No box of­fice gold

Medi­ocre ‘block­busters’ drag down ticket sales, though ex­perts say a slow­down in the Chi­nese movie mar­ket was pre­dictable, Xu Fan re­ports.

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact the writer at xu­fan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Golden Week didn’t glit­ter at movie the­aters in China, with a 15 per­cent drop reg­is­tered in box of­fice sales over the pre­vi­ous year.

Chi­nese au­di­ences are be­com­ing more picky about movie qual­ity.”

Jin Zhichao, re­search di­rec­tor, Ent­group

For years a Golden Week was a time to cel­e­brate a box-of­fice bo­nanza, but the Na­tional Day hol­i­day is see­ing its gilt edge fade.

This year’s just-con­cluded hol­i­day, from Oct 1 to 7, raked in a dis­ap­point­ing 1.58 bil­lion yuan ($237 mil­lion), down nearly 15 per­cent com­pared to the same pe­riod last year, ac­cord­ing to the live tracker China Box Of­fice.

It marks the first such slump in eight years, since the hol­i­day be­came a lu­cra­tive pe­riod for ticket sales in 2008.

The hol­i­days in the past three years — which saw rev­enues come in at 617 mil­lion yuan in 2013, 1.09 bil­lion yuan in 2014 and 1.85 bil­lion yuan in 2015 — once pushed the yearon-year growth av­er­age up to around 70 per­cent.

De­spite 15 movies pre­mier­ing close to or dur­ing the hol­i­day, only four do­mes­tic films be­came block­busters, ac­count­ing for 92.3 per­cent of the box-of­fice tally.

Op­er­a­tion Mekong, based on the true events that saw 13 Chi­nese sailors bru­tally killed by a Myanmar drug ring in 2011, topped the charts by bring­ing in 530 mil­lion yuan.

Earn­ing 466 mil­lion yuan for a No 2 fin­ish was the ro­mance drama I Be­longed to You, adapted from best-sell­ing au­thor Zhang Ji­a­jia’s name­sake short-story col­lec­tion.

Au­thor-turned-di­rec­tor Guo Jing­ming’s fan­tasy epic L.O.R.D Leg­end of Rav­aging Dy­nas­ties came in third at 274 mil­lion yuan, fol­lowed by the ac­tion com­edy Mis­sion Mi­lano star­ring Andy Lau at 188 mil­lion yuan.

Scores on re­view sites sug­gest a lack of qual­ity plagued the col­lec­tive hol­i­day of­fer­ings.

Op­er­a­tion Mekong was the only ti­tle to win ac­claim among the top four, with a high score of 8.2 points of 10 on China’s top fan-rat­ing site, Douban.

Di­rec­tor Dante Lam, a crime-thriller mas­ter in Hong Kong, smartly in­ter­weaves po­lice pro­tag­o­nists’ hu­man­ity strug­gles into fast car chases, gun fights and bomb ex­plo­sions.

Most re­views clearly felt Op­er­a­tion Mekong can ri­val big Hol­ly­wood films in sto­ry­telling and ac­tion sce­nar­ios.

But there was no such ap­plause for the other three: All failed to reach the thresh­old score of 6 points.

I Be­longed to You was crit­i­cized most for its un­re­al­is­tic, ex­ag­ger­ated de­pic­tion of true love, re­ceiv­ing only 5.6 points.

Mean­while, L.O.R.D high­lights its all-CGI (com­puter gen­er­ated im­agery)-made char­ac­ters and sets in na­tion­wide pro­mo­tions as a first in Chi­nese film his­tory. All the stars wore dig­i­tal equip­ment to trans­form their fa­cial ex­pres­sions and ac­tiv­i­ties on screen.

How­ever, many movie­go­ers com­plained that the scenes look like an out­dated web game, and the char­ac­ters are not like real hu­mans with their too-per­fect physiques. Even driven by a huge fan base, the hit novel-adapted L.O.R.D just scored 4.1 points.

The score for Mis­sion Mi­lano is the low­est of the four top-gross­ing hol­i­day films. With a cu­mu­la­tive 3.6 rat­ing to date, Hong Kong vet­eran Wong Jing’s lat­est di­rec­to­rial work again shows his weak­ness in sto­ry­telling, plus the film has stereo­typed twists and puns, con­cur a num­ber of on­line re­views.

An in­ter­est­ing fact: Op­er­a­tion Mekong was in third place early in the week, but climbed to the top on the fourth day, thanks to a surge of praise in cy­berspace.

“Chi­nese au­di­ences are be­com­ing more picky about movie qual­ity,” says Jin Zhichao, re­search di­rec­tor with Ent­group, an en­ter­tain­men­tre­search com­pany.

“They are not blinded by stars,” he ex­plains, not­ing that on­line re­ac­tion is over­tak­ing the mar­ket­ing in­flu­ence to shape box-of­fice re­sults.

The di­ver­sity of moviewatch­ing plat­forms — in­clud­ing tele­vi­sion and stream­ing sites, as well as short­ened theater re­leases are also af­fect­ing box-of­fice per­for­mance, ac­cord­ing to Jin.

“Most view­ers clearly know what kind of movies they must watch in a theater for the bigscreen ef­fect, but the com­par­a­tively low-bud­get dra­mas they would opt to watch on TV,” Jin says.

“In the past, it took three months to see a new movie be­come avail­able on TV. But now the in­ter­val is cut to a few weeks.”

Tele­vi­sion boxes and stream­ing sites mostly charge 5 yuan for one new film, much less than a theater ticket, he adds.

Al­though the hol­i­day slide may be dis­ap­point­ing for the box of­fice, it’s not a sur­prise.

Af­ter grow­ing at about 30 per­cent for sev­eral years and see­ing a rise of 48 per­cent in the first half of this year, a turn­ing point has come.

The sum­mer sea­son, usu­ally last­ing from June to Au­gust, saw a 7 per­cent rev­enue fall com­pared to last year. Lat­est fig­ures show ticket sales con­tin­u­ing to lan­guish: The third quar­ter saw a year-on-year slump of 14.9 per­cent.

Not ev­ery film­maker is singing the blues.

“The rise and fall are com­mon in ev­ery movie mar­ket. We’ve ex­pe­ri­enced sim­i­lar ups and downs in Hong Kong,” says Cheng Pou-soi, an es­tab­lished Hong Kong-based di­rec­tor known for The Mon­key King fran­chise.

“No mat­ter how the fig­ures change, the most sig­nif­i­cant value of film will never change. It’s about telling a good story,” he says.

A joint re­port by China Film Art Re­search Cen­ter and Ent­group shows that this Na­tional Day hol­i­day week, movies won the high­est level of sat­is­fac­tion com­pared to other hol­i­days since last year’s Spring Fes­ti­val.

The re­port, which was re­leased on Tues­day af­ter polls of 1,500 movie­go­ers and 100 movie crit­ics in 11 cities, con­cluded that the hol­i­day’s movies scored up to 82.7 points out of 100.

Li Zhen, the cen­ter’s re­searcher, says do­mes­tic fea­tures have seen an im­prove­ment and will gen­er­ate more genre-driven films such as Mekong Op­er­a­tion.

Ding Yap­ing, a re­searcher with China Na­tional Academy of Arts, pre­dicts the down­turn will act as a dou­ble-edge sword, mak­ing low­bud­get films more at­trac­tive to in­vestors re­gard­less of their qual­ity.

“It may hurt some new­film­mak­ers who have good ideas, mak­ing it more dif­fi­cult for them to find in­vestors, but in the long run the mar­ket will be­come more healthy and ra­tio­nal.”

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Oper­a­tionMekong, star­ring Ed­die Peng Yuyan (left) and Zhang Hanyu, tops the box-of­fice charts dur­ing the Na­tional Day hol­i­day week.

Wu Yi­fan stars in Guo Jing­ming’s fan­tasy epic L.O.R.DLe­gendof Rav­agingDy­nas­ties.

Ro­mance drama IBe­longed­toYou fea­tur­ing ac­tor Deng Chao and Zhang Tian’ai emerges the No 2 box-of­fice win­ner dur­ing the re­cent hol­i­day week.

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