TUNG’S TAKE: How cinema has been globalized

Unless you have been sleeping under a rock, the premiere of “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1” was a major piece of entertainment news this week. But while top fans flock to the movie theaters and investors fret about the “minuscule $123 million dollar opening weekend,” another cinematic story is brewing.

This one has nothing to do with gladitorial-child combat, nor does it have connections to dystopian societies in a climactically altered future America. The true story behind “Mockingjay,” “The Avengers” and “Transformers: Age of Extinction” is buried in the box-office return numbers.

All three of those movies were made by American studios, but the new target audience doesn’t reside in the land of the free. They live in places like Zhengzhou, Sao Paulo and Mumbai.

This is the story of globalization, taken to the big screen.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at the numbers. “Transformers: Age of Extinction” made almost four times the amount of money in international markets as it did domestically. “The Hobbit” had similar percentages. More and more, it isn’t about the cinematography or the plotline. It’s about how well the dialogue can be subtitled into Mandarin, Hindi and Portuguese.

While Americans increasingly stream movies on sites like Netflix and Hulu Plus, in places like Shenzhen, movie theaters are getting more ostentatious and are packed to the gills.

When I went to see “Transformers” this past summer in Shenzhen, I had to purchase my own specific seat because demand was so great, the theater could fill every seat without fail. Nor was it cheap. At around 200 RMB for a seat (about $32 U.S. dollars), it was more expensive than lunch for three at a semi-decent sushi restaurant.

With profit margins that lucrative, it’s no wonder that Hollywood stars and executives have to craft their message for China.

Tom Cruise, for example, has a Weibo (China’s version of Twitter) handle, which he uses to frequently promote his new ventures. It’s no coincidence that his most recent movie, “Edge of Tomorrow,” was a relative flop in the states but a cash cow overseas, raking in 72.9 percent of its earnings outside the U.S.

Are the days of American dominance in cineplexes over? Pretty much. It’s hard to fight the trends of globalization, especially when places like the Qingdao Oriental Movie Metropolis are building 10,000 sq. meter (2.47 acres) indoor sound stages and successfully attracting the likes of Catherine Zeta Jones, Leonardo DiCaprio, Nicole Kidman, John Travolta and Harvey Weinstein to skip the Emmys and come calling to a second-tier industrial city more famous for its beer than entertainment industry.

It doesn’t hurt that a Chinese conglomerate, Dalian Wanda Group, bought AMC Theaters, becoming the largest movie theater company in the world in 2012.

Betcha Nixon didn’t think Hollywood was going to kowtow at the foot of Qingdao when he opened the door in 1972.

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