9TH BRIDGING THE DRAGON LAB
11 - 13 December 2023
The 9th edition of the Bridging the Dragon Lab, was held on 11-13 December. By now a recurrent yearly appointment, it is the most immersive among the activities of the association. Along three days European and Asian film experts and local institutions offered to the participants an in-depth analysis of several of the fast-growing Asian markets and explored the possibility of collaboration with Europe.
Fan Zhang, BTD China manager and producer from Yiyi Pictures, provided insights on China's market. Despite facing challenges, it is recovering, with the 2023 box office approaching pre-pandemic levels. Domestic productions still dominate, constituting 83.4% of the total box office: they are films of different genres, but they all share the ability to resonate deeply with the daily life and concerns of the common people. Pamela Bai, from art house distributor Hugoeast, highlighted the current challenges faced by foreign language films explaining like even global blockbusters like "Oppenheimer" and "Barbie," struggled at the local box office. Most of the successful foreign titles have been Japanese anime, which shows how the core of the audience has a very young age.
Despite these challenges, opportunities persist. The government policies are loosening up; the number of cinemas started to grow again; this year it is expected that buyers will go back to major film events. But mostly, the current shortage of financing has made Chinese producers interested in the collaboration with European like never before.
While mainland China poses increasing challenges, Hong Kong and Taiwan are emerging as valid and less challenging alternatives for China-related content. Both regions have developed policies to supported international co-productions. In the last few years, Taiwan has shaped a specific co-production fund that adds to the already generous local funding opportunities aimed at developing the local industry. TAICCA (Taiwan Creative Content Agency) representative Jennifer Huang detailed the mechanism of support and the successful case studies such as Tiger Stripes, which won the Critics' Week Grand Prize at Cannes Film Festival 2023. Saville Chan, award-winning producer from Hong Kong, introduced the co-production scheme launched this year between Hong Kong and other Asian regions and mentioned the new one being developed by the government specifically aimed at Europe. This will be an unprecedented event and for this reason BTD will organize a European delegation of film producers to visit the next Filmart event in mid-March in Hong Kong.
Expanding this landscape are the territories of Malaysia and Thailand, both featuring competitive costs, cash rebates and well-regarded shooting infrastructure as described by Kent Chan, Malaysia's head of content at leading mm2 group, and Sirasak Koshpasharin, producer and representatives of National Federation of Thai Film Associations. Both countries are aiming at more international collaborations.
Japan, a major player in the Asian and world market, at the last TIFFCOM has announced the first coproduction treaty with a European country, Italy. Regardless of Japan's traditional isolation and reliance mostly on equity investments due to limited government support, this is a sign of the desire to expand the boundaries of their productions. The Lab spotlighted two projects with Japanese elements: Kareteka, by Señor Y Señora portraying the journey of Spanish karate champion Sandra Sanchez's, and superhero TV series Within by Marilla Pictures and was tutored by Takeo Kodera, Head of International Co-production from Kadokawa, one of the leading media groups of the country. During the discussion it was highlighted how, in order to coproduce with Japan (and in general with Asia), it is always necessary a nuanced understanding of the local culture, avoiding what simply seems exotic but from a Western perspective.
The event showcased other four projects centered on Asia. Two of them were Spanish, Three Ages and Longquan, helmed by young talents known for cross-cultural storytelling Jiajie Yu Yan and Adrià Guxens. Successful independent producers Liu Hui (A First Farewell, Prize Winner of Berlinale Generation 2019) and Liang Ying (Only the River Flows, Un Certain Regard section of 76th Cannes Film Festival) offered insights on the market's reception of arthouse cinema. Liang Ying noted, "Financing films, especially arthouse ones, in China has always been difficult but now more than ever. Yet, when in front of very compelling content, we still have the flexibility of finding all kinds of resources. The link with Europe is for us still very important."
In an animation segment, Rocketsheep Studio presented Light Lost, an adaptation from a Filipino graphic novel and Druzina Content from Brazil explored a 3D narrative on a Mongolian warrior's tale (Monglo). Chris Bremble, CEO of Base Entertainment (Wish Dragon), emphasized the very commercial nature of the Chinese animation market, making it for more artistic projects difficult to secure investment. Derek Huang, Senior producer at Versatile Media, suggested that, before entering the Chinese market, one should in any case emphasize the originality of its material and target major film festivals for more exposure. Highlighting the booming game market in China, Wenzhuo Ma, Producer at One Step Animation, suggested a new and daring way to increase the value of a new animated IP’s which is that of starting from creating a video game. The online game industry is in Asia the leading market in audiovisual production and so it is becoming all over the world.
With the support of Creative Europe - MEDIA Programme of the European Union