At the fifth Sino-European Project Lab, hosted by the Bridging the Dragon producers’ association in Beijing last week, we caught up with Li Ning, CEO of Chinese entertainment group New Classics Media, who produced the Chinese remake of the Italian blockbuster Perfect Strangers (the Chinese title for which is Kill Mobile), which raked in over €80 million at the box office in China. The films that Li Ning executive-produced have broken plenty of domestic box-office records. Li Ning also met with the official delegation of the German film funds and German producers, facilitated by Bridging the Dragon, with whom he shared his insights into collaboration opportunities.
In your opinion, what are the latest trends in the Chinese film industry in relation to Europe?
I think, basically, there are three main trends in China in terms of collaborating with Europe. Firstly, co-production is still a main trend, but Chinese companies are becoming more cautious when developing co-productions. Secondly, there is growing interest in importing and remaking quality European films in China. Thirdly, collaborations on a technical level between Europe and China are much stronger and more in-depth than before.
Why have these trends been appearing recently?
I will explain it in relation to the three trends I mentioned. First of all, more and more Chinese filmmakers have come to realise that it would eventually lead to failure if they pushed forward a co-production without the right approach, just blindly adding certain elements into the story without truly understanding each other’s markets. These lessons have taught Chinese filmmakers to be more cautious in developing co-productions and that clarifying the target audience of the film is the first step to success.
Second, with the decline of Hollywood and the rapid development of new-media platforms, the Chinese audiences are gradually shifting their attention away from Hollywood to high-quality European films. Whether they’re profit-sharing movies, buy-out imported films or remakes for China, quality European stories are becoming more attractive for the Chinese audience and are constituting a new trend in China.
Third, the costs of manpower and materials in the Chinese film industry are not as low as in other labour-intensive industries. In recent years, labor in China has been getting really expensive. Therefore, Chinese producers are much more willing to work with European below-the-line technical talents on areas such as sound, VFX, colour grading and post-production, as it is more cost-effective, the quality is better and the skills are more advanced. At the same time, the beautiful and diverse landscapes in Europe make it the perfect shooting location for many Chinese films. Apart from this, if Chinese producers fulfill certain requirements, they can even benefit from the funding and tax-rebate systems in Europe in order to reduce costs. All in all, collaborations between Europe and China are just bound to get stronger.
Does the incredible success of the Chinese remake of the Italian blockbuster Perfect Strangers come as a surprise to you?
To be honest, we were not surprised, because we conducted in-depth research and analysis with regard to the original story. While we tried to retain the original structure of the story, we did a lot of local adaptation to fit China. We knew that it would be very important to accurately capture the tastes of the Chinese audiences. The characters and plots in the film have to be in line with the reality of China. When Chinese audiences walk into the cinemas and see that the characters in the movie are facing the same dilemmas as them, they will have more resonance – this is how word of mouth spread about Kill Mobile.
What is the most important element when you consider doing a remake in China?
For me, when I consider doing a remake, what matters most is definitely whether the film has a universal message. For example, we did Some Like It Hot in 2017. It’s a remake of the 1976 French comedy An Elephant Can Be Extremely Deceptive, which is about a middle-aged man who has a dull life and is dealing with a mid-life crisis. The film dwells on life crises faced by many people around the world. This remake was a success and grossed US$95 million. Another example is Fall in Love at First Kiss, about a young woman who courageously pursues love and doesn’t give up. It was originally a manga comic series from Japan and has been adapted many times in Asia. We remade it into a feature film. The core message and the sentiments of the story are universal. That’s why the interest in the IP of this story has still not fizzled out at all, even after 20 years.
What are the future prospects for collaboration between China and Europe, in your opinion?
China has signed co-production treaties with over ten countries from Europe, including the UK, France, Spain, the Netherlands and so on. Co-production will, for sure, continue to be the most important model of Sino-European co-operation in the future. In recent years, Sino-European co-productions have also been managing to incorporate each other’s cultural elements more smoothly. If European and Chinese film professionals continue to study and work on good stories, as well as on the technical aspects, with each other, strengthening exchanges and deepening mutual trust, I am sure there is huge scope for both film industries to work together.
– This article originally appeared on Cineuropa.