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Looking For Chinese Films that Can Cross Over —— Interview with Cedric Behrel, Co-founder of Trinity Film
Release Date 2019-02-19
Resource The Chinese Film Market

Cedric co-founded and is Managing Director of Trinity, an all-right film distributor dedicated to bringing outstanding cinema and the best Chinese film to UK audiences. Prior to setting up Trinity, Cedric gained a BA with Honours in Philosophy from the Sorbonne-Paris University and competed the MA Filmmaking programme at the London Film School.

An independent distributor since 2006, Trinity has released iconic movies over the years such as Denis Villeneuve’s intersectional debut, Academy Award nominated INCENDIES, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s JACK GOES BOATING, Paolo Sorrentino’s THIS MUST BE THE PLACE starring Sean Penn, Ulrich Seidl’s Import Export, Graham Chapman’s animated biopic A LIAR’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY, and Gaspar Noé’s ENTER THE VOID.

The Cine Asia label, acquired in 2015, represents the largest catalogue of Chinese films in the UK, including the IP MAN franchise and many films featuring key Asian film luminaries such as Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen and Chow Yun Fat. In the last 18 months, Trinity has had great success releasing the most prominent Chinese films in cinemas, including YOUTH, DETECTIVE CHINATOWN 2, and WOLF WARRIOR 2, which is the highest-grossing film in China to date.


CFM: You have distributed a lot of Chinese films in Europe, especially in UK, including YOUTH, WOLF WARRIOR, and DETECTIVE CHINATOWN, etc. From your experience in distribution, what do you think the European audiences and buyers are interested in in Chinese films? 

Cedric Behrel: I don’t necessarily know what the audiences are looking for. I know what I’m looking for. I’m looking for products that will have commercial appeal in China and will appeal to the Chinese expatriates overseas but can also cross over. The principal aim is to have films that can do well in China and to be able to surf on the word of mouth as the film is getting online. So for us to be able to release day and date and benefit from around the world, it needs to have such an involvement in China, so that’s what we are looking for.


CFM: What are the strengths and advantages of Chinese films compared with other foreign language films?  

Cedric Behrel: The biggest international box office for non-English language film is a Chinese film- CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON is the biggest international success of all time. There is no other French film or Spanish film or Italian film that has done that, so I think Chinese films can have a lot of potential but seldom realized, and this kind of success we have seen from Chinese films historically has been more from Hong Kong or from coproductions. CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON was a coproduction with the US and WOLF TOTEM was a coproduction with France. These are two Chinese films that did very well overseas. That’s what they need and I think the Chinese film industry makes films which are not very exportable or doesn’t know how to sell them very well yet because it’s still something quite new. I knew the Hong Kong sales agents have been sending these films, but I think the Chinese film industry needs to be more mature in the international marketplace.


CFM: What do you think that needs to be improved for Chinese films?

Cedric Behrel: China has faced an explosive growth in the last few years. It’s very easy to get films done and financed but difficult to make them well, because they have so many activities and the prices of the cast have skyrocketed, and above-the-line costs are so high in Chinese cinema. So I think essentially what they need is to slow down a bit. Spend more time in pre-production, and spend more money on below the line rather than above the line.


CFM: What difficulties have you encountered when distributing Chinese and Asian films?

Cedric Behrel: Mostly we only get DCPs 5 days before releasing the film and everyone’s so anxious. Sometimes we actually missed a lot of opportunities because we don’t have the materials ready or sometimes we’re promised access to talent but at the last minute it doesn’t happen. So that’s quite difficult.

I think communication has to be improved which is part of the reason why I’m here in China. To meet people that I’m bound to work with and try to have closer relationships.


CFM: What needs to be taken into consideration when Chinese films seek overseas distribution?

Cedric Behrel: It’s about whether its story will resonate outside of China or not. Some Chinese comedies may work with the Chinese expatriates, so there’s always a market outside of China. But we are talking about a market much beyond that. Some films could be vigorously dependent on the Chinese release and the Chinese audience. For example, DETECTIVE CHINATOWN in the UK probably could only have released for the Chinese New Year. So the first step is to realize that.

Then if you have a type of film or subject matter you think can travel, the cast is an element. So you can think about getting a cast that has an appeal internationally or maybe a foreign cast that can help you with your international sales. That’s worked out in the case of the ANIMAL WORLD, which has Michael Douglas and was still a Chinese film. But that doesn’t mean you should get a foreigner in every film, you need to find a part that fits it.

Because there’s clearly a lack of expertise in China about development and casting opportunities internationally as well, the best thing would be to collaborate with a foreign entity early on. And I think one of the problems often with Chinese films and markets is that their marketing is not very international-friendly, it’s too Chinese, and I think they should spend more time on creating international assets, which typically a lot of sales agents, even American sales agents do. If you are trying to sell it in a foreign market, why not use people who are used to making assets for that market?


CFM: You came to Beijing for the Master Class and Cooperation Lab held by Bridging the Dragon. How do you feel about this kind of event, as well as the exchange and communication between these two markets?

Cedric Behrel: I think it’s really a valuable thing to meet film makers at an early stage. The lab is all about giving feedbacks to the projects about how internationally it could work and try to really brainstorm with them. From my point of view, it helps me find out who I know that I can work with, what they can do and how they can have more appeal.


CFM: How do you think of the cooperation between Chinese and European film industry these years?

Cedric Behrel: It’s clear that we are releasing more Chinese films to the potential marketplace. And we are seeing Chinese films take prominence at markets and festivals, using that as a launch pad. We are seeing much more visibility of Chinese films and Chinese productions and Chinese investment at festivals and markets from the world. It remains to be seen whether that’s going to create more cooperation opportunities or not. But that’s definitely what people like me are going to do.


CFM: What is your suggestion for Chinese films and companies to take part in international cooperation?

Cedric Behrel: I think they should spend more time on the areas where the projects are developing and trying to talk to people there and find partners, talents and funding as well.


CFM: How do you think of the future performance of Chinese films in European film market?

Cedric Behrel: It depends on how international China can make films from the start. And it’s not just about films making big box office in China, that’s part of it, but it’s also about how these films are able to talk to general audience and have a universal theme and message that filmmakers are able to identify and distill in such a way that all the people can also understand. That’s the challenge.

I think next year would probably not be so good for internal ratings in China. We’re looking at a slowdown with changes going on in the film industry now- there are less films being produced, there aren’t any big films rising after Chinese New Year this year. So we may look at stagnation or a slowdown in the next year or two, but I really think that the long term has a picture, so that’s what I’m waiting for.


CFM: What kinds of films does CineAsia plan to distribute in 2019?

Cedric Behrel: I’d love to have films that are more cross-over. We come from an art house background, so we have a natural affinity with art-house films, but they are very tough to release in the UK. So we’re looking at things that have a cross-over potential and ideally that can work in both markets. What we did with YOUTH was interesting, because YOUTH in a way was a film that was not only a success of the Chinese box office, but was also a film with strong identity, and had very strong director. It told you a lot about Chinese culture and history as well. So, I think for us, it’s fantastic to have a film like this and I hope we can get involved with more films of that kind.


CFM: What is your favorite Chinese film? Are there any Chinese films that you like in recent years?

Cedric Behrel: I grew up when the 5th and 6th generation of filmmakers started to come up, my grandfather was a cinema fan and showed me Chinese films. So for me, my emotional involvement with Chinese films started from a young age. I think the twin combination of RAISE THE RED LANTERN and FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE had a big effect. The film TO LIVE is probably one of my favorite films.

My favorite film of this year is probably Bi Gan’s film LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT. It’s quite experimental because it’s a film that really tries to use cinemas along, so we’d love to work with more films like this.