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The Belated Farewell to the Age of State-Owned Film Studios!

摘要: Since the new century, August First Film Studio hasn’t produced any new representative works. In this sense, its belated dissolve is more like a natural result. After all, the age of state-owned film studios had come to an end two decades ago.

(Chinese Version)

In the wave of military transformation, August First Film Studio finally met its doom.

According to PLA Daily, August First Film Studio, one of the eight biggest film studios once, was to go through comprehensive reform. The former August First Film Studio will be dissolved and merged with former PLA General Political Department Song and Dance Troupe, Opera Troupe, Drama Troupe, Military Orchestra, etc. Together, they are renamed “PLA Culture and Arts Center Film& TV Series Production Department”.

When the nest is overturned, no egg stays unbroken. As August First Film Studio dissolves, its members might also face unemployment. Except for certain high-level leaders, ???. In other words, the film studio that just appeared in the film title of director Feng Xiaogang’s latest film “Youth” has officially come to an end.

As a matter of fact, many state-owned film studios that used to lead the times have already paled into insignificance with the marketization of the film market in mainland China. Since the new century, August First Film Studio hasn’t produced any new representative works. In this sense, its belated dissolve is more like a natural result. After all, the age of state-owned film studios had come to an end two decades ago.

What’s gone is also past

Founded in 1952, August First Film Studio was the only army-backed film studio in China, and was renamed “PLA August First Film Studio” in 1956. In an age of deficient cultural consumption, PLA August First Film Studio’s film title, featuring a huge red start in the center, left an indelible impression on generations of Chinese and had become part of the mutual memory among them.

August First Film Studio has unique advantage on military and history films. It is roughly estimated that for the past 65 years, the studio has produced nearly 2,400 films in total, including history films such as Coming Down Zhong Mountain Amidst Wind & Rain (1982), Crossing Chi River Fourth (1982), etc., war films such as Tunnel Warfare (1965), Five Heroes on Langya Mountain (1958), etc., love films such as The Story of Liubao Village (1957), spy films such as The Eternal Wave (1958), comedy such as Good Brothers (1962), etc.

In fact, it’s safe to say every Chinese has ever watched August First Film Studio’s studios. Even young people born in the 1990s or 2000s must have watched films introduced and translated by August First Film Studio, such as Lord of Rings triology.

However, what’s gone is gone. The inconvenient truth is that August First Film Studio has been left behind by the times. According to public report and data, for the past few years, the studio only collaborated some local governments and made some main theme films, such as Battle of Xiangjiang River (2017, Hebei province), Loyalty and Betrayal (2012, Hubei government), August 7th Meeting (2014, Hubei government), etc. Although the studio was quite familiar with how to make such war films, they no longer met the aesthetics of the times and reached the screen only in a limited number of theaters.

While Battle of Xiangjiang River (2017) was seldom known by the audience, The Great Decisive War trilogy was quite a big-budget production. The entire production process lasted three years, while over 60 million-character relevant materials were looked into for reference. Besides, over 20 military units and 30 independent military division units across five major military areas were involved in the production.

After full commercialization of the film market, aesthetics of Chinese audience has shifted a great deal, and everybody is trying to keep abreast with Hollywood standards. Director’s revolution-themed film “Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy” hit the theatre by combining red classics with chivalry, Wolf Warriors Ⅱ (2017) and Operation Red Sea (2018) attracted the audience by focusing on the contemporary Chinese soldiers. Compared with traditional war films, modern military-based films cater to the audience more with different story backgrounds (such as overseas evacuation), and different themes (demonstrating the prowess of the Chinese army).

Whether we admit it or not, modern main theme films have evolved into Hollywood-like super hero films that feature advanced military equipment on land, at sea, and in the sky, high national spirit, and strong sense of patriotism. In any account, the success of films such as Wolf Warriors has nothing to do with the heritage of August First Film Studio.

Market has the final say

No matter how imbedded are August First Film Studio’s films in the memory of generations of Chinese, such success can’t be repeated; no matter how shiny the studio once was, it no longer represents the same thing among today’s film makers.

Similar with August First Film Studio, Changchun Film Studio also has a long and glory history and was honored as “the cradle of films in new China”. In its peak time, Changchun Film Studio has seven film studios, more than any other film studio in China. Its cine-film processing and printing studio and props storage used to be the largest in Asia. However, the studio was run based on the spirit of planned economy.

In an age when film production was still dominated by the country, films, the perfect combination of pictures, literature, stories and music, were extremely welcome by the public. Even films of poor picture quality could have a wide audience. Therefore, what state-owned film studios (including Changchun Film Studio, Shanghai Film Studio, Beijing Film Studio and August First Film Studio) needed to do was just complete their film production tasks, no matter how the market reacts.

“There were no such thing as marketing and distributing department at state-owned film studios,” Wang Haiyang, a veteran Chinese director, recalled, “all they need to do was make films. As to when and how a film hit the screen, it’s not up to the film studios. It was not until mi-80s that the market and quality began to have the final say”.

After the film industry reform in 1993, major film studios had to, all of a sudden, assume sole responsibility for their own profits or losses. Since state-owned film studios were often unfamiliar with film marketing and distribution, few people went to film theatres, let alone the fact that TV sets began to enter ordinary Chinese households also in the 1990s..

As a result, many state-owned film studios ran behind their expenses and had to sell their studios, storages or make ads in order to make ends meet. In addition, many film producers had no choice but to leave the industry and find something else to do, while few new graduates were willing to refuel the industry. Over the turn of the century, many state-owned film studios could only afford to make one film a year.

As a matter of fact, since the monopoly of the industry was overthrown, the fate of state-owned film studios has been settled.

Founded in 1949, Beijing Film Studio was officially closed after the 2009 version TV series A Dream of Red Mansions.

Founded in 1946, Changchun Film Studio has already been turned into a tourist site today.

Xi’an Film Studio, the very studio that cultivated the fifth generation of Chinese directors, was renamed “China Western Film Group” in 2003. In fact, the last time it appeared in the theatre was when the extended version of the old film A Chinese Odyssey Part Two Cinderella hit the screen.

In 2001, Shanghai Film Studio was grouped into Shanghai Film Group. Without any film production capacity, the studio also gradually faded away in people’s memory.

The ever-evolvingChinese film market

The past three decades witnessed the establishment and completion of market rules in the Chinese film industry.

In 1993, the Ministry of Radio, Film and TV promoted a reform and put film studios in direct contact with the market.

1994, the Ministry issued Paper No. 348 and decided that ten big-production foreign films could be introduced to mainland China every year. Although the document provoked many complaints and worries that foreign films might dominate the market and that the giant Chinese film audience market would be open to foreign film studios, it did bridge the Chinese film market with the outside world.

In 2001, theatre reform was enacted and 1,000-seat theatres were gradually driven out of the market. In alternative, a variety of modern film theatres emreged.

In 2002, director Zhang Yimo brought an end to the monopoly of foreign films and ushered in the age of Chinese big-production with his film “Hero”.

In 2003, private forces began to enter the Chinese film industry. Since then, the structure of the Chinese film industry was completely overthrown. Huayi Brothers soon rose to success and listed on the stock market, the first of its kind that went public.

However, state-owned film studios never caught up again with the times since the 1990s. During the first decade of the new century, while the Chinese film market grew and matured, most state-owned film studios were excluded from any opportunity and were finally abandoned by the market and the times.

China Film and Shanghai Film, however, seem to be the only two state-owned film studio-backed film groups that still played a key role in the Chinese film industry. For example, with its exclusive foreign film introduction rights and strong theatre resources, China Film Group still prevails amidst market competition. However, can such prevalence last for a long time? Is there anything to do to avoid the path of other state-owned film studios? Should remaining state-owned film studios have a sense of crisis, nevertheless?

………………………………… 

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The article is published with authorization from the author @Blade Think Tank, please note source and hyperlink when reproduce.] 

 Translated by Levin Feng (Senior Translator at PAGE TO PAGE), working for TMTpost.

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