TREAT FOR THE BOX OFFICE
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.
Douban.com, 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.”
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The fantasy epic JourneytotheWest:TheDemonsStrikeBack stars Kris Wu (left) and Yao Chen.