“Avatar” the sequel? Not quite -- but a Chinese production company is banking on a box office performance of "Avatar" proportions from “Bainiaoyi,” a homegrown rival to James Cameron’s 3D sci-fi epic, which is the second highest-grossing film ever in China.
Beijing Chinese Century Media Co. will produce “Bainiaoyi,” which the official Chinese news agency Xinhua described as “based on folklore from the Zhuang ethnic minority in which a young man named Guka tried to find the ‘bainiaoyi,’ a type of magical clothing, and defeats an evil dragon that bullies the Zhuang people.”
Zhao Song, general manager of Beijing Chinese Century Media Co., told Xinhua the production team aims to make “Bainioyi” “an epic oriental romantic fantasy movie that can rival “Avatar.” That team includes special effects directors from “Avatar” along with crew from Hollywood hits like “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Terminator 2.”
“Avatar” had been the biggest movie in Chinese box office history until “Transformers: Age of Extinction” broke its $222 million record earlier this summer, earning $225 million its second week in release. As IBTimes previously reported, “Transformers: Age of Extinction” directly pandered to Chinese audiences with pointed product placement and scenes shot in mainland China. It also reportedly portrayed the Chinese communist party in a positive light, a move that likely appealed to government censors.
China and Hollywood have a fraught co-dependency: Hollywood blockbusters are hugely profitable in China though the Chinese film industry would prefer its homegrown productions to be as successful. “Bainiaoyi” is clearly an attempt to take the best of both worlds to create a domestic success.
It’s not the first time China has taken its cue from the West. A recent Quartz story highlighted the Chinese tech industry’s habit of ripping off American products like the iPhone and Google glass. Though China is a major global manufacturing hub, “in novel-product innovation, China is very weak,” author Dan Breznitz told the New York Times.
The leading search engine in China, Baidu, is in many ways a carbon copy of Google, which faces heavy censorship in China. These restrictions have allowed Baidu to thrive in more ways than one: As the Chicago Tribune put it, “[Baidu] plays to nationalist advantage by attacking Google as a foreign invader.”
But China can’t antagonize Hollywood in the same way: Both box offices need each other. Deadline reports that later this week, the International Communication Committee of the China Film Association will hold a forum to address the intricacies of Chinese-American co-productions, which allow American studios to sidestep the government-imposed limit of 34 foreign-made films to be released in China. Studios that co-produce their films with a Chinese production company also get a better box office cut than studios behind foreign features.
In 2012, James Cameron told the Hollywood Reporter that he would consider a Chinese co-production for the “Avatar” sequel. Something tells us he didn’t have “Bainiaoyi” in mind.