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China film market set to take over Hollywood

The film industry in China is thriving despite the limitations of censorship, and there are predictions it may overtake Hollywood.

Hengdian(横店) is the sight of the largest film studio in the world. Photo:

China has become the world's second largest film market and is predicted to be the largest, overtaking Hollywood, by the end of the decade.

The country already boasts what is claimed to be the largest film studio in the world.

Hengdian is a three-hour flight south of Beijing. Twenty years ago it was a tiny farm village. Now it is bigger than Universal and Paramount Studios combined.

"Forget about Hollywood, here we can have 40 separate productions at the same time," Zeng YuLin, the spokesman for the studio tells me.

With a guide and a golf buggy, we took a tour of the site. There appears to be no limit to what they are able to create: we drove passed a spectrum of Chinese history from colonial Hong Kong to pre-war Guangzhou all recreated to minute detail.

China's film market is set to overtake Hollywood by the end of the decade. Photo:

At the heart of it all is a staggering full-size recreation of Beijing's Forbidden City(紫禁城). None of the sets are temporary and there seems to be one for every conceivable scene.

In one corner we stumbled across the filming of what appeared to be a key fight scene in a forthcoming war film. Surrounded by extras in outsized costumes was lead actor, Qi Dao.

Immaculately dressed in the uniform of a 1930s policeman, Dao was on his fifteenth take of the morning. In a brief break, he told us about Hengdian.

"It's getting better every day," he said. "There's still a way to go before it is at an international standard like Hollywood. But it is getting better and better."

He then touched on the one issue that many believe is holding China back: censorship.

Every TV programme and film produced in China is subjected to censors. Photo:

"Of course I'd like censorship to loosen up a bit. That would give a bigger space for us artists to create, and to deliver fresh productions to the audience."

Every TV programme and film that is produced in China is subjected to the censors for approval. The Communist Party's State Administration of Radio, Film and Television is responsible for checking everything that is filmed.

Anything remotely political is off limits, which explains the somewhat cliched subject matter of everything we saw at Hengdian.

The Japan-bashing war films and Ming period dramas may conform with Communist Party regulations but they only have a limited popularity. That may go some way to explaining why less than 5% of Chinese movies broke even in the first half of 2012.

, a director who works regularly at Hengdian, acknowledges the restrictions but doesn't belive they have a big impact on domestic production.

Anything remotely political is off limits in the Chinese film market. Photo:

"There are restrictions. The policies from different countries are different," he says.

"Compared to the capitalist system, our socialist system has restrictions on policies. But it doesn't affect the productions domestically. It's the different tradition between the east and the west, it takes time to change. It's a progress."

The censorship also has an impact on western production houses who want access to the Chinese market. All films shown in China are checked by the censorship department.

Skyfall, the latest Bond film, was released in China in January but only after one plot thread was altered and another scene was cut altogether.

Part of the film is made in Shanghai but one scene in which a Chinese security guard is shot dead in a skyscraper lobby has been removed.

In addition, the Chinese subtitles have been altered to remove any reference in the dialogue to Chinese torture and prostitution.

The threat of censorship has not put foreign production houses off the Chinese market. Foreign films make up 60% of the Chinese box office market.

Chinese producers like Yu Zheng, who is filming a Qin period drama at Hengdian, hopes to offer his work to the world.

"I hope China's TVs will go to the world." he says. "English dramas like Downton Abbey, together with a lot of American dramas, draw large audiences in. I hope many of our beautifully produced TV series will develop into the world markets."

He and his executive producer were reluctant to speak about the issues surrounding censorship.

"I'm reluctant to be associated with issues like this," Mr Yu said. "I can't answer your question."

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