China’s Box Office: Western “Lin-fluence”


By Albert Wang for China Film Biz

February 24, 2012

Another week, another Chinese box office dominated by Hollywood fare.

As expected, Mission: Impossible 4 – Ghost Protocol continues its strong showing at the Chinese box office, earning $21.4 million at the Chinese box office over the week ending February 12th.  This brings Ghost Protocol’s total gross to a cool $76.7 million over 16 days.

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island also had a solid debut, earning $15.2 million over just three days to claim the number two spot.   The success of Journey 2 comes at an interesting time, with the Chinese government’s recent announcement regarding the expansion of its film quota. The new rules, which have yet to take effect will allow an additional 14 “enhanced” films (i.e. IMAX or 3D films) into the Chinese theatrical circuit.  This is on top of the previous 20 films allowed under China’s imported film quota system.

Furthermore, Hollywood and other non-Chinese filmmakers should be able to collect a greater share of Chinese box office revenues, which has been a problem for many foreign film studios in the past.  The agreement, which was announced by Vice President Joe Biden after a meeting with Chinese Vice President Xi Jingping, allows for US companies to receive 25 percent of the Chinese box office revenues generated by their films, a major increase over the previous range of 13 to 17.5 percent.

In marked contrast to Journey 2, the new domestically made Chinese films did not debut nearly as well in China.  I Do and Romancing in Thin Air, two Chinese romance films looking to get a head start at the box office before Valentine’s Day, came in at the number three and four spots in the box office, respectively.  Their numbers however pale in comparison to Journey 2’s, with I Do earning a modest $3.2 million in three days (or one-fifth of Journey 2’s three-day rake), and Romancing in Thin Air earning a rather weak $1.84 million over four days of release.

*****

Last week, in light of the announcement of an $800 million film fund headed by Bruno Wu, the question was posed on this blog regarding just who could headline a Chinese global blockbuster film.  Given the dominance of Tom Cruise’s M:I 4 in recent weeks, it is pretty evident that the Hollywood’s star system is able to produce global stars in a way that China has yet to show it is capable of doing.  It remains to be seen whether China’s star system ever produce a Tom Cruise, or a Dwayne Johnson.

Coincidentally, it was also around last week that a young, Taiwanese-American athlete named Jeremy Lin began to take the global media world by storm.  The New York Knick’s fourth-string point guard was given the unusual opportunity to start for his team.  About two weeks and seven straight wins later, Jeremy Lin is arguably now the biggest topic of conversation in both the US and Chinese media, if not most of the media world in general.

Now it may seem unusual for Lin to be mentioned in a blog on the Chinese film business.  However, Lin’s recent success and unexpected global media coverage underscore the possibility that it may be Chinese-American talents who have the best potential to help Chinese cinema appeal to international audiences.

In just a span of a couple of weeks, Jeremy Lin now has over one million followers on Weibo (the mainland Chinese equivalent of Twitter).  Meanwhile, back in the States, Lin’s Knicks jersey has become the number one selling jersey on NBA.com.  The incredible trans-Pacific appeal of Jeremy Lin (or “Linsanity” as it has been dubbed in the US press) has few precedents in entertainment history.  While such Chinese entertainment figures like Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Yao Ming have had some cross-over appeal, there has been no ethnically Chinese celebrity with as genuine of a universal appeal in both the US and China since the legendary Bruce Lee.

Is it valid to suggest that the next Chinese Tom Cruise will in fact be Chinese-American?  I suggest that this is likely, given the prevalence of successful Asian American entertainers throughout East Asia.

For instance, in South Korea, fully half of the popular boy band 2PM’s six members are Asian American. Popular Chinese stars like Wang Leehom, David Tao, Wilbur Pan, and Donnie Yen have all spent much if not all of their youths in the States.  Even Yang Lan, “China’s Oprah,” logged significant time in the United States earnng her Master’s degree at Columbia University.

Now I may be biased, but I genuinely believe that there is something about the Asian American experience that improves the odds of cross-over appeal between the US and China.  The recent coverage of Jeremy Lin seems to validate this notion. In order to achiev global success, Chinese films need stars who appeal to both ethnically Chinese and international moviegoers alike.  My bet is that the first film to succeed in the Chinese, U.S., and global movie markets will feature an acting talent who is ethnically Chinese but culturally.

Albert Wang is an aspiring producer of US-China film co-productions who joined the Pacific Bridge Pictures team in December, 2011. His previous blog on US-China films can be seen at hollymu.com.

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One thought on “China’s Box Office: Western “Lin-fluence”

  1. Pingback: Will relaxation of ‘great wall’ quota set Chinese film-makers free? | Film Festival

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