SHANGHAI--Visa International has combined the rising prestige of filmmakers in China with that country’s burgeoning outbound travel market, and its own global sponsorship of the Olympic Games, to create a short film series showcasing local talent.
Visa, the world's largest electronic payments network, and Discovery Networks Asia, a division of Discovery Communications, have produced six short films that present a unique view of past Olympic host cities through the eyes of Chinese filmmakers.
The production team includes four up-and-coming young directors known through past projects with Discovery’s First Time Filmmakers program: Zhao Liang, Long Miaoyuan, Xu Jun and Liu Chang. They are working with an ad agency team, Johnny Tan and Kelly Pon, the creative director and head of art at Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s Shanghai office, and independent film director Lai He.
Jia Zhangke, a leading figure in what is known as the “sixth generation” of film directors in China and a judge in the short films category at this year’s Cannes International Film Festival, served as art director for the series. BBH directed one of the films as a one-off project with Visa in China, and the agency was involved in writing the scripts for several of the other films.
Visa integral part of storylines
Instructed to soft-peddle the benefits of a Visa card in the film, each filmmaker flew to one of six former Olympic host cities--Los Angeles, Sydney, Seoul, Rome, Mexico City and Athens--to shoot a five-minute film against the backdrop of the Olympic experience, giving Chinese audiences a look at travelers’ unexpected experiences.
"There was a requirement for the role of Visa to exist in the films. But, they had to be used as an integral part of the storyline and done in a subtle manner," said BBH's Mr. Tan in Shanghai. "It's a hell of a lot more engaging to include the brand in this kind of format, with a storyline like this, compared to general advertising. It seems more believable and interesting for consumers."
The films premiered at the Wanda cinema in Beijing in late September, and have been airing on China’s best-known travel-oriented network, operated by Hainan Satellite TV in southern China, since Sept. 27.
A new web page dedicated to the project is running on an entertainment section of the Chinese portal Sina.com as well as on Visa’s Chinese consumer site, www.visazone.com.cn. Internet users can view the films, share stories of their own Olympic city experiences and win tickets to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. They can also participate in online voting to choose the best film.
Although the films are not scheduled to air outside China so far, said Fang Chang, Beijing-based VP, Discovery Networks Asia and general manager, China, “by reliving the personal experiences and stories from a Chinese viewpoint, we can make the Olympic experience more real to audiences not only in China, but also around the world.”
Films encourage outbound tourism
Discovery Channel has carried out the First Time Filmmaker project in China over the past four years, and in Europe starting in 1995, but this year marks the first time Visa has taken part. The San Francisco-based company’s participation this year “not only demonstrates our support of the Olympic movement, but also encourages more Chinese to explore the world,” said Mr. Li.
Chinese have shown a strong appetite for information about foreign brands and locales online, and are eager to then experience them first-hand. Visa wants to leverage that trend, since travel expenses like hotels and plane tickets often require a credit card.
Yet credit cards ownership in China remains low. Visa issued 20.6 million international credit cards by the end of last year. Of the 1.23 billion bank cards, including debit cards, issued by March 2007, only 54 million were credit cards, according to the People's Bank of China. On average, just one million credit cards are issued per month, a trickle in a country with a population well above 1.2 billion.
But that trickle is growing as incomes rise and travel restrictions for Chinese are reduced.
According to the recent China outbound tourism research report published by the China National Tourism Administration, an increasing number of Chinese cardholders “have been going abroad to explore the world and travel opens up opportunities for people to spread their knowledge and experiences of the places they visit,” said Li Sheng, Visa’s Shanghai-based VP and head of marketing for China.
By capturing the emotions and sense of pride that people feel when they live in an Olympic host city, “Visa hopes to inspire more Chinese cardholders to use the convenience and reliability of Visa card to explore the world around them.”
Below is a description of the series' six vignettes about travelers with Visa cards
Director: Liu Chang
Setting: Mexico City
Armed with a backpack, a Visa card, and a free heart, a young man makes his way around Mexico City and into the hearts of the local people. “I remember him,” they will say later. “A very nice young Chinese man.” And the girls: “I’ll never forget him – the way he danced!” The young man chooses a sombrero, watches a wrestling match, takes part in a street dance group, and kicks a football around with some children who may grow up to be the next Pele.
Director: Lai He
A daughter filled with warm memories of her father retraces her father’s footsteps around Sydney when she makes a beautiful discovery outside a small café.
Director: Zhao Liang
A Chinese couple visiting Rome on holiday panic after they discover that the wife has left her handbag somewhere. They roam the city retracing their steps, encountering ancient Roman centurions, friendly young shop girls, young people riding Vespas, and delightful gelaterias – but will they find the bag?
“My Super Tour Guide”
Director: Long Miaoyuan
A young Chinese tourist visiting Seoul is looking for the Seoul Tower when he meets an old blind man who encourages him to experience the city with his heart, rather than his eyes. The two tour the dusky streets of Seoul and the small alleyways with their food stands, finding humanity and the big city's tranquil, Oriental character.
Director: Xu Jun
Setting: Los Angeles
A traveler staying in the Heartbreak Hotel meets an endearing cast of characters--and then loses them. At the Heartbreak Hotel, and wherever you travel, the journey is a series of encounters and partings, set in this film against a backdrop of R&B music.
“Together in Tokyo”
Director: Johnny Tan
A young man and woman, each traveling alone, are drawn together by the simple error of mistaking the other's luggage for their own. Irritation soon gives way to happiness.