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The New Hollywood: How the Asian Film Industry has become a Movie Making Empire.

Ollie Jackson explores the growth of the Asian film industry and the potentials of the industry to become "The New Hollywood".

BY Ollie Jackson

Hollywood, is the most significant film industry in the world, grossing $10 Billion annually. Alongside the $200 million budget movies, big stars, and numerous prestigious events, how can it not be the most dominant film industry in the world? However, there is one industry of film, of which myself and I am sure many others, have become very interested in recently. An industry which is currently on the rise and may cause an extensive change to Hollywood. That industry is the Asian Film Industry.

The first film made outside of Hollywood, of which, cast my attention to the evolving industry was the 2016 low budget Korean film ‘Train to Busan’. The narrative tells the story of a father and his daughter who become stranded on a train with numerous passengers who are trying to escape a dangerous infection which turns its victims into mindless zombie killers. Initially, I assumed it was like any other conventional horror film. However, there was something different about it. Instead of just relying on violence and continuous jump scare sound tactics, this film tells an intricate and engaging story; the characters are relatable and are in many ways unconventional to the genre. The film makes you want the characters to survive. Even the musical score and the make up effects for the Zombies stood out amongst your usual Hollywood film. The film was also a significant success, reported in Variety as grossing “$34.3 Million from 4.75 million admissions over its opening five days run”. It was even one of the most popular films at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.

“The cultural classics of Anime, K Pop, even Manga Comic Series are booming all over the globe today”

Over the years, the Asian film industry has been booming with content. Successful films like ‘The Raid’ (2011) or ‘The Wailing’ (2016) have been highly popular among Asian entertainment industry. The popularity of such titles has not been geographically bound; many have seen increasing success with American and Europe audiences. The cultural classics of Anime, K Pop, even Manga Comic Series are booming all over the globe today.

Major Hollywood films are pursuing to have their films screened in Asia, specifically China, evidence of the appealing new market. An iconic example of the Hollywood industry attempting overtly to appeal to the Chinese film market is the 2014 Michael Baby film ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)’. While the film is 165 minutes of Mark Wahlberg saving the day and an unlimited supply of explosions, the film’s marketing and product placement strategy was the reason which made it one of the highest grossing films of 2014. Conventionally, Michael Bay films are packed with product placements and advertisements for various products. In ‘Age of Extinction’ however, there was a different approach to the advertisements of products. Most of the products which are heavily advertised are products which have been produced and made in China. The film even features a famous Chinese boxer, called Zou Shiming, who saves the American actor Stanley Tucci’s character from a gang of villains.

Whilst it may not always be overt; many American films are beginning to adopt and Chinese culture. For example, in the 2012 film Disaster, one of the lead actors Oliver Platt praises the Chinese Government for designing a ship, which can save millions of human lives. In the 2012 film ‘Red Dawn’, which is about North Korea invading America, the film intended to have China as the invading forces. This narrative choice was quickly changed in post-production, suggesting that the popularity and growth of the transnational Chinese film industry can have increasing impact and influence on Hollywood hits.

“There are many reasons why Hollywood is trying to appeal towards the Chinese market. One reason is the growth of the middle class in China, which has had a very positive effect on the entertainment market.”

There are many reasons why Hollywood is trying to appeal towards the Chinese market. One reason is the growth of the middle class in China, which has had a very positive effect on the entertainment market. The Chinese market is even estimated to surpass the US market, which would make it the largest film market in the world. With the increase in cinema screens where 27 screens were being built per day, this had led to the recent industry boom. However, while films have been made to appeal to a Chinese audience, the government have in place strict guidelines which prohibit films which insult the Chinese government and their views. In the 1970s, China only produced original propaganda films which promoted the government’s view and core value; censorship was chief.

Photo by @imnoom

However, this all changes after the release of the Harrison Ford action film ‘The Fugitive’ in 1993. This film was the first foreign film to be released to the public in China. The film was so popular among the public, that ticket prices increased, as so many people were excited to see the film. After the release of ‘The Fugitive’, Hollywood began negotiating for more films to be released in China. Whilst in 1994, 10 films were allowed into the Chinese market. This number increased significantly in 2012, rising to 34 films permitted in Chinese cinemas. The Chinese film market has become one critical factor for making a film, a box office hit.

It is not all just about the flourishing Chinese market though. Hollywood studios have adopted famously many Korean films. The Korean film industry has even been able to invent their cinema sub-genres like ‘Kiminchi Wester,’ or create amazing storylines like an ‘Eco-kidnap serial-killer alien-invasion thriller’. They develop these deranged storylines which either feature terrifying horrors or surprising twists. Korea has even been able to catapult directors into the limelight. Directors like Le Chang-dong, Im Sang-soo or Yeon Sang-Ho are creating their original content and contributing a considerable amount to not only Asian culture but the global art of filmmaking. 

This industry is indeed becoming a major actor in film entertainment. It is introducing new ways to explore narrative on screen, display upcoming talent and redefine conventional genres. K pop, Manga, Anime and their original content is paving a new road for entertainment. Sure, Hollywood is always going to be around providing exciting entertainment and blockbuster hits. However, while reboots and sequels are constantly being churned out of that movie-making machine, perhaps we should broaden our interest to an industry which is producing something more original. That industry is the Asian film industry.