Xi Jinping’s Expanded Base Overshadows China’s Film Market

As Xi Jinping prepares to accept a groundbreaking third term as China’s leader, his country faces conflicting headwinds on various fronts: declining economic growth, deteriorating geopolitical relations with the West, and an uncertain exit strategy from the pandemic, among other challenges. China’s film sector is no exception. Given the trends under his latest rule so far – which is set to be apparently extended indefinitely at a high-level Communist Party meeting in Beijing this week – industry insiders and observers believe that Xi’s ever-widening grip on power in Beijing only bodes well. something ominous. The creative and commercial development of the filmmaking business that was strong in the country.

As of Monday, China’s box office gross for 2022, so far, is $3.88 billion, down 33 percent from the equivalent point in 2021, and down nearly 50 percent from 2019, the last year before the pandemic, according to data from Artisan. Gateway. During China’s recent National Day holiday (September 31-October 2), which is usually one of the biggest earnings periods of the year, ticket sales totaled $88 million, down 67 from the 2021 holiday total of $271 million. It was the best performing national film this year home coming With an opening of 59 million dollars, which is far less than the epic war The battle in Changjin Lake$203 million for the first time on National Day in 2021.

Analysts point to several factors behind the rapid decline in profits: Beijing’s strict “dynamic zero-Covid” policy, which has caused regular shutdowns and eroded consumer activity; tighter censorship, which reduced commercial film production in China to a reliance on propaganda war films; sharp decline in imports of high-income Hollywood films; In response to all these factors, investment in content and infrastructure by private and state-backed Chinese companies has declined.

In his keynote report to the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China on Sunday, Xi made clear that he would not depart from any of the political priorities that have driven such dramatic changes in China’s film industry. In a portion of his rhetoric dedicated to culture, which broadly includes issues of content creation and consumption, as well as the development of China’s soft power, Xi first spoke of prioritizing “social benefits” — the usual mix of Communist Party control, and basic socialism. Values ​​and social stability at all costs – and secondly, “production of economic returns”.

“This is very clear in terms of priorities,” says Stanley Rosen, a professor at the University of Southern California who specializes in the Chinese film industry. “We used to always say that film regulators in China were trying to achieve two things: to maintain a 50%-60% market share for domestic Chinese films and to ensure that the market in general was growing at a steady rate, with the goal of China becoming the largest national box office in the world. Now, it is clear that controlling the domestic market as much as possible for Chinese films with the right ‘social benefits’ is more important than anything else.”

In the same way that Xi appears willing to accept slower GDP growth if that is the cost of achieving his ideological goals, film regulators in Beijing seem willing to let the domestic film industry dwindle — both creatively and commercially — if that is the price of keeping all content for propaganda. . in the message.

Chinese cinema’s participation in high-profile international film festivals declined to a handful of titles, mostly short films, during 2022. Beijing industry insiders say it hasn’t been difficult in recent memory to get a film through the system that reflects on the contemporary Chinese social experience With art and nuances.

Lyrical Country Drama by Chinese Art Director Li Ruijun Back to dust It was the only Chinese film to receive international critical acclaim in 2022, and it premiered in the main competition of the Berlin International Film Festival in February. A hypnotic picture of the disappearance of China’s traditional agricultural lifestyle, the film was described by The Hollywood ReporterA major critic reviewing Delirium as “a lyrical slice of Chinese neorealism” and “a careful pastoral study of love and grief.” It was made for a meager amount of about $275,000, Back to dust It has gone sleepwalking at the box office in China, earning more than $14 million with talk spread of its animated story and its modest limited release. But on September 26, the film was unceremoniously snatched from all Chinese cinemas and streaming platforms as the run-up to the national convention grew stronger. The film became a target of nationalist media and online trolls who accused it of portraying China as backward and trying to humiliate the country on the world stage.

During past political cycles, Chinese analysts have expected a gradual tightening of control in the run-up to major political events such as the National Congress, followed by periods of relative relaxation and liberalization. Few would believe that this logic still holds today, however, as Xi’s reign extends into his standard-bearing third period.

Chinese director Zhang Xiaosha said in a recent interview with The South China Morning Newspaper. “I have actually been very pessimistic about the filmmaking environment in recent years, and more so since then Back to dust has been banned.”

The number of Hollywood films released in China has been reduced to just 17 so far this year, compared to 26 during the same period in 2019. Organizers have also chosen to release many smaller American films rather than the more bankable studio films, with politics motivating suspect (nor TAli Gon: Maverick Nor Doctor Strange in a multiverse of madness, the two biggest American films of the year, released in China). Xi’s tough talk about competition with the West amidst “stormy seas” has offered little encouragement to the larger volumes of American pop culture making their way into the Middle Kingdom anytime soon. Insiders say the Biden administration’s recent announcement of a blanket ban on the export of advanced semiconductors to China will surely exacerbate trade tensions, dampening film organizers in Beijing more than allowing an additional Hollywood product on Chinese screens.

Xi also dashed hopes on Sunday that China may begin to wind down its dynamic non-spreading coronavirus policy — and the economic turmoil it continues to cause — in the wake of the national conference. Xi celebrated the policy’s success in saving lives, while not pointing to the growing frustration, isolation and financial hardship of the Chinese public, as Omicron variables became increasingly difficult to contain. “We expect the policy of dynamic zero to continue and that policy changes will be driven by progress,” says Rance Bao, president of China Analytics Artisan Gateway.

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