THREE STORIES IN THE KEY OF: CHINA GOES TO THE MOVIES

Sometimes your Signal authors look to beat the July heat in an air-conditioned movie house. Then, bored with the latest summer blockbuster, it isn’t long before we’re scanning the screen for signs of political trends. Today, we check out three big stories from China’s summer movie season.


First, Hollywood has long wanted a bigger slice of China’s movie market, already the world’s second largest. US producers want more American films allowed into China and a bigger cut of the box office. But like every other aspect of the current US-China trade relationship, things aren’t moving forward. Why are American movies especially vulnerable to the growing trade war? They’re one of the very few products China imports from the US at much higher values than the US imports from China. Tough luck for Tinsel Town.

Second, we learned this week that high-budget Chinese films can do “box office belly flops” worthy of the worst of their US counterparts. A fantasy epic based on Tibetan mythology called “Asura,” with a more than $100 million price tag, reportedly the most expensive movie ever produced by China’s film industry, opened on July 13 (pictured above). It offered big-name stars and stunning visual effects, but the film’s opening weekend brought in just $7 million, and the film quickly disappeared from theaters without explanation. It appears China’s movie-going middle class is looking for something that hits a little closer to home. Looks like they’ve found it...

Third, on July 5, a much lower budget film opened in China to greater success. “Dying to Survive” is a black comedy about a man who sells oils he claims can cure erectile dysfunction. Faced with the suffering of a desperate leukemia patient, he organizes a motley crew of smugglers to help obtain a life-saving drug at affordable cost from India. This comedy about high drug prices won a standing ovation and raves at last month’s Shanghai Film Festival, and it now looks bound for box office glory.

The bottom line: China’s fast-growing film industry is beginning to reflect the pressures facing the country and its people.

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Learn more about this rags to riches story in Eni's new Energy Superfacts series.

In late 2017, Zimbabwe's long-serving strongman Robert Mugabe was deposed by the army after 37 years in power. Amid huge popular celebrations, he handed over the reins to Emmerson Mnangagwa, his former spy chief. It was an extraordinary turn of history: Mugabe, one of Africa's last "Big Men" and a hero of the country's liberation war to end white minority rule, went out with barely a whimper, placing Zimbabwe — stricken by economic ruin and international isolation — in the hands of "The Crocodile."

Mugabe has since died, but almost three years after his departure, Zimbabwe's woes continue.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Happy Monday, we are in August, summer, should be taking it a little easier. Coronavirus not taking the stress levels off but hopefully giving people the excuse, if you're not traveling so much, be close with your families, your loved ones and all that. Look, this is not a philosophical conversation, this is a talk about what's happening in the world, a little Quick Take for you.

First of all, you know, I'm getting a little bit more optimistic about the news in the United States right now. Yes, honestly, I am. In part because the caseload is flattening across the country and it's reducing in some of the core states that have seen the greatest explosion in this continuation of the first wave. Yes, the deaths are going up and they should continue to for a couple of weeks because it is a lagging indicator in the United States. But the fact that deaths are going up does not say anything about what's coming in the next few weeks. That tells you what's happened in the last couple of weeks.

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