China: The Young Market

If there is only one word to describe the current China film market, that word should be YOUNG.

Young audience

The total cinema admissions in the China film market in 2014 is 830 million. Over 80% of the movie-goers are from 19 to 40 years old. More specifically, over half of them age from 19 to 30 years old. Most are college graduates.

China’s box office revenue has surpassed 10 billion RMB within less than 100 days in 2015.

Young people in Chinese cities have a relatively abundant life and regard going to the movies a daily or weekly social activity that needs no serious planning. Friends meet at the cinema, watch a movie, enjoy a meal together and then probably go shopping. All these can be done in one mega shopping mall – in China, there are thousands of such gigantic malls with well-equipped cinemas. In the year 2013 alone, 300 new shopping malls were built. Up to April, 2015, the number of screens has reached 27,000.

The young love exciting films: romance, comedy and action films are among the top 3 most watched local genre films by the young; while science fiction, action and animation are top 3 imported genre films best-received in China. In 2014, TRANSFORMERS: AGES OF EXTINCTION raked in 318.2 million USD, an indisputable box office winner of the year. Still, in 2015, up till May 5th, FAST AND FURIOUS 7 has already won 375.1 million USD within 25 days, breaking China’s box office record.


Young stars

The above-mentioned age group “19 to 30” means half of the Chinese moviegoers were born in the 1980s and 1990s. These young people have their new favorite stars besides the household names like Huang Xiaoming, Fan Bingbing and Wang Baoqiang.

Here is a list of male stars born in the 1990s or late 1980s, who are on the way to become China’s next generation superstars.

young boyFrom left to right: Yang Yang (The Left Ear, Divas Hit the Road II), Lu Han (Miss Granny, I am the Blind Witness), Jing Boran (Monster Hunt, Lost and Love), Li Yifeng (Gardenia in Blossom, Fading Wave), Kris (Somewhere Only We Know, L.O.R.D)

The Korean Wave (Hallyu) is so influential in China that the Chinese stars, to various extents, dress like their Korean counterparts. In fact, both Lu Han and Kris rose to fame thanks to their years of training in South Korea and their career in the Chinese-South Korean boy band EXO based in Seoul. Last year, both left the band and came back to China to find their place in the Chinese film industry. Besides these stars, it is important to note that actor Duan Bowen, whose recent role in THE LEFT EAR has once again won him applause, after BEIJING FLICKERS

You might find it hard to believe that the nation’s most celebrated band is a local one called TF Boys: Jackson, Karry and Roy – all under 15 year’s old. Karry and Roy have been cast in big budget films, to be released in 2016.

Unlike the endless list of new male stars, the list of promising Chinese female stars looks somehow predictable. It is true that Angelababy and Yang Mi are the most talked-about actresses, but here are five that can act.

young girl

From left to right: Yang Zishan (So Young, Miss Granny), Zhou Dongyu (My Old Classmate, Breakup Buddies), Yuan Quan (The Continent, The Golden Era), Qi Xi (Mystery, Ever Since We Love), Sandra Ma (The Left Ear)

Both Yuan Quan and Qi Xi are theater actresses selected to act in films and are always stunning in different types of roles. While SO YOUNG made Yang Zishan recognized by more producers, MISS GRANNY made the Chinese audience remember her as a bright actress. Zhou Dongyu has already touched the public with her innocent role in MY OLD CLASSMATE, but her comic rough country girl look in BREAKUP BUDDIES makes everybody laugh out loud. Before, Sandra Ma was better known as famous actresss Jiang Wenli’s niece, but now, people remember her as Sandra Ma, the leading actress who illuminated the new coming-of-age film THE LEFT EAR.


Young creators

These four years has witnessed more young directors emerging in China: a number of young writers and actors have succeeded in directing their debut or even sophomore films.

One distinct trend is the film adaptation right of all the best-selling novels have been purchased by companies big or small at a price from 200, 000 RMB up to 5 million RMB. Not every book is then turned into a film, like in Hollywood – some are only bought because a company is afraid of losing it to its competitors. After taking romance, fantasy novel and period dramas, the recent hustle is to acquire sci-fi titles. In most cases, the writer of the original novel will be one of the screenwriters or producers.

Enlight Pictures is the company to mention regarding supporting young creators: it is the key reason why actors like Xu Zheng, Deng Chao and Alec Su have directed remarkable local films winning over 2 billion RMB at the box office. Actress Zhao Wei also has Enlight’s founder and CEO Wang Changtian to thank: she realized her dream to be a director and made SO YOUNG, a film she called her thesis work for her MFA at the Beijing Film Academy. Both Su and Zhao’s films are adaptations from best-sellers. This summer, Enlight will release HOLLYWOOD ADVENTURES, a comic road movie it has made with Justin Lin’s team.

Meanwhile, Wanda Media, Youku Tudou’s Heyi Film and several smaller companies like C2M Media and Fujian Hengye go to great lengths to promote younger directors and screenwriters. Not to mention, earlier this spring, Alibaba Pictures announced THE FERRYMAN, to be directed by its writer Zhang Jiajia.

In the next 3 to 5 years, more and more films made by the young and for the young will spurt in China. Hence the selection of young creative minds: one day, you are going to work with one of them, or watch the films they make.

This article was originally published in the 2015 Cannes issue of THE CHINESE FILM MARKET.

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