Film Business Moves from Hollywood to Asia

Of course, money isn't the only issue for Hollywood, either. America sees cinema as its very own art form, tailor-made for telling the world American stories and celebrating American values. "We'll still be making movies about American football in the future," says Bruckheimer, "but with much smaller budgets. That's because it's almost exclusively American viewers who are interested in football." Bruckheimer exhorts his screenwriters to think internationally and write roles for Asian stars into films.

"The days when you could make a lot of money in the cinema with the American dream are numbered," says Stefan Arndt of Berlin production company X Filme. Arndt produced "Cloud Atlas," the film version of the novel by David Mitchell, with stars like Tom Hanks and lots of German, Russian and Chinese money. The film tells six parallel stories that take place in six different ages.

It's about reincarnation and the transmigration of souls, "spiritual aspects that had great resonance in Asia," says Arndt. Because no US studio was willing to finance a film with a $100 million budget, Arndt took his project from country to country. "We raised the money within a few months."

Chinese Censors Quick to Cut

"Cloud Atlas" has already played in Russia, where more than two millions viewers saw the film. That's twice the total audience as in Germany, and not much smaller than in the United States. "The film is about fighting for freedom and searching for salvation, which appeals to Russian audiences," says distributor Alexander van Dülmen, who co-produced the film and distributed it to theaters in Russia and Eastern Europe.

The movie theater business works differently in Russia than in the United States or Germany. "Almost every film stays in theaters for only two weeks," says van Dülmen, "which is why you have to make a big splash." In its first week, "Cloud Atlas" was playing in half of all Russian movie theaters, costing $3.5 million in PR alone. "It's a very lucrative but also a very risky market," says van Dülmen.

Last week the film had a successful premier in China, playing on 4,000 screens there. But Chinese moviegoers saw a noticeably shorter version than viewers in the rest of the world. The censors had cut "Cloud Atlas" by 23 minutes.

"The censors mostly zeroed in on the sex, but not the violence," says director Tom Tykwer. "The parts of the film that preach revolution against an existing system were also edited. But everything is there in the trailers, including gay kisses and sex scenes. Curious."

The censorship of Western films is common in China. For instance, references to prostitution in Shanghai were cut from the Bond film "Skyfall," and a scene in which a hired assassin murders a security guard was also removed. Chinese censors reach right for the scissors when it comes to matters of internal security.

Producer Bruckheimer thought it would be a good idea to cast Hong Kong star Chow Yun-Fat in his third "Pirates of the Caribbean" film. Unfortunately, the censors in Beijing didn't like the way the actor portrayed an eccentric Chinese man. They saw the character as a caricature and removed it completely.

Pirated DVDs Broaden Chinese Audience

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