Jessica Chastain’s “Ava” has avoided a theatrical release in China, but will instead receive the most extensive online outings in the Middle Kingdom. As of Saturday, it is available on four major generalist streaming platforms in China: Tencent Video, Alibaba-owned Yuku, IQII and Mango TV.
The ploy was driven by leading media based in Los Angeles and Beijing. The David Yu Lee-led firm licensed the rights from Voltage Pictures, operated it through Chinese censorship, and raised “presented” credits.
Directed by Tate Taylor, “Ava” sees Chestine as a killer who has had to fight for her own survival after one of her missions went wrong. It has enjoyed stunning drama releases around the world since June. Its limited U.S. release began on September 25 and has since been followed by premium VOD outings on Amazon and iTunes.
Very few American films have been sold in China this year. And everything about this deal was unusually difficult, Lee says. Obstacles include finding a date, getting the image through censorship, and establishing the trust needed to complete the transaction.
The litany of problems replaces the fact that Chinese cinemas were closed for about six months between January and July, causing financial losses to Chinese companies and severely affecting cross-border corporate relations. “Lots of Chinese distributors broke the contract this year. Others refused to take delivery and kept the headline, “Lee told Variety.
“Our organization has probably been successful because we’ve been doing it for many years, we’re locally involved with communities in both China and the United States, and we have people on the ground in both countries,” he said. Leading Media has marketed 14 feature films in Chinese theaters and controlled the exclusive digital distribution rights of about 500 titles in China, including “Million Dollar Baby,” “Whiplash,” “Rush” and the Divergent series.
Lee explained that since the release date for “Ava” in China is less working with government control, four platforms need to be found to work together. China’s streaming platforms have become a hugely powerful activity with at least three of them each being able to claim more than 100 million subscribers at their given level. They see themselves as competitors, especially in the case of core production, where large platforms occasionally collaborate as a means of risk-sharing.
“Censorship was challenging,” Lee said, referring to the trend established before perpetuation control that has suspended and expanded common routes for approval and publication for both local and foreign titles. It was graphicly highlighted earlier this month when “Monster Hunter” dropped out of Chinese theaters just a day later due to the appropriateness of a kind of nationalist hysteria of dialogue seen by bloggers as racist. “The (US-China) trade war seems to have put a strain on relations,” he said.
Still, Lee is optimistic that “Ava” has what it wants for success in China. “First, it’s a rare piece of fresh Western content to reach a Chinese audience in 2020. Second, we hope the angle of women’s empowerment will play well in China. The story examines crime-driven action elements as well as family and social issues.”
Chastain, who will soon be seen in “355” with China’s biggest female star Fan Bing Bing, is also a Western star who has a local name rather than a Chinese transliteration that is a well-established fan base in China. To Chinese audiences she is known as “劳模 姐”, which translates loosely into English as “Hard Working Big Sister”.