China’s Tencent Confirms Taste for International Film-Making

Rebecca Davis
·3-min read

Tencent Pictures, the film-making arm of Chinese tech giant Tencent, has the potential to be hugely influential on its home turf due to parent company’s domination of social media and gaming. Tencent’s massive scale – market capitalization over $700 billion makes it one of the world’s largest corporations – means it has the potential for huge overseas impact as well.

Recent setbacks at two of its Chinese subsidiaries led to a restructuring of its local film business. The result of that process was a streamlined strategy and the announcement last week of a bumper slate with 43 film and TV projects.

The lineup also appeared to re-confirm the company’s continuing interest in international projects.

Most controversially, there’s “Top Gun: Maverick,” which has already made headlines for digitally removing Japanese and Taiwanese flags from the back of Tom Cruise’s flight jacket to appease Chinese censors. Ironically, the patriotic American film is set to hit global screens next July 2, just a day after “1921,” Tencent’s tentpole celebration of the Chinese Communist Party.

The most high-profile film is Marvel title “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” a sequel to 2018’s “Venom,” which was also Tencent Pictures-backed and grossed a huge $269 million in China — more than the $214 million it made in the U.S.

Notably, Tencent Pictures announced last week that it will partner with Legendary Entertainment on an adaptation of the Chinese web comic “I’m a Killer Maid,” intended for an international, not Chinese audience. It is also now the lead investor in the once high-profile adaptation of “The Tibet Code” online novel, which it will turn into a web series and a feature film.

Tencent Pictures also has a piece of “Monster Hunter,” an upcoming sci-fi fantasy action film loosely based on the popular video game series of the same name. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (“Resident Evil”) and starring his wife Milla Jovovich, it is currently set to premiere Dec. 30 Stateside but doesn’t yet have a confirmed China date.

Additionally, there’s the 2021 animated film “Wish Dragon,” featuring the voice talents of Jackie Chan, Constance Wu, and John Cho, jointly backed by Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Animation, Base FX, and Beijing Sparkle Roll Media.

In documentary, there’s also “Day Zero,” a film about global water scarcity narrated by Chiwetel Ejiofor (“12 Years a Slave”) and directed by Kevin Sim.

Tencent VP Edward Cheng admitted that the pandemic brought about the “darkest moment” that China’s film industry has ever faced. During the nearly 180 days of cinema closures spanning from January into the summer, “tens of thousands” of film and TV companies went bust, he said, noting that thousands of extras and temporary workers continue to await the resumption of pre-COVID levels of business at Hengdian Studios, the sprawling studio complex known for its massive period sets.

“I have seen many cinema owners grit their teeth to survive by even mortgaging their own homes or expanding into the food delivery business,” he said.

However, “while most industries are still recovering, China’s film and TV industry has enjoyed a V-shaped rebound. The speed of recovery has exceeded what many people could have imagined.”

That thinking might point to local investment as the priority, but the company now appears to have a global outlook. Said Cheng: “No matter how the market fluctuates, and even if the pandemic has dragged the industry down to its lowest point, good works are still the key.”

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