- Hollywood Made in China by Aynne Kokas
Hollywood Made in China is a timely contribution to film studies, media studies, and communication studies. To track the latest development in Sino-U.S. media collaboration, Aynne Kokas draws from her experience of observing and interviewing government regulators, industry players, and filmmakers and from her reading of theories developed in diverse disciplines such as cultural geography, political sciences, public relations, and marketing. The result is, in her modest words, "a preliminary exploration of the co-creation of Sino-US media culture" (p. 157), but in my opinion an ambitious mapping of the increasingly complex and intertwined media ecology of co-production and interdependency of China and Hollywood in a new phase of globalization in the twenty-first century.
In Kokas's design, Hollywood Made in China "explores how China and Hollywood collaborate and compete to expand audiences, produce content, and leverage their brands" (p. 10), so the book is less about individual films or artists than "about competition between global media brands—specifically, the brands of 'Hollywood' and 'Made in China'" (p. 4). In her book, "Hollywood" denotes "the brand of US commercial media production" (p. 6) while "China" refers to "a conceptual framework, specifically as a market and as a cultural production industry" (p. 7). Kokas's central argument is that "China's impulse to decrease its cultural production deficit, combined with Hollywood's desire to expand its global market share, is at once symbiotic and competitive" (p. 13). The symbiotic nature of "Hollywood made in China" has thus created a situation in which, not without complicity, "Hollywood is advancing the Chinese Dream" by "expanding the capacity of China's culture industries through FDI" (p. 11). At the same time, however, the competition between China and Hollywood has resulted in "an ever-increasing list of projects that offer new blends of mass media culture, production practices, and brands" and "is expanding beyond the complete control of either industrial or regulatory masters" (p. 12). The compromised product is "Hollywood made in China," a hybrid type of "Sino-US media [End Page 181] [that] has become a significant system composed of, yet distinct from, that of Hollywood and China" (p. 14).
Kokas's book is an impressive, far-reaching exercise in establishing the distinctiveness of Sino-U.S. media, apart from China and Hollywood, respectively, and it does so through a macro-level delineation of innovative brandscapes, co-production types, strategic narratives, production ecosystems, and personnel profiles. Chapter 1, "Policy and Superheroes: China and Hollywood in Sino-US Relations," examines examples for this development: "Through co-production policy, the PRC can leverage Hollywood expertise in developing its domestic media industries and national brand" (p. 23). High-profile political meetings across the Pacific facilitate bilateral negotiation, and the verifiable outcomes include the establishment of Oriental DreamWorks in Shanghai in 2012 and the increasing power of Chinese censors in shaping Hollywood co-productions. Kokas discusses two versions of Iron Man 3 (2013) as a turning point. The Chinse version debuted in the PRC before its U.S. release and contains pro-China elements (e.g., Yili drink and acupuncture), which were removed in the American version to prevent "any cognitive dissonance for American viewers" (p. 34). Hollywood has learned to avoid "casting Chinese people as unlikable villains or drawing attention to hot-button political issues like Tibet" (p. 35), and "the ceding of control in a Hollywood blockbuster to Chinese regulators and distributors marked a moment of transformation in Hollywood's relationship with China" (p. 33).
Chapter 2, "Hollywood's China: Mickey Mouse, Kung Fu Panda, and the Rise of Sino-US Brandscapes," proceeds with Anna Klingmann's concept of brandscapes as "the demarcation of territory by brands" (p. 24) and approaches Hollywood's collaboration with China as the latest venture to "stage experiences" in an era of what Joseph Pine II and James Gilmore call "experience economy" (pp. 40–41). Kokas recounts the marketing of the Shanghai Disney Resort and the Disney English school in Shanghai as operations of...