Film Business Moves from Hollywood to Asia

This sort of censorship is somewhat pointless in China, because most Chinese are already familiar with the unedited versions of Western films before they appear in theaters -- from bootleg DVDs. Many of these DVDs are made in Russia. Whenever a film is shown in theaters there, DVDs with Chinese subtitles turn up in Beijing before long.

The Chinese try out films on DVD to decide whether they are worth seeing in the theater. Movie-theater tickets are only affordable for members of the middle and upper classes in China. With all surcharges included, they can cost up to $25 apiece. Those with little money have to make do with the DVDs. "In China, the movie theater is a place of social distinction," says Rolf Giesen, a professor of film animation in Beijing.

Film in China is almost exclusively a blockbuster business, and large spectacle films like "Transformers" and "Avatar" do particularly well there. Films like "Lincoln," "Argo," and "Zero Dark Thirty," which deal with American history, hardly stand a chance -- if they are even granted an import permit.

China is a heavily regulated market. At the moment, only 34 foreign films a year can be shown in the country. To get around this rule, American and European producers seek Chinese partners. "Cloud Atlas" is playing as a Chinese film, because 20 percent of the funding was Chinese.

Western producers' willingness to kowtow to Chinese sensitivities is beginning to border on self-censorship. The Hollywood film "Red Dawn" was supposed to be about an invasion of large parts of the United States by Chinese troops. After it was filmed, the producers used digital tricks to turn the Chinese into North Koreans.

Perhaps it's okay that, for economic reasons, American filmmakers no longer dare to vilify other nations, but if North Korea ever opens up to the West, Hollywood will run out of villains.

Asia's markets are so big that the studios are searching their archives for material to produce as remakes exclusively for local markets. There is now an Indian version of the gangster film "The Italian Job," as well as a Chinese version of the romantic comedy "What Women Want." The Japanese remake of Clint Eastwood's Western "Unforgiven" is in production. The Chinese film noir "A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop," by Zhang Yimou, on the program at the Berlinale three years ago, is based on "Blood Simple," the directorial debut of the brothers Joel and Ethan Coen. The remake made more than 10 times as much in China as the original did in the United States.

Every year festival director Dieter Kosslick's success is measured by which Hollywood films he can attract for the Berlinale. This could very well be yesterday's benchmark.

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