Movies in and for China — an introduction

It is obvi­ous that par­tic­u­lar chal­lenges have to be mas­tered when film­ing in the Mid­dle King­dom. This applies, of course, to issues of bureau­cracy and logis­tics, as well as lin­guis­tic and cul­tural dif­fer­ences in cast, crew and the extended envi­ron­ment.

Skyline of the Chinese city of Shanghai

But even if these prob­lems are solved a good film with the intended effect of the Chi­nese pub­lic is far from guar­an­teed. Those who ignore the devel­op­ment of China’s self-con­scious­ness and the dif­fer­ent view­ing habits, will most likely ship­wreck their project. For a film that appeals to the Ger­man pub­lic, may encoun­ter a neg­a­tive response in China.

China — an important market with high demands

In recent years China has become one of the most inter­est­ing and most impor­tant mar­kets for Ger­man com­pa­nies. Sim­i­larly, the Chi­nese have now replaced the Ger­mans as a “world travel cham­pi­ons” who are even more gen­er­ous spenders than tourists from the Mid­dle East. Of course, the new­found strength of the Chi­nese econ­omy is also reflected in a stronger self-con­fi­dence of Chi­nese cus­tomers and busi­ness part­ners. They no longer con­tent them­selves with sim­ple lin­guis­tic adap­ta­tions of West­ern adver­tis­ing and pro­duct films, but rightly expect a com­mu­ni­ca­tion that respects their own view­ing habits and their cul­tural back­ground. The Chi­nese num­bers and color sym­bol­ism may serve as an exam­ple. Thus, white is seen as a tra­di­tional color of mourn­ing and four as explic­itly unlucky num­ber. If such fac­tors are not taken into account, for exam­ple, an image film may have exactly the reverse effect and harm your rep­u­ta­tion. Also train­ing videos are accepted by Chi­nese employ­ees more read­ily if they rep­re­sent a famil­iar envi­ron­ment.

Dining room in a German hotel.

No movie “off the shelf”!

Grapes on a vine.

To fur­ther com­pli­cate mat­ters there are less obvi­ous aspects such as image seg­men­ta­tion and the aver­age speed of a film, which are due to dif­fer­ent view­ing pat­terns of Ger­man and Chi­nese audi­encees. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, Asian view­ers prefer color-inten­sive, long-last­ing sequences and smoother tran­si­tions.
On the other hand, Ger­many and the Ger­man mechan­i­cal engi­neer­ing indus­try in par­tic­u­lar have a very a good rep­u­ta­tion in China. Thus, quite delib­er­ate styl­is­tic incon­gruities can be set, to give the Chi­nese audi­ence an impres­sion of being “typ­i­cal Ger­man”. As you can see, an inter­cul­tural com­pe­tence is needed that goes far beyond purely tech­ni­cal skills.