Michelle Yeoh, Kevin Tsujihara Among Honorees at Inspiring U.S.-China Entertainment Summit

The U.S.-China Entertainment Summit marked its 9th year with a rich day of programming and conversations, followed by a gala dinner, that featured powerful, market-defining entertainment industry leaders and shapers. On hand were actress, producer and writer Michelle Yeoh — whose work spans Hollywood to China and includes Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Crazy Rich Asians; Kevin Tsujihara, the Warner Bros. Chairman and CEO, whose recent films include Crazy Rich Asians and The Meg, the latter the most successful U.S.-China co-production to date; Elizabeth Daley, dean of the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, perhaps the world’s premier film school; and Xu Zheng, the Chinese actor, writer, director and producer whose latest work Dying to Survive has struck a chord among the Chinese public and accelerated government efforts to lower prices for cancer drugs. Xu shared the stage with American actor and director Billy Bob Thornton.

Thornton presented the honors to Xu, cheering an actor and director "who cares about real people and real stories ... and doesn’t mind the gritty stuff." Daley, the USC Film School dean, said the film offered a rare chance for good news in the U.S.-China relationship. Then the evening gala was turned over to a pair of honorees who helped bring Warner Brothers the huge success of Crazy Rich Asians: CEO Tsujihara and the wildly popular Yeoh, both of whom spoke of the need to continue the trend that has brought more opportunities for Asians and Asian-Americans on screen and behind the camera. Said Tsujihara: diversity "is right, and it works." Then he asked: "Who wouldn’t want to be a 'crazy rich Asian' — even for a day?"

Each year, the day-long summit brings new assessments of the U.S.-China media landscape from both sides of the Pacific. Mike Ellis, president and managing director, Asia Pacific for the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), said that despite "the difficult headlines" recently vis-à-vis the Chinese film industry, there is an "unstoppable" march underway towards both greater collaboration and revenues. (Among numbers he shared, there was this staggering statistic: 76.4 billion views of web series in China — up 300 percent from 2016). Agents described the "game-changing" effects of Crazy Rich Asians, of conversations in which they are now asked to offer Asian actors and "whole new faces" for studio productions. "It changes everything," said Lucia Liu, an agent with UTA. "It’s opened doors for Asian-American actors, Chinese-American actors, here and around the world."

Other sessions covered e-sports, the global future for streaming, and all manner of ideas about how to better capture huge and untapped markets in China. Jack Gao, formerly with Microsoft and now founder and CEO of Beijing TDFT Co., outlined plans to bring first-run movies to mobile devices in China in order to reach the hundreds of millions of Chinese who are still not served by a local movie theater. "We will change from 'you go to the movies'," said Gao, "to 'the movie goes to you.'" Albert Cheng, COO and co-head of television at Amazon, one of the most influential shapers in entertainment this decade, shared his perspective on content bundling and the evolution of streaming. The summit also featured the participation of Kevin Lin, co-founder of the Twitch interactive content platform, which has an average of one million active global users at any one time, each of whom spends a jaw-dropping average of two hours a day on the platform.

The event, held at the Skirball Center in Los Angeles (and renamed this year from "Film Summit" to "Entertainment Summit" to acknowledge the rich variety of media now covered by U.S.-China collaborations), is the most prestigious U.S. gathering of Hollywood and Chinese entertainment industry leaders. The summit is run by Asia Society Southern California and has led the conversation about co-production, cross-border investment and the integration of Chinese and American talent.