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China studio boss likes Hollywood writers, wants film-rating system

November 29, 2013|By Julie Makinen
  • Yu Dong, chief executive of Chinese film studio and distributor Bona, plans to make 45 films over the next three years.
Yu Dong, chief executive of Chinese film studio and distributor Bona, plans… (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles…)

China’s box office through the first three quarters was up 35% from last year, with contemporary-themed Chinese films drawing particularly large audiences.

Yu Dong, chief executive of Nasdaq-listed Chinese movie studio and distributor Bona Film Group, was in Los Angeles this month for the Asia Society’s U.S.-China Film Summit and meetings with Hollywood partners, including Fox International Productions.

We caught up with him to talk about the state of the market and his studio’s plans for 2014. Bona had a number of hits in the third quarter, including the romantic comedy “My Lucky Star,” the mixed-martial arts tale “Unbeatable” and “Out of Inferno 3D,” and this month the company released “Red 2,” which stars Bruce Willis and Helen Mirren, in China.

Following is a condensed version of the conversation:

Q: You recently said China’s film industry is entering a golden era, and you encouraged Americans to go work there. Were you thinking of actors and directors, was this individual career advice? Or are you speaking more on the studio level?

A: I mean more on the big six studio level – they would bring projects of serious scale and quality. Plenty of independent producers come to China with projects, but a lot of the China elements are really forced or they don’t show enough understanding of Chinese culture or the Chinese audience.

For instance, take really ancient Chinese stories – they think maybe we can get famous Chinese actresses like Fan Bingbing to act in it. They don’t understand the recent changes of the Chinese market. Stories like that are probably not going to appeal to Chinese too much nor appeal to Americans. It’s a lose-lose situation.

I’m excited about things like our relationship with Fox International Productions. The first project we’re doing with them is “Moscow Mission.” We have hired Hollywood writers to work on the script, and we of course will give it some Chinese touches in the end. We are really working together from the very beginning to create the script and everything else. It’s going to be a true cooperation, and hopefully people bringing their understanding of the different markets will make the story very successful.

Q. What’s it about?

A. It’s based on a true story in the 1990s. There’s a train between Moscow and Beijing, and many crimes happened on this train. Beijing sent six policemen to pretend to be passengers and catch the mafia people on the train. The officers are Chinese, so they’ll speak Chinese, but the bad guys are going to speak Russian and English. It will be shot in China and in Russia. We imagine about 50% will be Chinese language and 50% will be Russian and English. … The budget is about $30 million or so.

Q. Why have Hollywood screenwriters write this? Why not a Chinese screenwriter?

A. Because of our relationship with Fox. The film will have global distribution and we’ll have revenue sharing; hopefully it will come to the U.S. as well. That’s why we have Hollywood screenwriters writing for us  --they know the Hollywood tradition of this kind of crime drama. And of course we will add in some Chinese details and the dialogue…. But overall the structure of the story, the flow of the story, we think Hollywood screenwriters have better control.

Q. “Iron Man 3” had extra scenes just for China. Will you take out some of the Chinese stuff for the global audience?

A. When Bona first started, I was bringing Hong Kong films to mainland China and working on co-productions between the mainland and Hong Kong.  Because of certain needs to satisfy the Chinese censorship and appeal to mainland audiences, there would be more footage featuring mainland actors that would get cut out in the Hong Kong version and for global distribution. So it’s not a crazy thing to do.

But overall, these things the government really doesn’t support this way of doing things. It’s just not ideal. You’re not being totally responsible to the mainland audience of 1.3 billion people. It’s almost like tricking them, in a way. That’s why Bona’s stand is to have scriptwriters working together from the beginning, forming a true partnership early on. Hopefully we can minimize version difference as much as possible.   

Q. You recently released a Chinese-language romantic action comedy, “My Lucky Star” directed by an American, Dennie Gordon. Why hire a non-Chinese-speaking American to do such a film?

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