Friday, April 17, 2009
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Zhou Wei Hui's blandly incendiary 'Shanghai Baby' first crossed my path in 2001 while I was working as a management consultant and wanted anything to do again with life in China. Much in line with its reviews, I found the novel to be a weak representation of the rich, dark world I had known to be Chinese nightlife. 'Maybe it was just because it was written about Shanghai...' suggested one of my Beijinger friends. After living in Shanghai for nearly six months, I can say that the narrative has a documentary quality that I had never really given it credit for...Yet, by no means does this account for why the novel was made into a film, with 'actress' Bai Ling, no less! The film, which came out in 2007, was first released in Italy, made by a German company and shot largely in Shanghai. It is a co-production in the loosest sense of the term. In order to shoot legally in China, the company had to have a Chinese production facilitation partner.
Truthfully, the most noteworthy parts about this movie (and the book for that matter) are the rampant sex and nudie shots. Why? Well, apart from being the only apparent reason that the film was distributed as widely as it was, they bring up the important question of co-productions and indecency laws. Whereas the more graphic scenes of 'Lust, Caution' were shot in Hong Kong due to concerns about the legality of parts of the shoot, 'Shanghai Baby' included a bathroom sex scene, get ready Shanghai residents, within what appears to be the actual bathroom at Zapata's. How does this happen?! What permutations of power and legal shiftiness ban Ang Lee, but welcome Bai Ling?
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
On Friday, I had the opportunity to interview the business director of Shaw Studios about the practice of film co-production between the U.S. and Greater China. One of my goals for this project is to identify both financially and strategically successful models for co-production. My interviewee on Friday had some interesting insight into the process. Namely, he highlighted the fact that studios, especially major Hong Kong studios like the Shaw Brothers, have had extensive experience driving their own productions. When asked to collaborate with other studios, particularly other power players like those in Hollywood, the co-production process becomes a bit bumpy. His argument was that the successful Hollywood/Hong Kong co-production would include a highly respected independent producer/director combo and the strength of Hong Kong filmmaking infrastructure. This structure would essentially give the Hong Kong side freedom to manage the studio as they choose while the director and producer would focus on achieving the desired creative and financial results. The upshot is that in addition to competitive advantage driven by economies of scale in China and to a lesser degree, Hong Kong, film co-productions rely tremendously on a workable power dynamic between the different regional partners. While this is by no means new news, the delicate power balance between partners from both sides of the Pacific has been an important challenge in every one of the productions I have studied. The next step will be to better understand if the same model works as well within the Mainland context.