Is this year the turning point for China’s film industry? Based on how Chinese film has made international headlines this lunar new year holiday, this may well be the case, and for one city in particular: Qingdao. As the Year of the Pig brings treasure, discipline and wealth, the city in Shandong Province is becoming a name synonymous with film the world over.
Qingdao has already proved that the City of Film moniker isn’t just a pipe dream: two Chinese blockbusters which are still drawing in the crowds were filmed in the city on the Yellow Sea. Biggest of all is science fiction spectacular ‘The Wandering Earth’, which is on track to become China’s most successful film of all time after cashing in $405 million in its first week. Set in a distant future where a group of Chinese astronauts must save the earth from an expanding sun, the film has amazed critics. The moving story is based on a novel by the celebrated sci-fi author Liu Cixin, but the film’s success is also due to its high production value. The Qingdao film set and special effects ensured the audience could be transported into a future world, in a proud showcase of the Oriental Movie Capital Industrial Park’s operations and supporting facilities. Qingdao certainly has the goods to put on a good show: there’s a record 10,000 square metre studio, as well as the world's only indoor and outdoor integrated underwater studio - the city’s mild climate is another asset making it ideal for filmmaking.
The production of the ambitious, big-budget ‘The Wandering Earth’ s a culmination of Qingdao’s success and a sign to the world that China’s film industry is taking itself seriously. Qingdao’s Oriental Movie Capital Industrial Park is also where another of China’s recent blockbusters was filmed. The comedy ‘Crazy Alien’, also based on the works of Liu Cixin, made over $100 million in its first two days alone.
Wang Jianlin, head of the Dalian Wanda Group, has pledged to turn Qingdao into a hub for global film production. The Qingdao Oriental Movie Metropolis, launched last year, is said to be the biggest film studio in the world. The facility is an entire city of film in itself: there’s a reclaimed island with hotels, two theatres, apartments and a yacht club. The city is also host to the Golden Phoenix Movie Award Ceremony, and this summer, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Film Festival will be held in Qingdao.
Qingdao joined the UNESCO's Creative Cities network as a City of Film in 2017. Today, over 100 films and TV shows are shot and produced at the site every year, as China already has a multi-billion-dollar film industry. But the Chinese public’s appetite for the cinema is growing: box office revenues have been growing at double-digit rates for several years.
Qingdao is at the cutting edge of the Chinese film industry, which critics have called out for traditionally being overly nationalistic in its focus, ‘The Wandering Earth’ breaks that mould - a central theme in Liu’s writings is how international collaboration is vital for facing the world’s future challenges. Observers are now curious to see how the film may translate internationally, and how, in turn, international success will appeal to investors.
The positive reception of ‘The Wandering Earth’ with the home audiences could lead to not just a resurgence of sci-fi in China, where audiences have responded coolly to Western productions, but it’s also a display of soft power: this new focus on big productions puts Qingdao firmly on the map for international filmmakers. The city that’s home of Tsingtao beer - a hint for non-native speakers for how to pronounce its name - will issue subsidies of up to 40% of the production costs for filmmakers.
This is the kind of money that can turn fortunes, as subsidies increasingly determine where films are made. This 5 billion yuan incentive programme is jointly funded by the Dalian Wanda Group and the Qingdao government, in an unprecedented joint push to boost a city’s standing as a filmmaking destination.
Qingdao’s name may mean ‘Green Island’, but from now on the association on people’s mind will increasingly be the ‘City of Film’. With cultural, economic, and natural resources lining up to make Qingdao and ideal home for film productions, the silver screen is becoming a pillar industry, with blockbuster producers welcomed from home and abroad.