Chinese Audiences Embrace Non-Studio Hollywood Movies

By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

August 11, 2012

China’s on-again, off again love affair with Hollywood movies heated up last week, abruptly ending a summer fling with Chinese filmmakers, at least for the moment. After a month’s vacation from late June to late July when American films were embargoed from China’s multiplexes, Hollywood movies have roared back to reclaim the lion’s share of the box office, with 82 percent of last week’s total ticket revenue.

Even though SARFT has only partially, temporarily opened the door to US imports, allowing two animated features and two non-studio pictures into domestic theaters in the past few weeks, there’s been enough pent-up demand to propel three of those films—Fox’s Ice Age 4, the Simon West/Jason Statham crime thriller The Mechanic, and Lionsgate’s John Singleton action-mystery Abduction—to the top 3 ranks of the box office chart for the week ending August 5th.

The Mechanic and Abduction were only modest performers stateside, earning $29.1 million and $28.1 million during their North American runs in 2011.  But the Chinese audience is clearly hungry for new Hollywood fare, and in the absence of new live action American studio films, PRC moviegoers showered the two non-studio pictures with solid, if not spectacular, welcoming parties. At nearly $8 million, The Mechanic enjoyed the second best non-studio foreign film opening of the year so far, behind the $10 million June bow of Lionsgate’s The Hunger Games.

Ice Age 4 reached a key milestone by becoming the second highest grossing animated film ever in China, with almost $45 million in ticket sales in its first 10 days. With little real competition for the family market in coming weeks, Ice Age could challenge Kung Fu Panda 2’s Chinese box office record of $92 million.

This week the door will close again to Hollywood, although two non-Chinese films will debut: the China-US co-pro Shanghai Calling, and Europa Corp’s Guy Pearce starrer Lockout, which earned $14 million in the US and $25 million worldwide earlier this year. Four new Chinese animated features also bow this week and on August 15th another Lionsgate film, The Lincoln Lawyer, will open against a handful of new Chinese releases.

August box office will remain subdued until the 30th, when The Dark Knight Rises is scheduled to open. Whether China Film Group will move The Amazing Spider-Man off that same release date remains to be seen.  But the fickle attitude of China’s film czars toward Hollywood’s studios has become exceedingly obvious, and chatter about co-productions is now on the rise.

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at and at

Lionsgate to Receive Chinese Co-Financing on 10 Films– Or Maybe Not

By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

February 23, 2012 from Tokyo, Japan

(Note: In order to protect the interests of a business partner I have modified this article to remove all references to the name of an investor and his fund.)

I have word directly from a Chinese investor that his fund struck a deal on Wednesday morning with Lionsgate to co-produce a slate of 10 films over the next three years. The fund says it will invest 50 percent of the total production costs in a ‘portfolio’ of Lionsgate movies, primarily in the action genre, with a wide range of budgets.

The investor, who wishes to maintain anonymity for himself and for his fund, told me the news in person in a meeting on Wednesday afternoon in Beijing.

He also told me that his fund will invest in a low-budget movie to be directed by Michael Bay, for which the director and crew will be paid not in cash but in equity participation in the project. And he said he’s planning to invest in the Avatar sequel together with China Film Group and Fox.

However, Lionsgate has yet to confirm the news of their supposed deal, and I am inclined to take the investor’s pronouncements with a grain of salt.

As we’ve seen in recent weeks and months, numerous claims and pronouncements have been made by Chinese investors regarding their intended partnerships with American film producers. And although I’m glad to know of their interest in Hollywood, I must caution readers that many of these purported deals will fall well short of expectations.

Exaggeration and mis-represenation are not uncommon in Hollywood and elsewhere, but they are unfortunately endemic in China. With so much naïve exuberance in the U.S. about potential fresh sources of capital from China, and with so many Chinese individuals and institutions flush with cash and opportunity, there are high hopes on both sides. With few long-term relationships or experienced guides to shepherd deals, many hopeful fundraisers in Hollywood will be burned with false promises, and many eager investors in China will be bilked of their renminbi.

As a producer, fundraiser and consultant who has for many years been in the middle of the U.S.-China film trade, I believe it is important to root out dishonesty and inefficiency wherever it occurs. The main reason that I started writing China Film Biz was to bring a clear and sober perspective to the cross-Pacific dialogue and to help others benefit from the mistakes I’ve made. I see it as very much in everyone’s interest to help elevate the level of integrity and accountability in U.S.-China entertainment dealings.

It is in this very spirit that my friends at TransAsia Lawyers, a prominent entertainment and media law firm based in Beijing, have launched ChinaGoAbroad, a web-based information and transaction platform dedicated to bringing new standards of transparency to inbound and outbound investments in and from China. They do so with the full blessing of SARFT, China’s state administration that oversees all media investments.

ChinaGoAbroad’s mission is to serve as a resource and matchmaker to facilitate business and to help honest dealmakers find one another. In this age of instant communications, of internet blogs, of Twitter and Sina Weibo, the posers and charlatans had better watch out.

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at and at