Hollywood actors shifting star power to China

Global Business

Once upon a time, the hopes and dreams of nearly all actors were pinned on making it in Hollywood.

But that was then, this is now.

Some of the biggest names in Hollywood, like Academy Award winner Michael Douglas, are heading east to star in Chinese films, a move that has a lot to do with business.

CGTN’s May Lee has more on the change in direction.

Ivanhoe Pictures CEO John Penotti, who produced the upcoming film “Crazy Rich Asians”, believes Hollywood actors shouldn’t even question crossing over into China’s film industry.

“Those who don’t look at China, they do it at their own peril. I think that holds for producers, directors, writers in any language, but for sure in English and Mandarin, and absolutely actors who understand now the strength of having a profile there,” Penotti said.

And it’s now less about using western actors to elevate films for U.S. consumption and more about raising production quality in China to entice the domestic audience. With the growing Chinese box office, which hit $8.6 billion in 2017, production budgets are bigger, which means more can be spent on big-named talent.

“You’re starting to see actors become very strong business people and pushing themselves into the market in China and saying, ‘hey if you have great product that you’re trying to put together and I can be one of the elements in that, I am interested. I am here I’m being smart, I want to come to China to be part of what you’re doing here in your film industry,’ and that’s why you’re seeing a lot of these big actors do it,” Chris Fenton, US-Asia Institute Trustee said.

But a big Hollywood name doesn’t necessarily guarantee a hit. The Great Wall, starring Matt Damon, cost $150 million to make but grossed just $334 million worldwide.

“Unbreakable Spirit,” produced by China Film Group, stars Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson served as art director. The $65 million movie about the Japanese bombing of the Chinese city of Chongqing during World War II comes out August 17th.

Now China is on the verge of becoming the biggest market in the world so there will probably be a point when we see US actors say, ‘well, I’m only going to do that U.S. film if I don’t have a great opportunity in China.’ I don’t know when that day is going to come and I can’t say it’s definitely going to happen, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it does,” Fenton said.

According to Industry insiders, there’s another reason for the crossover to China. There are fewer opportunities to make theatrical movies in Hollywood now because of competition from streaming services. And a lot of the films that are being made are blockbusters. So there are a lot more industry professionals who are looking at China as the place to do what they love and make some decent money as well.

Michael Berry on the Hollywood-China crossover

Michael Berry, professor of Contemporary Chinese Cultural Studies at UCLA and author of “Speaking in Images: Interviews with Contemporary Chinese Film-makers”, discusses Hollywood stars’ attempts to shine in Chinese film with CGTN’s Elaine Reyes.