Sino Smackdown!

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The Rise Of Chinese Pro Wrestling

“You SUCK, you SUCK!” The sparse crowd of seventy that has ventured to a repurposed gay nightclub on this stifling May evening is beginning to find its voice.   Middle Kingdom Wrestling World Champion Dalton Bragg prowls the ring, glaring through black eyeliner at the Chinese men abusing him in English. A few paces behind, The Selfie King’s blood-splattered chest heaves as man-mountain Big Sam hauls him into the air and dumps him on to the canvas.

Wrestling is Shakespeare for the modern age”, yells Nikk Mitchell over the chants and sporadic crashes of body on mat. The managing partner of Middle Kingdom Wrestling (MKW), the collective that has provided four fighters for tonight’s show, has just returned to his ringside seat after an altercation with the referee. “Nowadays theatre is so highfalutin”, he shouts, “Back in the day, it was super lowbrow. People would throw fruit at the actors. Wrestling is one of the few art forms left in the world where audience participation is a major aspect. That’s what makes it so special.”

mk2-2073mk2-2086Dalton Bragg handcuffs Sam to the post, pins Selfie King and wins the Triple Threat match to retain the MKW World Championship.  Images courtesy of Eric Garrison.

Build It And They Will Come

To be clear, Mitchell is talking about storyline-driven, scripted, and choreographed pro-wrestling, the entertainment art form combining athleticism with performance that the ill informed deride as ‘fake’. Originated in the US in the mid-20th century, Japan leads the Asian scene, albeit in a more legitimate sport-like form, while Singapore, Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong all boast leagues with some degree of popularity and pedigree.

Mainland China remains a sleeping giant, with a lineage going back only as far as 2004, the year that Guangdong wrestler, known as The Slam, left for Korea to hone his craft. On his return to Dongguan, he constructed a mobile professional ring and trained up a group of local Chinese talent that he would later formalize into Chinese Wrestling Entertainment. His traveling arena became the home of CWE’s semi-regular live shows and the shoot location for their online TV show.

mk2-2050Selfie King lays the smackdown on Big Sam.  Image courtesy of Eric Garrison

Chinese wrestling has endured stuttering beginnings, perhaps best exemplified by the events of October 2013, when Paul Wang, a wrestling super-fan with dreams of building a league to match America’s WWE, invited an assortment of local and international wrestlers to Chongqing for four live shows.  After promising big money investment and a glamorous future, Wang botched the operation, cancelled half the shows and disappeared, leaving the wrestlers to pay their own airfare home.

After multiple false starts and isolated shows, the past 18 months have seen a shift in gear. In early 2015, The Slam received a call from Adrian Gomez, an American expat launching a Chinese pro wrestling promotion and wanting to discuss a partnership. Gomez spent the proceeding months building a roster of talent to form the basis of Middle Kingdom Wrestling. MKW’s first show took place in Dongguan in July 2015, followed by a larger winter showcase featuring wrestlers from the US, UK, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Forming around the same time was China’s other main aspiring promotion, China Wrestling Federation (CWF), founded by Fei Wu Xing, the boss of China’s largest wrestling website ShuaiJiao.com.  CWF held its first show in Shanghai earlier this month featuring their own wrestlers and others hired from MKW.

     mk2-3017mk2-3019 mk2-3022 mk2-3046Japanese wrestlers Emi Sakura and Riho fight it out in CWF’s recent promotion in Shanghai.  Images courtesy of Eric Garrison

Wrestling With Chinese Characteristics

Despite commanding a massive online following, world leading US behemoth World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) had until recently been curiously inactive in China. That all changed this summer when the $650m corporation staged a major PR campaign in China, bringing over legends John Cena and Triple H, ostensibly to scout new Chinese talent, but mostly to generate buzz around a live event in Shanghai in September and to announce deals with online channel PPTV to screen its US shows in Mandarin.

WWE’s existing popularity provides a strong foundation upon which local pretenders can develop their own on and offline wrestling content. One of their many challenges will be attracting a local audience that has probably never attended a live show before and, once they are there, generating atmosphere among a small crowd that has never participated in the pantomime before.

1524820748Big Sam and Royal Stu.  Stu, the writer of Royal Ramble on wrestlezone.com, acted as Sam’s manager at the CWF Shanghai promotion.   Image courtesy of Big Sam

The key, says Gomez, is to develop characters to which fans can relate. “Emulating a WWE show for a Chinese audience will not make a successful promotion. Instead, his plan is to bring pro wrestling with “Chinese characteristics”. “China has 56 minority groups and iconic things that all make great gimmicks,” he says, “I watch Running Man and Baba Qu Na. Those elements can be incorporated into pro wrestling to catch a massive audience.”

Gomez doesn’t worry about competition – after all, many wrestlers are shared between promotions – but stresses his character-driven approach differentiates MKW from the rest, “[CWF] really prefer the Japanese style… It looks more like a traditional sport. [We] care more about telling stories.”

1572963715@chatroom_1463374904719_10MKW’s Selfie King with Nikk Mitchell (managing partner) overlooking the ring inside a converted Shanghai Stadium nightclub.  Images courtesy of Nikk Mitchell

A Yao Ming In The Ring

If domestic wrestling is to gain traction with the local audience, it will need its own superstars. Seeking to find a ‘Yao Ming in the ring’, Japanese federation IGF, run by WWE hall of famer Antonio Inoke, opened a dojo in Shanghai in 2013. IGF soon claimed it had found a future icon in the form of Wang Bin, a 20-year old gym coach from Anhui. Wang promptly left for Japan to receive a higher quality of training, just The Slam had done in Korea a decade earlier.

The move paid off. Wang recently became the first Chinese athlete to sign a development contract with the WWE and is currently training at the WWE’s Performance Center in Orlando, Florida, hoping to one day become the federation’s first fully-fledged Chinese star.

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(l-r) Selfie King, Royal Stu, Emi Sakura, Dalton Bragg, Riho, Nikk Mitchell (MKW managing partner).   Images courtesy of Nikk Mitchell

Yet for all the marketing fanfare, WWE will struggle to find more Chinese wrestlers any time soon. Most estimates suggest there are currently only about 20 wrestlers in the entire country, and a shortage of training facilities or world-class coaches means little new talent is emerging.

The scarcity of resources is causing the quality of current shows to suffer.  MKW headliner Dalton Bragg explains, “If you see wrestlers who train three times a week and wrestle once a month, the matches are 100 times better than when they show up twice a year and haven’t trained at all.”

Chinese promoters are also having difficulty maintaining the presence needed to build a fan base. “The key to staying power is staying visible”, says Bragg, “Companies do a show and then drop off the face of the earth for 6 months. There’s no fan retention.”  Running regular shows is easier said than done though. Alongside the financial barriers, Gomez explains it is difficult to explain wrestling to the older generation and therefore difficult to find suitable venues.

The current crop of promoters faces a long and difficult road. CWF and MKW are seeking to keep up the momentum with live events in Shenzhen in September and Inner Mongolia in November respectively, while the WWE increased presence should help by inspiring more athletes, investors and entrepreneurs to get involved in the sport.

For now though, Chinese wrestling is fueled by the passion of its promoters. “The more matches we do, the more I come to love wrestling,” says MKW’s Nikk Mitchell, “I feel like I’m getting to the heart of what makes wrestling popular, and that’s so exciting.”

wrestlers3Chinese wrestlers & wrestlers in China: 9 key figures

PIGMAN does Cannes

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Cannes2 Cannes_CH

PIGPEN CINEMA Presents SALT OF THE EARTH

16-06-28_PigPen30_Salt of the Earth

Tue. 24 May, 2016
Doors open 9 | Movie starts 9:30
65 Maoming Bei Lu (Weihai Lu/Yan’an Lu)
Drink specials: beer|wine|cocktails
Free “Grumpy” movie popcorn
Only 35 seats
First come first serve policy

For the last 40 years, the photographer Sebastião Salgado has been travelling through the continents, in the footsteps of an ever-changing humanity. He has witnessed some of the major events of our recent history; international conflicts, starvation and exodus. He is now embarking on the discovery of pristine territories, of wild fauna and flora, and of grandiose landscapes as part of a huge photographic project, which is a tribute to the planet’s beauty.

Sebastião Salgado’s life and work are revealed to us by his son, Juliano, who went with him during his last travels, and by Wim Wenders, himself a photographer.

British Invasion

GOT

The 2012 release of Xu Zheng’s Lost in Thailand marked the beginning of a period of explosive growth in the Chinese movie industry. This year Stephen Chow’s The Mermaid became the highest grossing film in domestic box office history and the first to take over RMB 3 billion (over US$500 million). Box office takings in 2015 totaled US$6.8 billion, a 48.7 percent year-on-year increase. That figure is expected to keep growing, with the number of cinema screens set to increase from 32,000 to 53,000 by 2017.

Po-01Posters of The Mermaid & Lost in Thailand

Chinese companies are mobilising to create content to feed the monster. Alongside expanding production by state-run powers such as China Film Group, behemoths from other industries such as Alibaba and Tencent have established film divisions, and in some cases are making massive investments in to productions. Most notable is Wanda’s US$4.9 billion Oriental Movie Metropolis, currently under construction in Qingdao.

MMetroWanda Picture Oriental Movie Metropolis

A glance at the list of hit movies clearly demonstrates the Chinese audience’s hunger for big visual effect (VFX) driven spectaculars.  To give their products the best chance of box office success, moviemakers are increasingly seeking higher quality computer generated magic, no matter where in the world the providers may be based.

The UK, with one of the world’s strongest VFX industries, is looking to capitalise on the China opportunity. Since the late 1980s, the UK government has been instrumental in developing the sector by offering tax credits for studios that bring their productions to Britain.  Concentrated almost exclusively in one square mile in Soho, London’s post-production houses provide effects for the biggest movies on the planet, both from Hollywood and the domestic market.

War and Peace_Napoleon_after_BBWar and Peace, VFX by BlueBolt

The UK industry is taking steps to explore the potential for collaboration with Chinese content creators.  In one recent initiative, the government-supported British Film Commission, in partnership with the China Britain Business Council and the UKTI, brought three leading British visual effects companies to Beijing for the UK-China VFX Forum, a day of presentations and discussion between founding members of Framestore, BlueBolt and Union and a handful of China’s most powerful film companies.

Game of Thrones VFX breakdowns, by BlueBolt

Though UK-China collaboration on movies has so far remained limited, some UK VFX companies have already begun working with China in other opportunity areas.  MPC, one of the UK’s ‘big three’ houses along with Framestore and Double Negative, opened a facility in Shanghai in 2015, their tenth office worldwide, to capitalize on China’s flourishing TV commercial market.  Additionally, the scores of theme parks being built in China is creating demand for media for attractions.  Framestore is currently collaborating with Wanda on a ride for their numerous parks around China.

War and Peace_army marching_before_BBWar and Peace_army marching_after_BBBefore and after scene from War and Peace, VFX by BlueBolt

Price presents one of the biggest challenges for potential partnerships. World-class talent and high London rents means UK VFX companies must charge a premium rate beyond the budgets of most Chinese studios. 

Fundamental differences in culture and business practices are also problematic. Chinese production schedules tend to be even tighter than those in the West, with financiers notoriously impatient to see films finished, released and a return on investment.  Then there is the language barrier and an eight-hour time difference complicating daily production. 

Guardians of the Galaxy, VFX by Framestore

Skilled producers, experienced in dealing with Western VFX vendors are essential but, given that collaboration with Europe is a new business model, such individuals are in short supply. “It’s on the burden of the production to manage international vendors. That’s what filmmakers and studios don’t get yet,” says John Dietz, a Beijing-based VFX producer and supervisor with 15 film credits in China, and founder of BangBang, a Chinese company that manages VFX and technology for local film productionsHe continues, “In China we tend to think that you hire a vendor and they just figure it all out, but that’s exactly what causes and fuels a mood from both sides [feeling] that it can’t work.”

Hg019065HmasterCompv119qcc0330Avatar, VFX by Framestore

There is no easy solution. Local producers need time to grow in experience, while UK companies must be open-minded, flexible and understanding in how they approach projects with Chinese studios. Chinese film studios will need to stop settling for ‘good enough’ and make world-class visual effects a priority, and allocate budgets accordingly.

One option for UK companies may be to establish a studio on the ground in China, though committing to working in China requires significant time as well as financial investment. Operating as a front office and doing the work remotely around the world has proven to be a flawed strategy, exemplified by the closure of several foreign post houses in the last four years.

Bastille Day VFX breakdown, by Union VFX

Jinhaian Films director and producer Liu Xiaoguang, speaking at the UK-China VFX Forum, was blunt in his assessment, “It’s very different here. We make CG and use the same software, but those are the only things we have in common [with the UK industry].” He warns those setting up in China to “be prepared to suffer for at least five years.”

bastille_157_050_beforebastille_157_050_afterBefore and after scene from Bastille Day, VFX by Union VFX

John Dietz on the other hand, is optimistic. He is currently working with a UK shop on his next movie and predicts a gradual positive evolution. “There will be lots more UK-China collaboration; it’s about experience – little by little,” he says. “Both sides will just need to go through some growing pains. It takes a lot of work to make a VFX film and to work through cultural, business, language and experience differences. The producers need to understand that. When it gets hard, both sides need to work through it, not get defensive and point figures,” he continues. “If they really want to make it work, they will.”


本文由China Britain Business FOCUS 2016年4月刊一篇文章改写而成。

This article is adapted from a piece first published in China Britain Business FOCUS, April 2016.

A Special Anniversary

This Spring, Holiday Inn and Ogilvy Shanghai re-teamed with directors J&J to bring us episode 2 of their Moments of Joy campaign, “Anniversary”. This time we follow a young professional couple, constantly on the go and constantly missing each other due to work travel and late nights in the office — a situation all too common now not only in China but all over the globe. 

Credits:

  • Client: IHG Holiday Inn
  • Agency: Ogilvy Shanghai
  • ECD: Darren Crawforth
  • Director: J+J
  • Production Company: P.I.G. China
  • Producer: Melissa Lee
  • Postproduction company: MPC Shanghai
  • Composer: Albert Yu