Oscar films may not be at a cinema near you

Updated: 2012-02-28 08:10

By Liu Wei (China Daily)

  Print Mail Large Medium  Small 分享按钮 0

Oscar films may not be at a cinema near you

Jean Dujardin has his hands full with Oscar and canine co-star Uggie after winning the best actor category at the 84th Academy Awards in Los Angeles on Sunday. [Photo/Agencies]

Domestic audiences have to wait for foreign movies to be imported

BEIJING - The curtain may have come down on the 84th Academy Awards but that does not mean that award-winning productions will shortly be coming to a screen in one of world's largest film markets.

Just a few days ago, on Feb 24, the British film The King's Speech hit Chinese theaters, one year after it won the Oscar for best picture.

Roman Polanski's The Pianist was released in Chinese theaters in 2004, one year after its Oscar glory.

Related readings:
Oscar films may not be at a cinema near you The golden girl is 'Iron Lady'
Oscar films may not be at a cinema near you Forward-looking Oscar judges nod to the past

Teng Hu, a coordinator involved in bringing in The King's Speech, told China Daily that it took half a year to buy the copyright.

The price is the main problem. An Oscar-winning film is entitled to command a high price, but Teng was not expecting a figure of $2 million.

"Usually, to bring in a mid-budget commercial film - not a blockbuster like Transformers - costs about $200,000 to $300,000," he said.

Teng and his team spent months bargaining before reaching an "acceptable" figure. Then the pressure builds to make sure it at least breaks even.

"Most best pictures at the Academy Awards are midbudget artistic flicks instead of commercial blockbusters," he said. "But audiences here have shown a clear preference for films with visual effects and action scenes," Teng said.

He cited The Artist, despite its Oscar success, as an example of a film that could be, well, too artistic, for domestic audiences.

Quota limits and censorship make it difficult for films to hit domestic screens quickly, he said.

China imports about 50 foreign films a year for theatrical release. Of these, 20 are on a revenue-sharing basis. Financial backers for the rest get a one-off payment and do not share box office takings.

Putting money up front for films is a risky business and profit is the name of the game, said film critic Luo Jin. "Because of the quota limit most backers would first choose to import commercial films because they have proven marketability."

After a film is brought in it must be approved by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television. According to regulations, films with excessive violence and erotic scenes may need to be toned down.

One possible way for domestic audiences to see Oscar-winning films at roughly the same time as Western viewers is if they are booked on speculation.

Jiang Wei, general manager of Edko Films Beijing, worked with China Film Group to release Slumdog Millionaire in March 2009, just one month after it won eight Academy Awards. But Jiang contacted the studio when the film was only a script, long before production started.

He selected the film because of his preference for films with Indian elements and his professional insight.

"And luck, of course," he added.

A week ago the White House revealed that China and the United States have reached an agreement to import 14 extra foreign films annually, mainly in IMAX and 3-D format.