The rapid growth of China's domestic film market is undoubtedly great news for local filmmakers, but many are left wondering how much longer it'll be until they see some of China's very own films on the global stage?
China, now the second largest box office market in the world, has an average of about nine screens going up per day to satisfy its audience's insatiable appetite for films. And as the importance of China's market continues to grow, its own domestically-made films have also seen a huge boost.
But Chinese cinema, with its limited international reach, is still far from being showcased at the prestigious Oscars, one of the glitziest events in the industry.
Many Chinese filmmakers and other key players at the ongoing 38th annual Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) -- an annual 11-day movie extravaganza that's been a big supporter of the Chinese film industry in recent years, not only showcasing a wide variety of Chinese language films, but also holding their second annual Asian Film Summit in hopes of bridging the East and the West -- analyzed in recent interviews with Xinhua the challenges the market continues to face as it struggles to break out beyond its geographical boundaries.
One of the key issues many, including the festival's CEO Piers Handling, pointed to is the inexperience of China's film industry compared to Hollywood. While Hollywood has had a century to perfect their filmmaking skills, China's young industry still has a lot of catching up to do, he said.
"I think what China is going through right now is an evolution, they're moving away from a more personal tourist-driven cinema of the fifth generation into an attempt at more commercial cinema," said Handling.
"I think they're trying to emulate Hollywood, I think they're trying to emulate a little Bollywood, trying to make films that are obviously very successful for the Chinese domestic market, thinking how some of these films can actually translate into international successes."
"When you're trying to take on and challenge another industry, it's not the easiest thing to do," he added.
But Handling said, instead of emulating what others are doing, Chinese filmmakers are better off finding their own voice to give their global audience a unique look at China's rich culture.
"That's probably at the end of the day the most important thing, that the Chinese don't try to become like American films," he said.
But developing a unique voice that can move and capture the global audience's attention isn't easy. The cultural barrier is undeniable, according to Canadian producer Shan Tam of the Chinese hit film Finding Mr. Right, who pointed out that the dialogue and stories that work in the Chinese market are vastly different from those that work internationally.
Tam also believes the Chinese industry needs a boost of talent in different positions to continue its growth. For one, having more recognizable stars who could become ambassadors and the face of the Chinese film industry could potentially help bridge the gap, she said.
Chinese Hong Kong director Peter Ho-sun Chan, who was in Toronto earlier in the week to premiere his film American Dreams in China, pointed to the recent shift in the Chinese audience's taste, from the typical martial arts epic into films like his own that speak about the social issues and real-life situations, as a big step for the Chinese industry.
"That kind of shift is a great thing for the Chinese audience and the Chinese film market, it means that the audience, even the society, has matured to an extent where they like to look up to themselves and look at themselves in the big screen and be able to find answers about life on the big screen," he said.
Chinese director Jia Zhangke, who was at TIFF this week to premiere his film Touch of Sin, said China needs to establish and continue to reach out to the international audience not just through films, but through all different venues in order to educate the global audience in its culture.
"The export of film as cultural product is not only about the film itself, it's definitely connected with the cultural power of the country," he said. "That is to say the global influence of Chinese culture as a whole, including the influence of Chinese literary, drama, modern art and fine art, is interactive."
"Only when the overall power and global influence of Chinese cultural has been enhanced, will Chinese films be able to go further," Jia said.
This year's TIFF, which runs till Sept. 15, is featuring a total of 15 feature-length and short films from China's mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan.