China Daily (Canada) - - NEWS CAPSULE -

The just-con­cluded Chi­nese Lu­nar New Year hol­i­day earned 3.38 bil­lion yuan at cine­mas on the main­land, slightly more than in 2016. re­ports.

For the last few years, the week­long Spring Fes­ti­val hol­i­day has been a life­line for China’s suf­fer­ing movie mar­ket. And the just-con­cluded Chi­nese Lu­nar New Year hol­i­day from Jan 27-Feb 2 was no ex­cep­tion, pro­duc­ing 3.38 bil­lion yuan ($491 mil­lion) in box-of­fice re­turns, slightly up from just over 3 bil­lion yuan in 2016, ac­cord­ing to the Sta­te­owned tracker, the Chi­naMovie In­for­ma­tionNet­work.

China, once one of the fastest-grow­ing movie mar­kets in the world, has seen a slow­down in the re­cent past. In the last year, the fig­ures were neg­a­tive for seven months year-onyear.

And the sit­u­a­tion didn’t get bet­ter at the start of 2017. Tak­ings for the once-lu­cra­tiveNew Year hol­i­day from Jan 1-3 dropped 45 per­cent com­pared to the same pe­riod in the pre­vi­ous year.

Dur­ing the Spring Fes­ti­val hol­i­day, four block­busters helped the movie mar­ket look up.

Jour­ney to the West: The Demons Strike Back, the first part­ner­ing ofHong Kong cin­e­matic icons StephenChowand Tsui Hark, topped the sev­en­day box-of­fice charts with 1.15 bil­lion yuan.

It was fol­lowed by Kung Fu Yoga, star­ring Jackie Chan, in sec­ond place with 870 mil­lion yuan; co­me­dian Wang Bao­qiang’s di­rec­to­rial de­but Bud­dies in In­dia with 570 mil­lion yuan and nov­el­ist-turned-di­rec­tor Han Han’s sec­ond fea­ture, Duck­weed, with 410 mil­lion yuan.

Mean­while, de­spite their com­mer­cial suc­cess, the films were not rated very highly., one of China’s most pop­u­lar fo­rums for movie fans, gives the four films (from the top to the low­est­gross­ing) scores of 5.8 points, 5.4, 3.9 and 7 out of 10.

While The Demons Strike Back was mainly crit­i­cized for its loose sto­ry­line and act­ing, Kung Fu Yoga was slammed for stereo­typ­i­cal ac­tion and com­edy.

Bud­dies in In­dia saw view­ers com­plain that the story was a farce full of vul­gar, soft­porn jokes and mean­ing­less stunts.

But some crit­ics dis­agreed with the rat­ings. Dai De­gang, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of lit­er­a­ture at the Bei­jing Film Academy, says that the qual­ity of the movies for this year’s Spring Fes­ti­val hol­i­day were bet­ter than those re­leased last year.

“China’s movie mar­ket still has po­ten­tial for box-of­fice growth. The slow­down last year was in part due to the poor qual­ity of of­fer,” Dai says.

As for the im­proved box-of­fice per­for­mance dur­ing this year’s Spring Fes­ti­val break, some in­dus­try watch­ers say that a de­mo­graphic shift also played a role in ad­di­tion to the films on the bet­ter-qual­ity films.

A re­cent re­port by the en­ter­tain­ment re­searcher, Ent­group, shows the ar­eas that saw a rapid growth in box-of­fice col­lec­tions dur­ing the fes­ti­val were mostly third- and fourth-tier cities.

An­a­lysts say thechun­yun, or the travel rush dur­ing the fes­ti­val, causes a swell of film­go­ers in these cities.

Yuan Yun’er, a critic who works in Bei­jing, was sur­prised to find the­aters in her home­town— Yidu, a small city in Hubei prov­ince — full of view­ers ev­ery day dur­ing the hol­i­day.

“Small-city view­ers see watch­ing movies as a part of the cel­e­bra­tions. They talk loudly or even­make calls in the the­aters, mak­ing it noisy but fes­tive,” she says.

Gov­ern­ment statis­tics show that at the end of 2016, China had 8,817 the­aters, up 22.4 per­cent year on year, mak­ing for a to­tal of 41,179 screens, the most in the world. And most of the new con­struc­tions have oc­curred in third- and fourthtier cities.

Sep­a­rately, de­spite the promis­ing box-of­fice fig­ures from the hol­i­day pe­riod, there is skep­ti­cism about the num­bers be­cause of sub­si­dized tick­ets, a ref­er­ence to those booked on­line.

These tick­ets, which­can cost as lit­tle as 9.9 yuan — a ticket in Bei­jing costs more than 30 yuan— re-emerged dur­ing the fes­ti­val.

Such tick­et­ing prac­tices were pre­vi­ously com­mon but have been wan­ing since last year.

Though the price dif­fer­ence was borne by in­vestors or In­ter­net re­tail­ers to at­tract au­di­ences, many an­a­lysts crit­i­cize the prac­tice for dis­tort­ing the mar­ket.

Be­sides, the coun­try’s movie reg­u­la­tor re­cently be­gan in­clud­ing on­line book­ing fees, rang­ing from 3 to 5 yuan per ticket, inthe box-of­fice tak­ings.

Some an­a­lysts be­lieve the new ac­count­ing sys­tem adds around200mil­lion yuan to the box-of­fice fig­ure.

Adding to the al­ready com­pli­cated pic­ture when it comes to box-of­fice tak­ings is the prob­lem of faked ticket rev­enues.

Do­mes­tic me­dia out­lets re­port that someChi­nese cities found lo­cal the­aters tin­ker­ing with ticket rev­enues dur­ing the fes­ti­val.

Yu Dong, pres­i­dent of Bona Film Group, says such be­hav­ior harms in­vestors.

“Fak­ing rev­enues is a black mark on China’s movie in­dus­try,” he says, urg­ing the reg­u­la­tor to en­hance su­per­vi­sion.

But Jiang Yong, a Bei­jing­based an­a­lyst, strikes a pos­i­tive note when he says: “The Spring Fes­ti­val bo­nanza brings hope.”

Con­tact the writer at xu­fan@chi­


The fan­tasy epic Jour­ney­totheWest:TheDe­mon­sStrikeBack stars Kris Wu (left) and Yao Chen.

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