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The big picture

By Raymond Zhou | China Daily | Updated: 2013-02-25 11:08

The big picture

Movie 'Cloud Atlas' sold well on their universal appeal. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Chinese audiences experienced a similar agony when The Last Emperor, by Bernardo Bertolucci, an Italian, took the Western world by storm. True, it was shot on location in the Forbidden City and features a Chinese cast, but they spoke English - the version shown in China was dubbed - and there were glaring lapses of authenticity.

The big picture

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So, partly to set the record straight, people in China's showbiz made a television drama of the same story, which most in China felt was more historically truthful. But, unsurprisingly, it failed to gain the foothold so necessary to reach out overseas.

Right now, co-productions are used as a springboard for Chinese stories to travel to parts of the world previously inaccessible.

Sino-American co-productions usually have story components from both countries, as evident in The Karate Kid. These are usually orchestrated by Hollywood, with China playing wallflower.

China's own initial attempt at going global, Thru the Moebius Strip, was met with resounding boos when, in 2005, a Chinese company spent $20 million on a foreign story that was turned into 3D animation, with mostly foreign talents. Even the dialogue was in English.

When a global story falls short, people would say the blunder is lack of idiomaticity.

But Mulan or Kung Fu Panda is not idiomatic either, and that absence of authenticity is partly the reason it became a global sensation.

If we treat culture-specific stories as one genre and global ones as another, we should refrain from using the standard of one to judge the other.

When Weinstein's Shanghai or Warner's The Painted Veil, each with a stellar multinational cast, disappointed, it was not because of , but in spite of, their cross-cultural angle. Some of the stories may indeed fare better with a single, unadulterated culture, but often the story and the story-telling techniques do not jibe with each other. In other words, we have not mastered the art of telling stories to a global audience.

It is interesting to note that Fox considered several directors before Ang Lee, and none of them were ethnically or culturally American. So, deep down, the top brass had a hunch that an international story had better have a helmsman with international experiences.

We all know multinational corporations need business talents who straddle cultures, and obviously it is the same with creative minds.

Contact the writer at raymondzhou@chinadaily.com.cn.

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