Before “Avengers: Endgame”, the world’s most successful film this year had been a Chinese science-fiction epic, “Wandering Earth”. But it owed this mainly to its popularity at home. By the end of its American cinema release less than 1% of its revenues came from the American box office. Western reviewers struggled to relate to a film that involved saving the planet, and in which the only speaking role for a non-Chinese was given to a Russian.
Celina Horan, a Chinese-American actor, speaks with authority about the two film markets. Educated in Hong Kong and at the London School of Economics, she is fluent in Cantonese, English and Mandarin. Known professionally as Celina Jade and in China as Lu Jingshan, she played the female lead in “Wolf Warrior 2”, released in 2017 and to date the highest-grossing Chinese film ever.
It is a revealing hit. A patriotic action adventure set in war-torn Africa, “Wolf Warrior 2” depicts a lone Chinese commando rescuing Chinese and African hostages from wicked American mercenaries.
Chaguan met Ms Jade in Beijing after her return from a work trip to Los Angeles, as she prepared to visit Norway for a television travel show. Two years ago Hollywood producers sought projects that would work in both America and China, she says. That might involve adding a Chinese actress to an American blockbuster in a “decorative role”. Now her American meetings are “all about China”. By this she means co-productions using American know-how, but squarely aimed at Chinese audiences.
The actress would not mourn if Hollywood were to drop projects crafted to appeal to all cultures, and offend in none. She compares the approval process for such films to dipping the same tea bag in ten cups, then drinking from the last. On the Chinese side, she sees studios growing less anxious about foreign success: “Why serve the global market when there’s so much demand here?”