HOLLYWOOD'S ASIAN STRATEGY
hina always uses the same argument against us as we use against the Japanese," says Gray. "They'll ask a studio executive, 'How many films did you import last year from Beijing or Shanghai studios?' And the executive will usually say, 'Well, we didn't.' And they'll say, 'So why should we then import American films into our country?' Quid pro quo and reciprocity are very valuable to the Chinese. If we want to force the issue, there's an easy way to do it--start helping Chinese studios invest in co-productions, buy some of their films to try out on the world market and clearly establish that these foreign devils are there to assist and not put these people out of business."
But Miramax's Asian commitment stretches far beyond the art house. Having successfully released Supercop through its more commercial Dimension label, forthcoming releases of other classic Jackie Chan films appear equally promising. Miramax's close relationship with Pulp Fiction director and Hong Kong film buff Quentin Tarantino has also proved fruitful via Tarantino's specialty releasing division Rolling Thunder. Defying initial industry skepticism, Rolling Thunder's inaugural release of Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai's Chungking Express proved an unqualified hit, earning the maverick filmmaker a solid American following and stirring renewed interest in previous efforts like the cult classic Ashes of Time.
Kayo Hatta's debut film Picture Bride, starring Tamlyn Tomita, won the audience award at the Sundance Film Festival.
More specific to Hollywood's interests is the annual CineAsia Film Exhibitors Convention, begun in 1994 by Cinema Expo International, the parent organization to the successful ShowEast and ShowWest shows. Now entering its third year, CineAsia continues to grow in leaps and bounds, sustained by a new market of multiplex owners in search of new and better exhibition technologies with which to seduce blossoming audiences. A major event for American independent filmmakers was last summer's regional film market in Bangkok, sponsored by the American Film Marketing Association (AFMA), the major representative of Hollywood's independent filmmakers and production companies. At the time AFMA President Jonas Rosenfield cited the Bangkok market as "the most successful one we've ever had." In a similar vein this last October, Robert Redford's Sundance Institute initiated a series of screenings and panel talks in Beijing as a sister event to the popular Sundance Film Festival held each January in Park City, Utah. Instituted largely at the encouragement of Sundance graduate Quentin Tarantino, the event marked a rare chance for major U.S. and Chinese filmmakers to meet and exchange ideas.
On China's end, the fledgling Shanghai Film Festival, begun in 1994, is gaining in popularity, fast becoming a hub for cutting deals and forming alliances in the East, much as the Cannes Film Festival has done for Europe. But few gatherings provided the kind of hope for long lasting cooperation like last October's U.S.-Chinese Film Industry Conference in Shanghai where executives and bureaucrats from both nations were able to informally discuss their respective legal and political differences free from the stresses of trade negotiation.
Yang attended the conference and well recalls the pitfalls of how business used to be done. "I'm a definite believer in trying to work with the local talent, just being able to have an understanding of the markets you're working in. On a personal, a professional and on a business level, I think it makes sense."
Such exchanges have yet to defuse the thornier issues between the U.S. and China with regard to film importation and distribution, but the two nations have managed to reach promising accords in other areas, namely those of television and video. In July, while Time Warner was signing a deal to distribute videos in China, Disney and China USA Entertainment were signing a deal to provide Disney programming on China National Radio. Sony Pictures, meanwhile, is expected to begin providing programming for China Central TV while Universal is partnering with Shanghai Film Studio to build a major Chinese theme park. PAGE 6