Chinese Woman’s Rom-Coms Boost $2.8 Billion Film Industry

When it comes to romantic comedy in China, it’s a woman’s world.

That’s the view of Jin Yimeng, who wrote and directed the rom-com “One Night Surprise,” which opened in Hong Kong on Sept. 12 and stars Fan Bingbing.

“There are more female directors making movies in China than any other country,” said Jin. “Most movies are drama or romance, so investors say, because it’s a female, they know better.”

Jin, who was the first woman to achieve more than 100 million yuan ($16.3 million) at the box office with her romantic comedy “Sophie’s Revenge,” starring Zhang Ziyi in 2009, says it’s the golden age of filmmaking in China.

“For any Chinese filmmaker with a track record, this is heaven. Here investors are coming to you to say, ’Here’s the money, make anything you want.’”

That’s because China’s low cost of production and modest marketing budgets mean that movies can be extremely profitable.

Box-office receipts in China grew 30 percent last year to 17 billion yuan ($2.8 billion), according to the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, making it the second-largest film market after the U.S.

Jin originally trained as a soprano at Beijing’s China Music Conservatory studying Italian opera, largely to please her family.

Unfinished Dreams

Like so many children, she said, you end up “helping your parents finish their unfinished dreams. But in my heart I knew it wasn’t what I wanted.”

As an escape from the rigors of training “and all the crazy musicians,” she drew cartoons, eventually publishing two books in 2000, “Gary Larson-style, about marriage, love, men and women, relationships -- my mum’s friends read the book and said to her, ‘your daughter will never find happiness.’”

Filmmaking seemed like the next logical step, combining stage skills she learned at school and storytelling. She completed the Masters program at the film department at Florida State University, where she developed a passion for movies by Luc Besson and film noir.

When she returned to China, however, she found commercial filmmaking was limited to period dramas and martial-art flicks.

This led her to make “Sophie’s Revenge,” which pioneered romantic comedy in China, appealing to a growing demographic of young, urban professional women trying to redefine their roles. Zhang plays a comic-book artist intent on winning back her boyfriend.

Motherhood Question

Questions of marriage, motherhood and career are very much on the mind of Michelle (Fan Bingbing), an advertising executive whose biological clock is ticking in “One Night Surprise.” After blacking out at her Gatsbyesque 32nd birthday party she discovers she’s pregnant, and tries to determine which of four men might be the father before deciding whether to keep the child.

Some of the dialogue is in English, with an eye to achieving distribution overseas. It opened in China on Aug. 9, and in Hong Kong theaters on Sept. 12.

Fan, better known as a Chinese femme fatale, proves she’s got the comic chops to pull off this whimsical film full of sexual jokes.

Korean American Daniel Henney (“Shanghai Calling,” “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”), plays her louche boss Bill and one of the possible fathers. Hong Kong/Malaysian Aarif Rahman plays Tony, the neglected, earnest, too-good-to-be true colleague who inevitably wins her heart.

Backed by Hong Kong-based Media Asia group, and with conspicuous product placement by L’Oreal and a Chinese baby formula maker, the film cost about 35 million yuan, about a quarter of it to pay stars’ salaries. As of Sept. 13, it had grossed 172 million yuan in China.

“Actors know our budget is only so much and think the market is so huge that if in a Chinese movie they get recognized by lots of Chinese audiences, it’s good for their branding and they can get lots of commercials,” she said.

(Frederik Balfour is a reporter-at-large for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include: Mark Beech on arts, Jeremy Gerard on U.S. theater and Greg Evans on U.S. television.

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