91st Academy Awards: The Chinese connection linking Oscar films

From far left: Minding The Gap, by Chinese-American director Bing Liu; Bao, by Chinese-Canadian director Domee Shi; and Green Book, which is co-produced by Alibaba Pictures.
Minding The Gap, by Chinese-American director Bing LiuPHOTO: YOUTUBE.COM
From far left: Minding The Gap, by Chinese-American director Bing Liu; Bao, by Chinese-Canadian director Domee Shi; and Green Book, which is co-produced by Alibaba Pictures.
Bao, by Chinese-Canadian director Domee ShiPHOTO: YOUTUBE.COM
From far left: Minding The Gap, by Chinese-American director Bing Liu; Bao, by Chinese-Canadian director Domee Shi; and Green Book, which is co-produced by Alibaba Pictures.
Green Book, which is co-produced by Alibaba PicturesPHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

LOS ANGELES • What do the films Green Book, Bao, Minding The Gap and Free Solo - either nominees or winners at the 91st Academy Awards - have in common?

They may fall into different categories, but each of them is connected to China in its own way: either involving directors of Chinese origin or with Chinese fund support in production.

A palpable undertone to this year's Academy Awards is the growing presence of Chinese companies and film-makers of Chinese origin in the global entertainment scene.

In an increasingly interconnected world, the global entertainment industry is one of the frontlines where these connections are playing out, in ways that are mesmerising and enriching.

The last and biggest highlight at Hollywood's Dolby Theatre on Sunday was Green Book, co-produced by China's Alibaba Pictures, scooping the award for Best Picture.

Alibaba Pictures has become the first Internet film company that has co-produced an Oscar best picture winner, the film division of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba said on Weibo, China's popular microblog-ging website.

Alibaba Pictures has announced that the segregation-era road trip drama that takes place in the American South will be released in China on Friday.

Green Book's entrance and potential success, given its newly acquired Oscar fame in the Chinese market, is a positive sign of the growing maturity of China's film market. Aside from big-name blockbusters from companies such as Disney and Marvel, other films dealing with serious topics can also compete for a share of the huge Chinese market.

Directors of Chinese origin also won recognition at Hollywood's biggest night.

 
 
 
 

Bao, an animated short film about a lonely Chinese mother who befriends a baozi (bun) that comes to life, saw its Chinese-Canadian director Domee Shi take the Oscar statuette home for Best Animated Short Film.

The eight-minute short film premiered alongside Incredibles 2 and, before its Oscar win, had won accolades for its ability to connect emotionally with audiences using the familiar tropes of family and food. The film's success can be attributed to the fact that it communicated universally understood values in an easily accessible format.

"To all of the nerdy girls out there who hide behind your sketchbooks, don't be afraid to tell your stories," Shi said when she accepted the award.

Chinese-American director Bing Liu's film Minding The Gap, which was nominated for Best Documentary Feature, is also worth mentioning.

It may have lost to heavy favourite Free Solo, which incidentally also boasts two directors of partial Chinese origin, but it has won the Jury Award for Breakthrough Filmmaking at the Sundance Film Festival last year.

Minding The Gap tells the story of three young men of different backgrounds who are brought together by their shared passion for skateboarding. Its success proves themes like companionship can cross cultural and racial boundaries and help a film gain traction in international markets.

The Oscars this year can be viewed as the starting point for a new period of growing influence for China in the international film industry, as more Chinese companies, film-makers, directors and actors play an increasingly bigger role in the interconnected global entertainment industry.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2019, with the headline 'The Chinese connection linking Oscar films'. Print Edition | Subscribe