Conquering a new market

Updated 2018-01-11 10:31:14 China Daily

From left: Han Pengyi, Sam Hayden-Smith, Deng Jiajia and Lan Cheng-lung, who form the main cast of Chosen, attend an event in Beijing to promote the film.

Chosen, a three-part Chinese thriller, will be broadcast on Netflix later this month, marking a milestone for mainland internet productions.

In recent years, many Chinese have got used to watching productions by Netflix, an American entertainment streaming media provider, on Chinese online video websites. As a result, Netflix works, like the TV series House of Cards and Black Mirror have gained a huge fan following in China.

But now change is in the air. Last week, it was announced that Chosen, a three-part Chinese thriller, will be broadcast on Netflix later this month, and is to become the first internet-tailored film from China to be released on the leading American broadcast platform.

The film is a production of, an arm of Chinese internet giant Baidu and one of the country's major streaming media platforms. It was first released on iQiyi on Jan 7, but the premiere date for Netflix has not yet been decided.

Chosen was adapted from a TV series from the US of the same title, which was first screened in 2013.

The original series centered around a lethal game in which the protagonist receives a box, which contains a gun and a picture of a stranger, along with instructions to kill the person.

In the Chinese adaption, the story is set around a Chinese couple in Sydney, Australia.

The cast includes actress Deng Jiajia, Taiwan actor-singer Lan Cheng-lung and Han Pengyi, an actor best known for his stage performances.

Chosen could be an example of how better business models and distribution channels can help quality Chinese online productions do well abroad.

According to Dou Lili, the general manager of online films at iQiyi, some changes were made to make the production more attractive for Chinese audiences.

For instance, the lead role played by Lan was changed from a lawyer in the original series to a physician, a profession more familiar to the Chinese.

"We also focused on family values and an exploration of human nature," he says.

Nevertheless, he says that efforts were made to make the film feel more "international".

To that end, an Australian actor Sam Hayden-Smith was invited to join the main cast.

For now, it looks that the attempt to remake an American TV series with Chinese elements and sell it to the American market is working.

"If we export our own films, overseas distribution is more difficult," says Dou. "But, an adaption of something familiar to American audience seems to make things easier."

Distribution channels also matter.

For Chosen, Sony Pictures participated in the distribution of the Chinese internet production for the first time.

Commenting on the new trend, Huang Dai, the vice-president of Sony Pictures in China who is in charge of film distribution, says: "Diversification is an irreversible trend for Chinese films.

"But, as a traditional film distributor, we also need insights into what is favored by filmgoers, and more new methods of distribution."

In April, iQiyi reached an agreement with Netflix, and Chosen has become the first result of this partnership.

And for Chinese films tailored for the internet, the foray by Chosen marks a milestone.

Chosen could be an example of how better business models and distribution channels can help quality Chinese online productions do well abroad.

In 2016, as many as 2,500 films were distributed exclusively through online platforms, with 1,780 streamed by iQiyi. However, only about 1,900, including 1,321 through iQiyi, went online in 2017.

Dou disagrees with the view that 2017 marked a low point for Chinese online films, but says the decline was the signal of an important change.

"Online films now need to be high quality," he says.

"In 2015, poor quality films with eye-catching gimmicks could easily make money through the internet, but that unhealthy situation has changed.

"Now, you can only achieve high ratings if you polish your productions," he says.

"This year, the internet film industry will become similar to the cinema."

After Chosen's debut, more Chinese series will also venture to the United States.

For instance, Tientsin Mystic and Burning Ice, two popular iQiyi productions from 2017 are scheduled to be aired on Netflix in the first quarter of 2018.

And, Day and Night by Youku, another major streaming media platform in China, will soon hit Netflix.

Looking to the future, Yang Xianghua, the vice-president of iQiyi, says: "Better business models and distribution channels will help good Chinese online productions succeed abroad, gain partners and widen the horizons of the industry."

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