we propose to make an inventory of the cinematographic relations between France and China. The Chinese cinematographic industry is undeniably ramping up since several years and 2013 has been a record-breaking year for the Chinese exploitation of French films. Indeed in terms of exploitation revenues the country is the second land of export for French movies in the world, where art house movies naturally meet their audience. However Chinese regulations have nothing to envy to our cultural exception. Indeed imports of foreign movies in China are subject to rigid quotas accompanied with an ultra protectionist policy, for example by introducing « the month of Chinese cinema » during certain periods in the year (Christmas, Valentine’s day…) known as high cinema attendance periods, thereby reducing foreign movies on their screens. It’s also based on the statement that no more than 4 to 5 French movies per year were launched on Chinese screens that the French Government signed a film co-production agreements with the People’s Republic of China on 29 April 2010. This agreement extends cooperation possibilities.
The first benefit of this agreement is the creation of a reciprocity rights policy, which grants the same rights, advantages and subventions normally, reserved for national films. Therefore the co-produced movie is also considered as a French movie in France and as a Chinese movie in China, which allows French movies to alleviate quotas problem and Chinese movies to access to French investments. The agreement concern cinematographic works of every durations, on any material and of all types, the only requirement being a first run of the film on a movie theatre. In addition the film has to obtain authorizations from competent authorities of each country, namely CNC in France and State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) in China. Artistic and technic contributors must be nationals of France, China, or from a Member State of the EU or of the EEA and the film has to be shot on the territory of a contracting state. If all of those conditions are satisfied, co-producers shares may vary from 20 to 80 per cent of the film’s cost.
From a French point of view the agreement allowing a circumvention of the Chinese locked market rules, a potential securing distribution of future movies and a larger portion of the exponential Chinese box office benefits. On the other side, Chinese producers can now produce in France in cost-efficient and obtain access to the renowned French expertise in filming technics, by a transfer of technology similar to those we can find in other industries. In addition China is looking for new matters for its television series, which have a hard time competing with foreign series, because Chinese viewers are keen consumers of foreign way of life. In 2011 coproduced movies between France and China also experienced a 30 per cent increase and Chinese shooting amount of benefits increased tenfold between June 2010 and June 2011, reaching 5 million euros. Since then an increase in the number of films made in each country has been recorded and eight co-productions are said to be taking place, including three of them already filmed. But success may never be guaranteed. Therefore « Ye Ying – Le promeneur d’oiseau », a Philippe Muyl movie, which was a result of a Chinese and French co-production agreement and was released on may 2014, only sales 108 000 cinema tickets in France. The next co-productions will also reveal the success or the fail of this attempt to collaborate. For example the agreement has allowed Loull production (French production company) and Edko Films Ltd (Chinese production company) to co-produce the next Jean-Jacques Annaud movie, « Wolf Totem ». This director also signed a new coproduction agreement within a global strategic partnership with China of 40 million euros, in order to produce two films on the next three years. The next Jean-Jacques Annaud movie should talk about the controversial reign of the Chinese Empress Cixi. Among the other experimental projects, Charles de Meaux movie, « The lady in the portrait », and Pascal Morelli movie « 108 rois démons », should be released on 2015.
But every difficulty has not been resolved yet. The project’s production companies have to be certified by their respective countries and, more importantly, the SARFT, by its mission of visas issuance, carry out an artistic check on movies. As a result, the Chinese audiovisual industry is torn between the shifting imperatives of leisure market and the ideological control of government on contents. Indeed violence and nudity scenes are almost systematically corrected and the SARFT paid special attention to on-screen portrayals of the Chinese society. Furthermore, if the agreement allows some projects to be free from Chinese quotas, these still exist and not decrease, even if negotiations on this matter records some slow progress.
Furthermore, the agreement boundaries stop to continental China, excluding Taiwan in particular. However the island is viewed as a strategic entry point into Asian audiovisual market and provides a lot of successful productions on Chinese screens. Taiwan brings a double benefit for French producers: At first the island is the Asian region with which France has closest affinity, which creates a real desire to collaborate, voiced repeatedly. Furthermore, Taiwan reserves a much warmer welcome for subversive projects or art house works and has a deep appreciation of the Chinese audiovisual market through its experience. Combined with its capacities for creation, the island could be exploited by French producers. To finish Taiwan is already an entry point into Asian market for foreign productions because Chinese people take advantage of the absence of customs barriers to obtain foreign movies that aren’t available in China. Today producers that want to shoot in Taiwan have to address their requirements to the Taipei Film Commission and follow several procedures, lighter than procedures in other countries but still stringent. The Alon Chan movie, « Papa Lanternes », stem from a Chinese-French coproduction agreement, however gathers shooting places and actors from France, China and Taiwan, which means that any film cooperation between those territories isn’t impossible.