Stories and characters, such as Harry Potter or Mulan, can link people from different backgrounds and across borders, build up trust and lead mankind in the right direction, says Cheng Wu, Vice President at Tencent. He believes China should contribute more to the existing pool of the influential intellectual property (IP) with Tencent’s help. Cheng also cited Tencent CEO Pony Ma’s proposals to China’s National People’s Congress to develop IPs that have Chinese “special characteristics”.
“IP is the core strategy of the pan-entertainment industry. It can refer to anything that’s followed and admired by people, such as a celebrity, comic book character, a story, a game, a cartoon, or TV series,” Cheng explained at a Tencent conference back in 2014 when the concept of IP was still new for the content industry. Since then, Tencent’s notion of IP hasn’t changed and now the social and entertainment giant is developing more Chinese IPs.
The company released its vision of the future content industry at its first Neo-Cultural Creativity Conference in late April, Beijing. It wants to tell more China stories and expand corporations in the international markets. More specific plans consist of developing intellectual properties from home and abroad and cooperating with production teams across borders.
At the conference, Tencent announced that they will be working with Skydance Media to produce the next Terminator trilogy of movies along James Cameron and David Goyer, screenwriter of the Dark Knight. This comes only a few months after Tencent made a strategic investment in the production company.
Before the new Terminator, Tencent had invested in other Hollywood blockbusters such as Kong: Skull Island and Wonder Woman. However, there’s a difference between investing in existing popular international IPs and developing Chinese ones.
Hollywood—and to a lesser degree European productions—are the biggest barriers for Chinese movies to expand internationally since audiences around the world are used to their narratives and not China’s, David Goyer said at the event. For Chinese movies to be successful internationally, despite the country’s rich tradition, they need to have themes that link the East and West. He thinks science fiction is a good start as space missions usually involve multinational crews.
Capital and content creation
Different sectors of Tencent Interactive Entertainment, which oversees online games, online literature, comics, and movies, also released their respective strategies on how they will contribute to the company’s plan, mainly trying to combine China’s elements, no matter contemporary or ancient, with digital formats.
“What neo-cultural means, in simple language, is that we want business to help culture achieve prosperity and culture to make business better,” Cheng said at the event. He cited how adding Forbidden City-related elements to Craz3 Match, a mobile game like Candy Crush, attracted more players.
Michael Dobbs—author of House of Cards—echoed this sentiment at the event saying that new technology such as streaming makes TV shows more flexible to watch and available around the globe. The union of culture and capital, however, is hardly new and Cheng’s words belie the delicate balance between them.
Fighters of Destiny (Chinese: 择天记), a fantasy drama produced by Tencent that premiered in 2017, had cast some of the most popular actors and actresses. Audiences, however, panned their performances. The TV series was adapted by the novel of the same name, whose copyright is owned by Tencent’s China Literature. Book fans were startled though to find that the TV series bore little resemblance to their favorite novel—and even more than adaptations usually get. Despite quite a few views, the series scored a mere 4/10 on Douban Movie, China’s IMDb.
Tencent isn’t the only production company that turns to use actors and actresses who have a large fan base to attract more views. General and I (Chinese: 孤芳不自赏), a historical fiction TV show produced by Zhejiang Huace Film & TV, replaced human faces with computer-generated images because the cast was too busy to be on set.
Reflecting the “Anthem of our Era”
Tencent Pictures also announced five series of productions that it has planned. The first will be “The Anthem of Our Time” series.
“Tencent film will pay special attention to themes related to China’s opening and reforming, national unity, crime crackdown, international peace-keeping operations and defending the nation,” Cheng said, “Via quality films and TV series, we hope to develop and expand Chinese national culture that is blooming under this great time.”
One of the TV series, We Are One Family (都是一家人), will tell stories about how people from different ethnic groups left their hometowns for cities and made great contributions to those cities after China’s economic reform policy in 1978. The show aims to show the union of people from different ethnic groups, a common theme in China’s patriotic propaganda, in the age of drastic social changes.
China has been promoting the mandarin language in places like Aksu in Xinjiang, home to many Uighur people who have their own language, to help them find work in other more developed in cities in the country. However, as concerns for terrorism grows, police have gotten stricter in Xinjiang. The government also sets rules on beards and veils to combat extremism in the region in March 2017. In addition, to defeat “the infiltration of religious extremism”, state-owned media Global Times said in April that strict policies will remain but didn’t specify what the “strict policies” are.
Cheng also revealed cooperation with Hollywood partners on a script based on the popular adventure novel series Secret Codes of Tibet (藏地密码)—although some critics say the description of Tibet is unrealistic—as well as Zombie Brothers (尸兄/我的名字叫白小飞), a cartoon based on the comic of the same name. The comic is still being published in weekly installments but the author has deleted the “gory content” in back issues because of pressure from state authorities.
In 2017, China entertainment was worth RMB 548.4 billion and experts believe it could still grow rapidly to RMB 100 trillion. With the ambition to expand internationally, what the world’s second economy likes or dislikes is going to shape the global industry.