Shooting permits are being issued again in China after a difficult 2008. Between October 2008 and January 2009, the Film Bureau approved 17 projects to shoot in China. Only eight received permits between June and September last year.
Among the Asian projects are Cinema Popular's Dark October, which will start shooting in March, Sophie's Revenge, co-produced by Korea's CJ Entertainment and Beijing-based Perfect World Culture, now in post-production, and Jin Yi Wei, a period action drama co-produced by Beijing-based Stella Megamedia and Hong Kong's Visualizer Film Production, now in pre-production.
'Because the (box office) is looking very good, our overseas partners are more willing to work on a revenue-sharing deal (for mainland distribution), instead of a one-off deal for distribution rights,' says one Beijing-based producer.
Film-maker Peter Ho-sun Chan has a more ambitious plan to co-produce films in China. He co-founded Cinema Popular with Huang Jianxin and Polybona Film Distribution to make 15 films over the next three years for the mainland market. Chan says that although there might still be censorship restrictions, the market has changed too much to ignore.
'The mainland has become a critical mass for co-production films and naturally productions have to be China-centric,' says Chan. 'And as a large part of the revenue will come from the (mainland) market, it will also be a major source of financing for our co-productions.'
Non-Asian projects gearing up for a Chinese shoot include Columbia Pictures' as-yet-untitled remake of 1984 family film The Karate Kid starring Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith, which has begun pre-production work in Beijing as a co-production with China Film Group Corp. Also set to shoot in China is Mario Andreacchio's The Last Dragon, a co-production between Australia's Ampco, Hong Kong's Salon Films and China's HG Entertainment, which will start rolling in May.
Phoenix Pictures' Mike Medavoy, US producer of period drama Shanghai which was refused a permit to shoot in China last year, is now in talks to shoot other projects in China, while The Weinstein Company (TWC) chief Harvey Weinstein, whose $285m Asian film fund financed Shanghai and last year's Forbidden Kingdom, is understood to have held talks with Chinese film authorities.
Additional independent US projects could arrive in China through the efforts of David Lee, the former executive vice-president of Asian operations at TWC who is now the US- and Asia-based managing director of Xinhua Media Entertainment.
Last November, Xinhua unveiled a slate of five projects from US producers - including a live-action version of the Mulan story and 3D suspense thriller The Hunted - to shoot in China. Lee says some of the projects have already qualified for full co-production status (though he will not say which ones) and others are on track to qualify.
Lee suggests if producers familiarise themselves with the Chinese film-making regulations, and choose projects carefully, achieving co-production status 'is really not very difficult'. Chinese film authorities, he believes, want to be involved in projects that 'positively impact people with inspirational stories about the human spirit'.