Chinese businesspeople in cultural exchange industry revamp content to promote blockbusters in Thai market

By Chu Daye in Bangkok Source:Global Times Published: 2018/7/4 19:13:40

Cast of Thai drama remade from Chinese movie Fleet of Time have a group picture taken before shooting. Photo: Courtesy of Artop

The imports and exports of cultural productions such as TV series and movies have always been an important part of the China-proposed Belt and Road (B&R) initiative. As such, this has called for the enhancement of related people-to-people exchange in countries and regions along its routes. In Thailand, a Chinese businessman in the cultural exchange industry is calling for policy support from the Chinese government to instill vigor into the exports of Chinese films and TV works to battle their struggling influence and to regain their former glamour.

Sitting in his office in a high-rise building in central Bangkok, Zhang Dong looks into the distance and eyes the city skyline.

Zhang, chairman of Artop Media (Thailand) Co, was a Thai language major at Peking University. Upon graduation, he became one of the earliest adventure-seeking pioneers from the Chinese mainland to Thailand. Striking success over the past 15 years, his company has dubbed nearly 100 Chinese-language films and TV works and imported them to Thailand.

Hosting tea with exquisite dinnerware, Zhang said that Thailand, due to its central location on the Southeast Asian Indochinese Peninsula, is a battleground for different cultural industries in the region.

He said that due to the historical influence of Buddhist culture in Thailand and the vast number of descendents of Chinese origin, the local market has always been a key one among member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for the exports of films and TV shows that were produced on the Chinese mainland.

China, as the world's No.1 factory for dramas, has also seen strong exports of TV series in recent years, valuing $120 million in 2016 but dropping to $100 million in 2017, according to media reports.

The issuing of digital broadcast licenses in Thailand in recent years has greatly increased the number of platforms and time slots, and the business for importing Chinese films and TV works has been thriving, according to Zhang.

Chaweng Premsuriya, project manager at Bangkok-based GUT Co, said drama series in the Chinese language continue to lead in the market and Chinese films are also doing better than five years ago.

GUT Co is involved in the translation, dubbing and voiceovers business for Chinese films and TV series imports in Thailand, such as the 56-episode Chinese costume drama Lost Love in Times.

"Chinese drama series are doing well because they occupy a market niche [in Thailand] and we can sell them to various channels," Premsuriya told the Global Times.


However, beneath the flourishing trend, Chinese imports are losing their former daily vitality due to their sheer dependence on costume dramas, and such a situation needs to be corrected in a timely fashion, according to Zhang.

"Many Thai people are still talking about blockbuster Chinese TV dramas such as My Fair Princess [a Cinderella-like story set in an 18th century Qing dynasty court]. That intellectual property [IP], despite being immensely successful, is about two decades old," Zhang said, noting that Thai people could simply turn to South Korea for modern dramas in the future, if there's no change.

"Chinese TV blockbusters 20 years ago caused so much sensation that young Thais clamored to learn Chinese.  You don't see that [kind of Chinese success] now. Some imports were even halted midway as broadcasters jittered to avoid costs," Zhang said.

While the broadcast volume of imported movies and TV dramas from the Chinese mainland is not small, works with particularly large social influence are now very limited, Zhang said. "Overdependence on costume dramas is killing the vitality of Chinese cultural exports."

Premsuriya added that while Chinese TV dramas and movies are still popular in some groups of the Thai audience, the competition has grown "too high," and prices have become pivotal to whether a drama will be introduced to Thailand.

Meanwhile, the variety of content and inclusion of popular celebrities will increase the demand for Chinese dramas in the Thai market.

Premsuriya said that a lack of advertising, from both TV and smartphone platforms, is the main obstacle preventing Chinese media productions from becoming more successful.

How to change

Back in China, TV works are now moving toward greater diversification to rule out the reliance on costume dramas. With the direction of the State Administration of Radio and Television, now, more than half of Chinese dramas are of modern themes, read a Xinhua News Agency report released in September 2017.

And such a trend has been creating opportunities for modern Chinese dramas to land in foreign markets. But there is still a lot of work to be done.

Zhang said that Chinese stars seem to not like going on promotional tours to Southeast Asian countries, as such trips do not bring them as much money as domestic ones.

"In terms of production, the market is still waiting for more refined work to descend. And the Chinese could learn from the South Koreans, who set up designated associations to collect IPs and sell them overseas at discounted rates simply to nurture overseas audiences," Zhang said.

"The current copyrights ownership in China is disparate. And if a Thai company wants to import a Chinese IP, it is probably at a loss in locating the proprietor through a mix of ownership structures," Zhang said.

"South Korean associations are easier to find, and are entitled to sign distribution contracts with importers for films that are slightly outdated. The South Korean purpose is market cultivation. And they are successful in that," Zhang continued.

Domestic exporters have made some similar moves in recent years. In November 2017, the China International Television Corporation initiated a film and TV works imports and exports association along with 43 industry players.

The move was followed by Zhejiang-based Huace Group, which set up an alliance aimed at facilitating the exports of Chinese films and dramas in December 2017.

In the view of Zhang, scarce imports of modern Chinese dramas even affect the progress of the B&R initiative.

"To a certain extent, the lack of exposure of the convenience and vitality of modern Chinese life in TV dramas exported to Thailand, or content that features, for example, high-speed railways, prevents Thai people from appreciating the importance of B&R-related projects," Zhang noted.

Experts said the cultural exchange industry between China and Thailand has also grown to include other aspects like the exports of Thai dramas, which have become popular among some Chinese audiences.

The remake of classic movies is also contributing to the growth of the sector and more and more Chinese casts are now eyeing Thailand as their production base due to low costs and exotic settings.

Newspaper headline: …And action!


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