Published: 14:40, March 27, 2024 | Updated: 14:39, March 27, 2024
Chinese film gets surprise hit in N. America
By Rena Li in Los Angeles

Jia Ling chats with the audience during a special screening at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, California, on March 20. (ZHANG SHUO / CHINA NEWS SERVICE)

Chinese actress Jia Ling was surprised at how widely her latest film has been received in the US.

"I believed my film would primarily resonate with Chinese audiences, so its reception among US viewers exceeded my expectations," Jia told China Daily during a special screening at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver city, California, last week.

Jia, known for her comedic roles, never imagined collaborating with Hollywood giant Sony Pictures years ago. Their partnership goes beyond distributing her latest film, YOLO, which has had huge box-office success in China.

Co-produced by New Classics Pictures and Yuewen Media, YOLO, meaning "you only live once", is a comedic drama directed by and starring Jia. It follows the story of Le Ying, an unemployed woman who discovers boxing, leading to a transformative journey.

Distributed by Sony Pictures Releasing International, YOLO made its North American debut on March 8 and has garnered more than $1.5 million during its 10-day run on that continent since its release in the US and Canada. Sony Pictures is also set to remake her breakthrough work Hi, Mom.

Since its opening on Feb 10 in China coinciding the Spring Festival, the film has taken $480 million at the box office. Moreover, it has secured the top spot for worldwide box office earnings so far this year.

Jia initially expressed surprise at Sony's decision to release the film globally without tailoring it for the North American audience. However, she was pleased to learn of its positive reception, especially among young people in the United States.

YOLO premiered in more than 200 theaters across North America, the highest number for Chinese films in the past decade.

Craig Dehmel, head of Global Distribution at IMAX Entertainment, lauded the film's success in China and expressed interest in future collaborations with Jia Ling

"We are proud to bring this film to audiences worldwide," said Steven O'Dell, president of Sony Pictures Releasing International. "YOLO is special to us, and Jia Ling is a remarkable filmmaker. I hope you all enjoy the movie."

Gaining recognition

While praising the film's influence, experts believe the significance of its appearance in major movie theater chains in the North American market extends beyond box office earnings. It represents a new avenue for Chinese films to reach global audiences and gain recognition.

"This Chinese movie is really impressive," said Georges Chamchoum, film director and organizer of the Asian World Film Festival. "I hope a lot of people will go see it, and we'll have a broader release in the US."

As an actress from a comedic background, Jia's transition to the global stage is a testament to the power of storytelling and the universality of human emotions.

Actor Alexander Manko toldChina Daily that it is an inspiring film that tells stories transcending languages and countries.

Producer Janusz Mazur echoed that it is a fundamental human nature story.

"When you're in the ring, it's just you against the other fighter, and there's nothing else. It doesn't matter your gender, your culture, anything. It's you against the other fighter," Mazur said.

Craig Dehmel, head of Global Distribution at IMAX Entertainment, lauded the film's success in China and expressed interest in future collaborations with Jia.

"It was IMAX's highest-grossing movie during the Chinese New Year. So, we hope to release more of her movies, and maybe someday she'll shoot with our IMAX cameras," he told China Daily.

Stanley Rosen, a professor of political science and international relations at the University of Southern California, has extensively researched the performance of Chinese films in the international market. He mentioned the challenges faced by Chinese films in reaching global audiences, including issues with subtitles, themes primarily focused on domestic audiences, and difficulties with dubbing for global release.

However, Rosen noted that in recent years, Chinese filmmakers and production houses have been actively pursuing international recognition and success. Strategies include co-productions, collaborations with international distributors, and storytelling that transcends cultural boundaries, which are crucial to achieve global appeal for Chinese films.

"This shift reflects a concerted effort to overcome barriers and broaden the reach of Chinese cinema on the international stage," he told China Daily.