Box of­fice de­mands out of the box

It is the golden age for China’s movie busi­ness — but suc­cess de­pends on a slew of ever-chang­ing pa­ram­e­ters

China Daily (Canada) - - RAILWAY - RAY­MOND ZHOU

f China keeps adding 6,000 new screens each year, in five to eight years China’s film in­dus­try will reach 150-200 bil­lion yuan in box-of­fice rev­enue,” says Yu Dong, founder and pres­i­dent of Bona Pic­tures, one of the coun­try’s ma­jor film stu­dios.

Yu made the forecast at this year’s Bei­jing In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val. Even though it grabbed head­lines for a day, it did not cre­ate ex­cit­ing rip­ples of dis­cus­sion. Sim­i­lar pre­dic­tions from film moguls have been a sta­ple in re­cent years. And they are dwarfed by the con­stant shat­ter­ing of box-of­fice records — those for a sin­gle re­lease, a sin­gle day, a sea­son or a year.

The take­off of China’s film in­dus­try, spec­tac­u­lar as it is, is by no means out of the blue. The en­gines have been revving for more than a decade. Roughly speak­ing, ev­ery­thing started from the be­gin­ning of the new cen­tury when Ang Lee’s

a sur­prise global hit, in­stilled a ray of hope in Chi­nese film­mak­ers, en­gen­der­ing a string of lav­ish cos­tume epics that in­cor­po­rated a heavy dose of mar­tial arts.

For a decade-and-half in the last cen­tury, film­go­ing as a col­lec­tive ex­pe­ri­ence al­most died out in China. The old cine­mas, with their mul­ti­ple func­tions as meet­ing halls and per­form­ing arts venues, lost out de­cid­edly to the rise of tele­vi­sion, which came to China three decades later than to most de­vel­oped coun­tries. If you query a cer­tain de­mo­graphic, say those above the age of 50, you can eas­ily find many who have not been in­side a cinema for more than 30 years. And they wouldn’t un­der­stand why you’d have to pay 50 yuan ($7.60) or more for a ticket. In their times, a ticket cost a few cents.

The buildup of mod­ern mul­ti­plexes, mostly in con­ve­niently lo­cated shop­ping malls, is at the heart of the cur­rent boom. Film-go­ing for a typ­i­cal Chi­nese, about the age of 21, is very dif­fer­ent from his father’s ex­pe­ri­ence of yore. For sev­eral years, the­atri­cal re­leases could at­tract only the young. It wasn’t un­til last year when such run­away hits as

suc­cess­fully brought in an au­di­ence of a wider age spec­trum. It also spells doom for sto­ries that deal with ma­ture con­tent.

The au­di­ence makeup also de­ter­mines what kind of im­ports have bet­ter chances at win­ning in the ever im­por­tant China mar­ket. While the Western press keeps its eyes on mea­sures such as the quota sys­tem, the rules of the game are shift­ing faster than the pace of any schol­arly study. The fail­ure of the new in­stal­ment to break into the 1-bil­lion-yuan ($150 mil­lion) league, de­spite mas­sive ad­ver­tis­ing and free pub­lic­ity, is tes­ta­ment to the unique taste of China’s movie­go­ers, with the self-deroga­tory “small-town youth” as the main­stay.

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