Returning to China

By Evelyn Jacobson

For Trojans studying film, knowledge of Chinese culture and languages can bring new opportunities – and difficult choices.

For Trojans studying film, communications and other aspects of the entertainment industry, the boom in Chinese cinema represents job opportunities that didn’t exist a decade ago. And those already familiar with Chinese culture and languages are poised to make the most of these opportunities.

Yao Cheng, a junior double majoring in communications and critical studies, is one such student. The Beijing native currently is interning for a company that invests in U.S.-Chinese co-productions and hosts a yearly co-production summit in Los Angeles. She came to USC to learn about the history of film and the business end of Hollywood. “I need to learn why American films are so successful, not only in the U.S. but in the whole world. Then I can bring my knowledge and work experience to China,” she says.

Cheng compares the current state of the Chinese market to the development of the South Korean film business. “Twenty years ago, Korean films weren’t doing very well. A generation of filmmakers came to the United States to study. They copied the way U.S. films are made, and now [South Korea has] one of the best film sectors in the whole world,” she says. “The Chinese market has such huge potential, and this process will provide people like me with opportunities.”

As in Hollywood, the tricky part is breaking in. “It’s extremely hard to get into the business if you don’t know people or have connections,” says Lu Lu, a USC School of Cinematic Arts graduate student who will earn her MFA in directing this May. Lu studied broadcast journalism at Fudan University in Shanghai, China, and she already was an award-winning documentarian before arriving at USC. She believes the education and experiences she gains in America will give her a leg up, not just in terms of technical know-how but also in her critical perspective of life and events in China.

“My view of China is different now that I have been able to see the country from the outside. My education and my experience with the film industry here [are] very eye-opening, and I get to think differently,” Lu says.

And therein lies a dilemma. The more time Chinese natives spend in Hollywood, the more marketable they become. “The big question for all of these students is whether to stay in the United States and make a name for themselves here and then go back [to China], or to start there first,” says Ada Tseng, managing editor of Asia Pacific Arts, an online magazine of the USC U.S.-China Institute that covers Asian and Asian-American arts and entertainment.

Lu addresses these problems in her thesis film, Early Summer. The story follows two Chinese students living in America who ponder when to go back home – a choice complicated by their status as members of the only-child generation, which puts career choices on a collision course with expectations of familial responsibility.