Hollywood talents head to China for work

Actor Michael Douglas stars in the thriller Animal World from Beijing-based studio Enlight Media.
Actor Michael Douglas stars in the thriller Animal World from Beijing-based studio Enlight Media.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SHANGHAI • It is a journey to the west - specifically China - for Hollywood talent.

American actors are heeding the call to get a headstart on others in the booming Chinese movie market by inking deals to appear in Chinese productions targeting primarily the Chinese market.

The latest example is the presence of Oscar winner Michael Douglas in Animal World, which is now topping the Chinese box office.

He plays a villain in the thriller from Beijing-based studio Enlight Media. Adapted from a Japanese comic book, the movie - which stars pop idol Li Yifeng and A-list actress Zhou Dongyu - netted US$38 million (S$52 million) over the weekend, kicking off China's summer blockbuster season.

Once, the biggest Chinese movie stars, such as action superstar Jackie Chan and director John Woo, went east to the United States to further cement their standing globally.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the tide has now turned the other way.

Michael Pitt, whose track record includes television crime series Boardwalk Empire (2010 to 2014), was cast in Wanda Pictures' comedy Detective Chinatown 2 (2018), which earned US$544 million in China.

Frank Grillo, seen in the 2016 blockbuster Captain America: Civil War, provided the bad-guy menace in Wolf Warrior 2 (2017), China's biggest smash hit at US$870 million.

Coming up: Bruce Willis and Adrian Brody in Unbreakable Spirit, a China Film Group big-budget release about the Japanese bombing of Chongqing in World War II.

While Hollywood movies continue to reign in China, they are subject to an annual quota, leaving the field wide open to domestic releases to hit the jackpot too.

But investors - aware that cinemagoers, spoilt by choice, are increasingly demanding higher standards - know that they cannot cut corners. Hence, production budgets have hiked.

The first Detective Chinatown film cost US$15 million in 2015, but its 2018 sequel was made for more than US$60 million.

A movie also needs other talent and Hollywood has an ample supply. With more money at their disposal, Chinese movie-makers are also tapping professionals from cinematographers to special-effects specialists.

"There aren't enough below-the-line professionals in China to meet the demand of the market and the growing number of domestic productions," Mr Jonah Greenberg told The Hollywood Reporter.

Previously head of CAA China, he now runs his own production company in Beijing.

"If you're a Chinese producer, studio or film financier and you want a department head with real experience, then you probably will need to look elsewhere because there just aren't enough to go around here."

But most viewers will probably care more about the actors being cast, with the recent announcement of Chan pairing up with wrestling icon-actor John Cena for a China-made thriller one more example of a Hollywood actor going west.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 05, 2018, with the headline 'Hollywood talents head to China for work'. Print Edition | Subscribe