LOS ANGELES: Taiwanese-born filmmaker Ang Lee predicted Friday that the Chinese film market was about to explode, not only overtaking but dwarfing the American box office in a matter of years.
The two-time Oscar winner said executives in the world’s second economy used to rely on him as a bridge to Hollywood, but the newly-confident Chinese film industry no longer finds it necessary.
“It’s huge, it’s going to be bigger in a few years,” the 62-year-old told reporters on the red carpet at the glitzy BAFTA Britannia Awards in Beverly Hills.
“In a few years it’s probably going to be bigger (than the US) and then in the years to come a lot bigger. They’ve got many people and, most importantly, film has been lacking in the past in the culture, so it’s still fresh.”
PricewaterhouseCoopers projects China’s box office will rise from $4.3 billion in 2014 to $8.9 billion in 2019, outstripping the US.
Hollywood studios have been looking to capitalize on the burgeoning market through partnerships with Chinese companies.
Meanwhile, Beijing has ambitions to increase China’s “soft power,” unleashing a wave of Chinese money into Hollywood.
Real estate developer turned media conglomerate Wanda bought “Jurassic World” creator Legendary Entertainment for $3.5 billion earlier this year.
Last month Wanda — which snapped up US movie theatre chain AMC in 2012 for $2.6 billion — announced it would invest in movies produced by Sony Pictures, its first deal with one of Hollywood’s so-called “Big Six” studios.
Lee was the first Asian ever to win an Oscar for directing, in 2006 for gay cowboy movie “Brokeback Mountain.” He went on to win again for 2012’s “Life of Pi.”
He was at the BAFTA LA ceremony — which celebrates the contribution of Hollywood talent and British entertainers — to receive the John Schlesinger Britannia Award for excellence in directing.
His war drama “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” starring Joe Alwyn, Kristen Stewart, Vin Diesel and Steve Martin, is released in the US on November 11.
Americans Jodie Foster, 53, and Samuel L. Jackson, 67, were also honored at the gala in the luxury Beverly Hilton hotel while Tom Hanks, Jake Gyllenhaal, Brie Larson and Christopher Guest presented awards.
Among the Britons being recognized were Ewan McGregor, who starred in the “Star Wars” prequel trilogy, and Felicity Jones, the lead in the upcoming spin-off, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.”
Three-time Golden Globe winner Ricky Gervais, 55, received the Charlie Chaplin Britannia Award for excellence in comedy.
American actor Simon Helberg appeared to reference Britain’s anti-EU “Brexit” vote and the US presidential election when he told AFP comedy in the two countries was becoming similar — as was politics.
“I think the Brits seem to manage to be very intellectual and cerebral at times while masquerading as being very silly,” said the 35-year-old, best known for US hit comedy “The Big Bang Theory.”
“So there’s this depth to it, but it can also work on a silly level. Sometimes I think Americans can lean very heavily into the silly, so you get a little less of the wit on occasion.
“But you know what? It’s all evening out. Our countries are both in a dangerous moment right now, so we’ll see. The comedy and the political environment are all mirroring each other.”
Americans decide in their presidential polls on November 8 between Democrat Hillary Clinton, who has weathered controversy over her misuse of a private email server while Secretary of State, and Republican Donald Trump, whose rhetoric on women, Muslims and immigration has polarized the electorate.