China keeps up wall to Hollywood

Pedestrians walk past a movie poster featuring "My Long March" at a cinema in Beijing.

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: China watchers spent today trying to figure out who's who in the new politburo that President Hu Jintao announced this morning. The once-every-five-years Communist Party Congress wrapped up in Beijing over the weekend. In Washington, trade officials had other things on their minds. The U.S. has asked the World Trade Organization to investigate Chinese restrictions on American movies and other media. From Shanghai, Marketplace's Scott Tong has our preview.

scott Tong: China sure looks enticing to Hollywood:

Consider 1.3 billion people, a growing consumer class, and an affinity for Western films, like the '97 blockbuster "Titanic."

Titanic clip: Is there anyone alive out there. Can anyone hear me?

Titanic showed in more than 1,000 Chinese theaters, and grossed $43 million. But beneath the surface beware the regulatory icebergs. Chinese law lets U.S. studios keep just 13 percent of ticket sales. And every year, Beijing allows in just 40 foreign films.

Washington calls these unfair trade barriers. And whether the WTO agrees or not, Jonathan Landreth of the Hollywood Reporter's Beijing bureau says the fact is, media is the most tightly controlled industry in China.

Jonathan Landreth: When the medium is the message and this is a one-party town, what gets on the big screen is still of interest to the very highest level of the Communist party leadership.

Hollywood has flirted with Chinese filmgoers since the 1920s. Films by Charlie Chaplin and other Americans dominated the Chinese market. In fact, many Hollywood studios forged exclusive contracts with Shanghai theaters. But the Communists came to power in 1949, and China was off-limits to Western films till the mid-1990s.

The door has opened slowly since then, partly to give domestic filmmakers time to develop.

Zhao Zi Zhong is with the Communication University of China.

Zhao Zi Zhong [voiceover]: I think it'll still take some time for China's film industry to build itself up. So for now, I think the foreign films quota should remain in place.

But even if Hollywood makes headway in China, will enough folks come through the turnstiles? Again, Jonathan Landreth of the Hollywood Reporter.

Landreth: Going to the movies in China is still a white-collar date. Movie tickets in Beijing sometimes cost more than $10.

Compare that $10 to 70 cents -- that's the cost of a bootleg DVD in China. We know cuz we've been shopping around . . . for research purposes, of course.

In Shanghai, I'm Scott Tong for Marketplace.

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.

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