PIGMAN: Happy New Year!

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What a year!

2016 was a great year for PIG China. We were directly involved in films which garnered over a dozen major awards at festivals worldwide!

The 2015 Dove spot “Chose Beautiful” we locally produced won a Grand Clio at Clio Awards. The spot also won silver and bronze Cannes Lions, and a gold at ROI.

The widely spread and discussed SK-II “Leftover Women” not only made its way to international news headlines, but also garnered Glass, Gold, Silver and Bronze Cannes Lions; a Silver at London International Awards; a Bronze at ROI; and landed Floyd Russ a Silver Young Director Awards in Cannes.

Then our 2 BMW spot landed awards at ROI: BMW7 Visionary Lights for the 7 Series with a Gold Award, and BMW M Series with Silver and Bronze Awards.

BMW 7 Visionary Lights
BMW M Series

And finally, P.I.G. director Nelson Cabrera finished the year with over 20 major international awards for his work on the Saltwater Brewery campaign, including 2 Golds, a silver and a Bronze Cannes Lions; a Gold and 2 Silver Clios; D&AD Impact White Pencil; LIA awards, etc…

INSERT SALTWATER BREWERY FILM (I will ask Nelson for it)

Thank you all for supporting PIG China in 2016, and here’s hoping 2017 will be an even better year!

Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas!

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PIGMAN: Halloween

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Hollywood’s Search for a Chinese Superhero

Can a Chinese hero save Hollywood from cultural irrelevance?

The deluge of Hollywood superhero movies shows no signs of abating, with an estimated 63 comic book adaptations set to hit the big screen by 2020.

A sizeable chunk of the global takings come from China, the world’s second and soon–to-be largest film market. However, Hollywood’s future success in the Middle Kingdom is far from assured. With competition from an improving domestic industry and the massive new audiences outside top tier cities less responsive to English-dialogue driven fare, it is predicted that US films will lose market share as the box office grows.

As Hollywood studios increase their China presence, they are recognizing the need for more localized content. Earlier this year, the Russo brothers, directors of the Captain America franchise, announced they were teaming up with Chinese partners to form development and production studios in LA and Beijing, before unveiling plans for a $230m trilogy of Mandarin superhero movies starring an original Chinese hero.

Russo Brothers by Gage SkidmoreThe Russo Brothers. Copyright Gage Skidmore

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The Russos are not the first to see the potential in a Chinese hero. In 2011, former Marvel president Stan Lee co-launched Magic Storm Entertainment with a view to producing superhero movies for Asian markets. The first announced project was an English-language film titled “The Annihilator”, about a Chinese expatriate named Ming, “who must choose between remaining in prison or enlist in a secret U.S. super soldier program”. Slated to star Wang Leehom, the project appears to have stalled in the early stages.

The same fate appears to have befallen his latest project, Realm of the Tiger, this time a Mandarin language co-production with different partners featuring a heroine supposedly set to be played by Li Bingbing.

Stan-Lee-in-2015---Gage-Skidmore1Stan Lee and would-be superhero stars, Wang Leehom & Li Bingbing. Copyright Gage Skidmore

Lee has actually been devising Chinese characters for decades, albeit less heroic ones. In 1965 he co-created The Mandarin, a droopy-mustached throwback to the ‘Yellow Peril’ characters of the 1920s and 30s. Back then a xenophobic fear of the perceived threat from the swarming masses in the east saw Chinese characters presented as either primitive peasants or evil masterminds like Fu Manchu or Ming the Merciless.

Yellow-Perils1Spot the difference: ‘Yellow peril’ inspired super-villains Fu Manchu, Yellow Claw, Ming the Merciless and The Mandarin.  Marvel preceded The Mandarin with Yellow Claw in 1956 and actually bought the rights to Fu Manchu in 1973.

In fairness to Lee, The Mandarin was conceived during the height of the Cold War amid fears of spreading communism and nuclear war. Unsurprisingly when Marvel Studios co-produced Iron Man 3 with DMG Beijing, with an eye on reaping huge rewards from the China market, they chose not to present The Mandarin as an evil Chinese dictator with ambitions of world domination. The arch-villain was instead revealed to be a bumbling junkie actor used as a front for Aldrich Killian’s terrorist organization, provoking the ire of nerds everywhere.

Radioactive-Man1Another Lee co-creation, Chen Lu, China’s leading nuclear physicist who transforms himself into a Radioactive Man, a walking blob of nuclear waste recruited to help his government stop Thor blocking the spread of communism into India.

Everybody Was Kung Fu Whitewashing

American comic creators have been inventing Chinese characters for almost 80 years. Despite the prevailing Yellow Peril mindset, some more positive fictional characters began to emerge in the late ‘30s, like the Green Hornet’s sidekick Kato, a character that probably inspired DC’s Wing, a Chinese immigrant working as the driver and sidekick for a wealthy publisher and caped crusader in New York.

Van-Williams-as-the-Green-Hornet-and-Bruce-Lee-as-Kato-from-the-television-program-The-Green-Hornet.The Green Hornet (Van Williams) and Bruce Lee as his sidekick Kato on The Green Hornet TV show (1966-67).  The Green Hornet started life as a radio show in the 1930s
Wing1DC’s Wing, sidekick to the Crimson Avenger (far right).  Following his dignified early appearances in 1938, Wing’s design later descended into a racist stereotype typical of the era.

Chinese portrayals further improved after the US joined World War II and became formal allies with China, ushering in, in 1944 Blazing Comics’ short-lived series starring the Green Turtle, widely believed to be the first Chinese comic book hero, who fights in China alongside local troops against the Japanese.

GT1The Green Turtle – the first Chinese comic book hero?

Attitudes were still far from enlightened. American-Chinese artist Chu Hing supposedly intended to create a Chinese hero but was blocked by publishers who felt an Asian character wouldn’t resonate with a US readership. Chu cunningly kept the Turtle’s ethnicity ambiguous by drawing his eyes obscured and using a surreal shadow of a turtle to represent his hero’s face.GT2

Whitewashing for a US audience endured 30 years later, when white actor David Carradine was cast as the lead in the Kung Fu TV series, in which a half Chinese Shaolin monk fights his way through the American Old West.

David_Carradine_Kung_Fu_1972David Carradine in the Kung Fu TV series (1972-75). Carradine played Kwai Chang Caine, a Shaolin monk who travels through the American Old West armed with his spiritual training and his skill in martial arts, in search of his half-brother.

Negative though that may appear, the show inspired a martial arts craze in America in the 1970s, leading to more admirable Chinese comic book heroes including ‘The Master of Kung Fu’, Shang Chi. If any US-created Chinese hero is fit for export to modern China it might be Shang. In 2005 he was one of ten characters included in a proposed Marvel Studios slate and, though he never got his movie, there are rumors he may soon appear in the Netflix Iron Fist series, supposedly played by an Asian male that probably isn’t John Cho.

latest-1Shang Chi debuted in 1973, initially as an evil character, the son of Fu Manchu.

It’s unknown whether a Chinese face would attract cinemagoers in China. Would say, a Chinese Superman, fare better than the lukewarm reception for Man of Steel or Batman Vs. Superman. That dream may be closer than we think, after DC recently bestowed the ailing caped crusader’s powers onto Shanghai teen Kenan Kong as part of their Rebirth event.

Kenan-Kong1Kenan Kong, a Chinese Superman

John-D.-and-Catherine-T.-MacArthur-Foundation1Kenan Kong is co-created and co-written by Asian-American artist Gene Yang Luen.  In 2014, Yang also revived The Green Turtle, telling his origin story in “The Shadow Hero”. Image courtesy of John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

One US created hero that has remained Chinese to the core is Captain China, a Mandarin language series started in 2012 by American-Chinese duo Jim Lai and Chi Wang. Their Cap is a product of Mao Zedong initiative to create a Chinese superhero during the Great Leap Forward, revived after 50 years to demonstrate China’s economic power. Though amusing clashes between Cap’s Maoist anti-American ideology and China’s modern capitalist values ensue, surely no sane studio with designs on China would touch such sensitive subject matter.

Captain-ChinaJim Lai and Chi Wang’s Captain China.  Despite some confusion among netizens, he is not the star of the Russo brothers’ forthcoming movies.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a 16th century Chinese deity?

With 5000 years of history and mythology, it is often said that China already has the raw materials for great movie storytelling. While that forgets the all-important ‘telling’ part, it’s true that filmmakers frequently turn to the perceived box office security of fantasy, dipping into the archives for figures that can be repurposed as quasi-superheroes. League of Gods recently did just this, with the spirits and immortals of 16th century myth Fengshen Yanyi revamped amid spectacular blockbuster effects.

《封神传奇》对决海报横版带-logoCMKY-小League of Gods

US comic creators were riffing on Chinese mythology back in 2004 with Marvel’s Eight Immortals based on the legend of the same name. DC followed in 2006 with the Great Ten, based on the 14th century tale Ten Brothers, about a government-backed posse with excellent names like Accomplished Perfect Physician, Immortal Man-in-Darkness and Mother of Champions.

eightimmortalsMarvel’s Eight Immortals
GreatTen02DC’s Great Ten

Predicting what will work among China’s diverse masses is anyone’s guess. There is no tried and tested formula, though a glance at the most successful movies suggests that Chinese audiences favour escapism, fantasy and humor over the ever darker and more depressing stories told in US hero shows. So far, 2015’s super-silly Jianbing Man is China’s closest successful equivalent to a caped crusader.

Courtesy of Sohu VideoJianbing Man. Courtesy of Sohu Video

If the heroes of the past can teach us anything, it’s that their stories reflect the fears of the society in which they are created. The diverse concerns of China’s cinemagoers are different to those in the US, and transplanting an American genre onto another culture is more complex than simply casting a Mandarin speaking Chinese actor. If Hollywood must keep pushing superheroes, they face an unknown road ahead. Perhaps the most compelling solution is to leave the spandex at home, and focus on learning the true identity of the Chinese audience.

Jessica Sanders Champions Female Filmmaking

Jessica Sanders’ empowering new short film features some of the world’s most talented emerging female film directors, talking about their diverse and accomplished collective body of films.

The two-and-a-half-minute short titled “Fox Directors” celebrates the exceptional work being created by female directors, simultaneously casting a spotlight on shocking statistics about the numbers of women being employed as directors: just 7% of Hollywood films are directed by women – and accounted for only 9% of directors on the top 250 highest-grossing films of 2015 – and only 17% of TV directors are female.

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Sanders partnered with fashion and lifestyle media company Refinery29 to create a film for its programming slate ShatterBox Anthology, which profiles some of Fox’s leading female talent.  The resulting film was made in collaboration with Fox’s new Global Directing Initiative, a program that aims to create more opportunities for women and underrepresented filmmakers.  All the directors featured in Fox Directors participated in the initiative, including Sanders herself.

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Jessica Sanders is an Academy Award nominated, Sundance and Cannes Young Director Award-winning director and producer of narrative and documentary films and commercials.  Her credits include the feature documentaries After Innocence (Sundance winner, Academy Award shortlist), Sing (Academy Award nominated) and March of The Living.

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Fox Directors has been widely featured online, including selection as Creativity Online’s ‘Editor’s Pick’. Building awareness and provoking discussion are the first positive steps in a long journey ahead.

*Jessica is represented in China by P.I.G.*

PIGMAN: Happy Mid Autumn Festival

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PIGPEN CINEMA Presents CARTEL LAND

  • Tue. 30 Aug, 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

With unprecedented access, CARTEL LAND is a riveting, look at the journeys of two modern-day vigilante groups and their shared enemy – the violent Knights Templar drug cartel. In the Mexican state of Michoacán, Dr. Jose Mireles, a small-town physician leads the Autodefensas, a citizen uprising against the murderous drug cartel. Meanwhile, in Arizona’s Altar Valley – a corridor known as Cocaine Alley – Tim “Nailer” Foley, an American veteran, heads a small paramilitary group called Arizona Border Recon, whose goal is to stop Mexico’s drug wars from seeping across the border.

PIGMAN: Olympics

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Pigman4a

Streams Become Reality

With the commercial opportunities, the meteoric rise of live streaming poses important questions for the society in which it thrives.

The ever-growing list of live streaming apps and websites in China currently stands at around 300.  In case tracking every thought, outfit change and coffee break by WeChat, Weibo and Meipai weren’t enough, every man, woman and celeb is now streaming themselves in real time, transporting viewers from exotic locales, to sport stadia, to the red carpet, all the way to the front rooms of glum bachelors chewing pot noodles.  It is estimated that at any given moment there may be more than 60,000 people live streaming themselves, with men comprising the majority of the audience, particularly for the two most popular subjects; live video games and doe-eyed, subservient young ‘Girl Goddesses’ preening and purring into their iPhone cameras. 

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Modern Chinese society provides a highly fertile environment for the phenomenon to spawn and multiply.  500 million smartphones in circulation contribute to the 5th highest worldwide penetration and ample opportunities for engaging.  In bleak cities everywhere, millions of lonely and bored migrant workers far from loved ones turn to streams to escape, alleviate boredom or seek companionship.  Stuck in a hopeless situation beyond their control, there is surely appeal to controlling the outcome of their interactions, even if in the smallest possible way.  In streams, a swelling middle class looks for lifestyle inspiration from achievers and adventurers, while a generation of twenty and thirtysomething only-children finds friends, confidants and role models.

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The phenomenon is intriguing, not so much for its popularity – after all, it may be considered just an extension of the already all-pervasive social media – rather for the fact that viewers are so eager to spend hard earned yuan on it.  It is significant that of the 300,000 people that watched Wanda Chairman Wang Jianlin stream himself playing poker on a private jet, many of the low income viewers felt compelled to donate money to China’s wealthiest man.

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Live streaming has become an extremely lucrative industry, a mini economy fuelled by virtual gifts, in the form of e-roses, e-chocolates or other e-token that equate to money, that the viewer may donate in exchange for influence on the streamer’s behavior or to express gratitude.  The highest earners by far are the pretty young girls offering chitchat, makeup tips or flashes of cleavage, some of whom earn from 80,000 yuan per night, up as far as Papi Jiang, who whipped up a berserk 900,000 yuan during one 90 minute session.

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As the girls get rich, so too are the hosting platforms, which take 50% or more of the gift revenue and are beginning to sell advertising space.  Investors have so far pumped an estimated $750 million of venture capital into live streaming apps.  Brands are pouncing too, paying key opinion streamers to endorse products, or streaming directly from their stores.  Last month, American department store giant Macy’s attracted 100,000 viewers to a live Chinese language in-store broadcast, while China’s highly evolved e-commerce ecosystem, which in this case saw Macy’s team with Tmall, allows viewers to easily make purchases within the stream. 

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In addition to the throngs of amateurs jumping on the stream train, established content creators are also taking notice.  Rebecca Yang, founder and CEO of IPCN, an IP licenser and original creator regards it as an opportunity that cannot be ignored, saying,  I can’t say I am pro this culture, but I want to understand it. We as content providers need to think how it can be taken to our advantage, to create something a lot more valuable and entertaining.”  IPCN recently launched a stream of their Shanghai office with heavily scripted elements occurring alongside the real.  It marks a new form of reality television, somewhere between scripted dramas filmed live, and real shows like Big Brother that, though heavily manipulated, are not actively scripted or cast with actors.

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Live streaming stokes the same debates about individual health and wellbeing that have existed since social media began dominating young peoples’ consciousness.  Despite connecting digitally, individuals are extracting themselves from the real world unfolding around them, often at the expense of physical human contact.  More than ever before, the impressionable are following unsuitable role models that promote unrealistic ideals or body image.

The psychological well-being of a growing numbers of addicted streamers may be a cause for concern for authorities, though a cynic might quote the benefits of an increasingly isolated, distracted population, venting their social frustrations in the relative harmlessness of online live stream rooms.  Regardless, said authorities are naturally monitoring the situation, while streaming services themselves are employing large teams to watch for political or overly sexual content.  However, with diverse new streams cropping up daily, rules on specifically forbidden content are being issued on a reactive rather than proactive basis.  Infamously, in a bid to curb the increasingly raunchy Girl Goddesses, streamers are now banned from eating bananas in a suggestive fashion. 

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Live streaming is no fad, hot app or hobby.  2D feeds will soon be supplemented with, and perhaps eventually replaced by, immersive virtual reality streams, as apparatus becomes readily available and app compatible.  As big business, brands and celebrities inject promotional and financial clout and little sign of the socio-economic conditions abating, expect the live stream wave to continue to engulf all before it.