China is poised to become the largest motion picture market in the world. Box office revenues in mainland China have been growing rapidly and are expected to overtake the US in the next few years. This past February, during the Chinese New Year, box office receipts exceeded the US for the first time. Just in the past five years, the number of movie screens in China increased from about 6,000 to 30,000. At the current rate, about 16 new movie screens are being added each day, mostly in fast-growing second- and third-tier cities. And China now makes more movies than Hollywood.

Around the country, entire towns have been constructed for the sole purpose of making movies.

China Film Group: The largest film production company also runs the new Beijing Film Studio, which consists of several lots north of the city.

Shanghai Film Park: An hour’s drive outside Shanghai is a film lot that includes, among other things, a reconstruction of several blocks of circa 1930s Nanjing Road, Shanghai’s famous shopping high street.

Hengdian World Studios: At more than 2,500 acres and growing, Hengdian World Studios is larger than Universal and Paramount Studios combined. The operation houses five distinct film villages, including a full-scale replica of the Forbidden City and a neighborhood of old Hong Kong streets.

Zhenbeipu Western Film City: Constructed on the ruins of an old fortress outside Yinchuan in northwestern China near the edge of the Gobi desert, the film sets have been used in numerous epic historical films. Zhang Yimou’s Red Sorghum starring Gong Li, was made here too, one of the first mainland Chinese films to get international attention.

Beijing Film Studio: the original studio in central Beijing was used for classic films such as The Last Emperor and Farewell, My Concubine. The lot is now closed and slated for demolition, though some of the sets remain in a state of disrepair.

All of the permanent sets portray aspects of Chinese history. While most films produced here get little attention outside the Chinese market, the state-run film industry is working to change that. Just as Hollywood became an essential tool for U.S. ‘soft power’ diplomacy in the twentieth century, China’s growing film industry seeks to have a similar global influence in this century.

Images from this series were recently on display at Black Rock Center for the Arts in Germantown, Maryland. The exhibit, ‘China Film’, included 18 prints sized 24″ x 36″ and 36″ x 47″. For more information on the exhibit see the previous Blog entry. The exhibit was also reviewed in the Washington Post.