JACKI LYDEN, host: .TEXT: Think of the last big movie to come out of China.
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Unidentified Man (Announcer): From Ang Lee, Director of Sense and Sensibility, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."
LYDEN: That movie was released over a decade ago. Chinese filmmakers haven't been able to repeat its international success since. But as Sanden Totten from member station KPCC reports, the Chinese government recently hired top Hollywood talent to produce a film based on an ancient Chinese love story.
SANDEN TOTTEN: How's this for a movie pitch? The year: 700 BC, Tang dynasty, China. A powerful emperor falls in love with a beautiful commoner. They share bond so strong only a war could tear them apart. Sounds like perfect fodder for a Hollywood hit, right?
That's what the Qujiang Film and TV Investment Group is hoping. The Chinese government-owned company put down $30 million in hopes of making a movie that would celebrate Chinese culture and turn a tidy profit. It started by hiring an A-list director.
Mr. ANTOINE FUQUA (Director): I mean, how often do you get a phone call like that, that the Chinese government is interested in you making a movie?
TOTTEN: That's Antoine Fuqua, the man behind the Oscar-winning film "Training Day," right after a press conference announcing the movie. He says he didn't know what to make of the offer at first.
Mr. FUQUA: I was like I'm being set up somewhere. This is going to...
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Mr. FUQUA: It's a set-up.
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Mr. FUQUA: I'm trying to remember what I did last time I was in China that might get me arrested.
TOTTEN: He signed on. The company also brought on David Franzoni, the writer behind the mega-hit "Gladiator."
Professor STAN ROSEN (Chinese Film, University of Southern California): What China has right now is money.
TOTTEN: Stan Rosen is a professor of Chinese film at the University of Southern California. He says what China doesn't have is the infrastructure and talent to consistently make international box office hits. Hollywood does. So, the government is learning everything it can from the U.S. film biz. But Rosen says there's another reason China is so intent on making movies.
Mr. ROSEN: They are trying to get films made that present a somewhat different image of China than the one you read about sometimes in the paper, about buying resources in Latin America and Africa and all over the world, jailing Nobel Prize winners; that kind of thing.
TOTTEN: He says it's a subtle form of propaganda. And since the Chinese government bans movies that paint it in a bad light, Rosen says even Hollywood has started making China-friendly films.
Mr. ROSEN: You know, "2012" was the best example I think, because it did so well. And it was so obvious in that film that only China could save the world.
TOTTEN: In the disaster flick "2012," starring John Cusack, the earth is about to be soaked in a giant flood. The super-rich pay to have impressively large and technologically advanced boats made in China.
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Mr. JOHN CUSACK (Actor): (as Jackson Curtis) Leave it to the Chinese. I didn't think it was possible. Not in the time we had.
TOTTEN: Still, many movie makers balk at the idea of letting any government dictate their artistic vision and possibly censor content.
Screenwriter David Franzoni says he plans to make the upcoming T'ang Dynasty film as real and gritty as possible, even if that means depicting cruel and violent Chinese rulers.
Mr. DAVID FRANZONI (Screenwriter): Let's be frank, OK? I've got studios who want to censor me. This is nothing new. So, whether it's a government or a studio, I'm pretty hardened to that. I'm not worried about it.
TOTTEN: Squabbles over scripts and plots are par for the course in Hollywood. And if China wants to get into this business, that's something the government better get used to.
For NPR News, I'm Sanden Totten in Los Angeles.
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