The Internet got excited last week and rightfully so. Steven Yeun, “The Walking Dead” star, appeared on the cover of Entertainment Weekly, placing him in the same category as only three other Asian men who have made the cover in the past 26 years. Huffington Post Senior Writer Carla Herreria put it best when she wrote,
“It’s about damn time.”
Since my primary business is bringing together the East and the West through the film industry and I have spent the past 5 years working tirelessly to be a bridge for, specifically, China and Hollywood, I couldn’t help but wonder if just as Steven Yeun is breaking through the long-standing, invisible barrier, “Will movies made by Asian creators and production companies soon break through and gain the same recognition?” What a timely question!
With the epic “The Great Wall” being released in early 2017, I find myself anxious to see its reception here in the US. Will this movie solve the puzzle that everyone in both the East and the West is trying to solve? Is it possible for a “Made in China,” Hollywood-style feature film to generate significant box office results in both mainland China and the US?
“The Great Wall” follows Westerner William Garin, played by Matt Damon, on his thousand-mile quest for the world’s greatest weapon. Directed by Chinese director Zhang Yimou, the film was produced on a budget of $135 million and is made completely in English. How refreshing it will be to see a film so heavily doused in the beautiful Chinese aesthetic that finally has a big budget to back it up! But will the production value and a couple big American names be enough to carry it successfully through the US market?
Unfortunately, Chinese films successful in mainland China have rarely found success in Hollywood. Take “The Mermaid,” for instance. This Chinese-produced movie made about $550 million worldwide, but here’s the catch! Approximately $530 million of that was earned in China. So what we’re left with is a hugely successful film that just couldn’t quite make it across the sea to that exclusive little town called Hollywood.
"So what we’re left with is a hugely successful film that just couldn’t quite make it across the sea to that exclusive little town called Hollywood."
Conversely, American director Michael Bay’s “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” the most recent in his long line of Transformers movies, earned $1.1 billion worldwide with 77.8% of that coming from outside of the US. China alone accounted for a $320 million slice of that pie!
All of this leaves me puzzled. Asian countries, including China, are filled with creative talent just like the US, yet the journey across the ocean have proved time and again to be too daunting for Asian-produced films. “The Great Wall” should perhaps be renamed “The Great Test,” as it may set a significant precedent for other Asian films in the future, good or bad.