Phoney films

Why China Mobile’s entered the movie industry

Phoney films

Huang: she answered the call

In the era of heavy product placement – epitomised by the film Go Lala Go! (see WiC59) – China’s moviegoers have come to associate show business with big business. China Mobile now wants to get in on the act too.

The world’s largest mobile phone carrier is to make its own films. The telco giant has hired seven directors to direct a mosaic of miniatures, that together comprise the film When Love Calls.

The directors include Lu Chuan (City of Life and Death) and Zhang Yang (Shower), both distinguished young filmmakers in China. Needless to say, most of the vignettes feature mobile phones heavily.

When Love Calls, which held a premiere at the Shanghai Film Festival earlier in June, is produced in partnership with Paige Universal Culture Media. It is not the first collaboration. In 2007, the mobile phone carrier invested in the blockbuster Call for Love, a comedy about a married man receiving a mobile phone from an angel – the premise being he can date 10 pretty women by making 10 calls. These included popular starlets Fan Bingbing and Huang Shenyi (who is pictured above).

China Mobile believes that shooting its own film is more appealing than traditional product placement as it is less of a turnoff for the audience, Sun Jianjun, chairman of Paige Universal, told the Economic Observer. It is also cheaper than straight advertising. The film costs less to make than what the company has to pay for big names like Yao Ming and Jay Chou for endorsements.

The collaboration also suggests new business opportunities for small companies like Paige Universal. “Advertising companies that are waiting to shoot ads for China Mobile have to wait for at least a year – so we have no chance,” says Sun. “But when it comes to making films for China Mobile, we are first in line.”

But making custom films for big corporations like China Mobile is not quite so straightforward. For one thing, it is harder to write a story based on a product or a tagline than simply weaving a product into film. To win over the filmmakers, Sun, who acts as the intermediary between the producers and the client, also had to make sure that the film didn’t turn out as humdrum as an ordinary commercial.

For China Mobile, which spends heavily on advertising, the distinction between product placement and filmmaking is nonetheless a clear one. After the initial screening of When Love Calls, the company chairman Wang Jianzhou vetoed a promotional scene in which China Mobile’s logo was featured prominently as he thought it out of context: “We don’t need that in a movie; that’s the job of our adverts.”

In addition to China Mobile, Paige now works with Honda, the Japanese automaker. “Now almost everyone has a mobile phone, and everyone has a chance to buy a car, so it’s not too difficult to write a script,” says Sun. His next project? Sun said he is in talks with Hunan province to a make a film to promote local tourism in Changsha.

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