China meanwhile, made more than 200 movies last year, more than any place in the world outside of Hollywood and Bollywood. And Chinese budgets keep climbing. Chen Kaige's "The Promise" was reportedly made for $35 million (though critical early reviews have questioned whether all the money was spent on the production), responding to the challenge that if your movie is going to play in a multiplex next to "King Kong," it had better match it for looks.
But many Chinese moviegoers cannot afford the prices of a multiplex. It costs almost $10 to see "Goblet of Fire" in Shanghai. That's an expensive date in a country where $20 can be half a week's wages and for the price of the popcorn you could buy three pirated DVDs.
So, many still catch the latest release in dilapidated theatres. No need for half-price Tuesdays here. Tickets are just a few cents more than $2, though there is no guarantee the theater will be heated. On a recent night in Shanghai, a screening of "The Promise" attracted about 40 people to a theater that seats 400.
Most watched with their coats on as a couple of portable heaters clunked away at the back. The movie with its whirling kicks and flashing blades, arrows that find their mark just in time and a hero who is frequently tied up, beaten and bloodied (Chen's actors must suffer for his art), was projected onto a screen yellowed by years of exposure to cigarette smoke. It was like showing a film on the wall of an Amsterdam cafe.
No wonder Yon would just as soon watch the movies in his room. For one thing, he's part of a generation that grew up during China's one-child policy, and he finds nothing antisocial about being alone. "We grew up alone. I like to watch movies on my PC, alone in my room, where I can cry if I want to.
"I don't care about the big effects," he says with a shrug. "I just want to follow a good story." And that may be where Hollywood and China's interests may converge. China has stories to tell. Hollywood seems ever more hungry for ideas.
"With the depth of its cultural traditions, its stories, talent and locations, their film industry is an unexplored gold mine," says Warner's Eliasoph, a Sinologist who has spent most of her career in Asia. "Chinese people are very verbal, have vivid imaginations and a great sense of design. Now that they're underway, it is going to be easy for them to make movies that people all over the world would want to watch.
"It's the most natural thing in the world that China will have a world-class film industry." And Hollywood studios are spending what they can to make sure they have a stake in the action.