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Media & Entertainment

Embattled Chinese studio hops on Belt and Road bandwagon

Top filmmaker Huayi takes Beijing-friendly path after blockbusters blocked

Chinese-Indian movies "Xuan Zang," "Buddies in India" and "Kung Fu Yoga." China's film industry is moving to align with the values of the government's Belt and Road infrastructure initiative.

NEW YORK -- As Chinese filmmakers struggle to figure out what the government's next favorite subject will be, top film studio Huayi Brothers has pointed the way.

In a recent blog post published on its WeChat account, the Chinese film giant hinted at more movies related to President Xi Jinping's signature Belt and Road infrastructure-building initiative.

"The diverse and colorful cultures and lifestyles of countries along the Belt and Road can be effectively expressed through film," Huayi's market research arm said in the post, while promoting international film collaborations and content productions that are aligned with the initiative.

This comes after two of Huayi's blockbusters got yanked from the summer lineup for "technical reasons." The film studio was counting on "The Eight Hundred," a $80 million World War II movie, to bring up its revenue. But the movie was blocked at the last minute, reportedly for portraying the Communist Party in the wrong light.

As a result, Huayi reported a loss of roughly $46 million for the first half and launched an internal Communist Party committee last month.

Although Chinese filmmakers have engaged in self-censorship to get their works into theaters, they have struggled to see the boundaries clearly this year.

The top Chinese film studio's blog post shed some light on the direction China's film industry will take.

Belt and Road, launched in 2013, is meant to boost Chinese economic and political power on the global stage. For Xi, it serves as pushback against the American "pivot to Asia," according to the Council on Foreign Relations. But Beijing's ambitions go beyond building railways, ports and new roads and making investments. The country is also looking to polish its image by enlisting its film industry to reflect Belt and Road partnerships and successes.

Huayi said that Chinese film collaborations with such Belt and Road countries as India, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam have increased greatly since 2002. Such recent titles as Chinese-Indian action comedy "Kung Fu Yoga," starring Jackie Chan, Chinese-Thai thriller "Massagist" and Chinese-Vietnamese romantic comedy "Lost in Vietnam" are listed as fruits of Belt and Road.

In the next five years, China will also gift Uzbekistan with three film and television works produced by Chinese studios.

In its blog post, Huayi applauded the 2015 Chinese film "Dragon Blade," starring Jackie Chan. The movie tells the tale of an exiled Chinese general offering shelter to a renegade Roman and his legion along the ancient Silk Road, who then helped the Romans fight against villains from Rome.

"Although this film might not have meant to embed 'Belt and Road,' it has aligned with and promoted the core value" of the Belt and Road Initiative, "making it a good Chinese story," Huayi said. "Through this movie, it can show the countries along the route that as long as countries increase trust, communication and collaborations with each other under the lead of the Belt and Road, economic miracles can happen," it said.

As the U.S.-China trade war worsens, it seems that Beijing no longer wants its film industry to collaborate with Hollywood.

"As Hollywood films still dominate the market, it is China and other Asian countries' priority is to push Chinese and other Asian films globally. The launch of the Belt and Road has undoubtedly pivoted the new direction for Asian films," Huayi said. "In fact, countries such as North Korea, Iran and Vietnam all have unique cultures and stories that urgently need a medium -- like movies -- to explore, produce and distribute," the studio said.

More movies and TV shows that celebrate Belt and Road are expected to come out of China. "Common Destiny," the first Chinese documentary to be based on the initiative, will hit the theaters in China on Aug. 30.

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