“Furious 7” Blows the Doors Off China’s Box Office Records


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Furious 7 poster

By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

April 13, 2015

Expectations were high among China’s movie biz pundits for Sunday’s opening of Furious 7, but no one came close to predicting the stunning drive-by looting the Universal release would commit at the country’s movie theaters. Prior Chinese box office records weren’t just beaten, they were throttled, smoked and thoroughly lapped by the skydriving thrillfest.

Furious 7’s opening day haul of 391 million RMB, or $63.1 million, doubled the previous opening day record of 194 million RMB set by Transformers 4 back in June of 2014 (Universal and the Hollywood trades are reporting somewhat higher numbers, but I haven’t yet seen these figures confirmed by official Chinese sources).

Furious 7’s midnight screenings likewise trounced the prior Transformers 4 midnight record of 20 million RMB ($3.3 million) with a new benchmark of 50 million RMB ($8.1 million).

The film’s opening day revenue also nearly equaled the Chinese receipts from the entire 4-week run of the franchise’s previous installment, Fast and Furious 6, which revved up 413 million RMB in 2013, good enough to place 11th in China for the year.

Perhaps most impressively, the film sold more than 10 million admissions in a single day, an attendance total that has been matched only a few times by modern day releases in North America, even though China has 40 percent fewer screens and less than half the seating capacity. What this means is that Furious 7 strained the PRC’s theaters to the limit by selling out a huge percentage of its 93,000 opening day screenings. And it completely squashed the competition, seizing a 92 percent share of the day’s box office revenue.

Top 10 single day grosses

Furious 7 should easily race to a $200 million cume by around April 20th. What happens after that, and whether it can break Transformer 4’s all-time Chinese box office record of nearly 2 billion RMB and $320 million, will depend on its ability to hold up against a slew of competing releases in the next few weeks. These include:

  • The April 17th release of the Fan Bingbing and Han Geng romance Ever Since We Love. Fan is China’s biggest female star, so this film could present a major speed bump for Furious.
  • The April 24th releases of the Dreamworks Animation toon Home and the Arnold Schwarzenegger action crime drama Sabotage. Home’s strong global tally so far bodes well for a strong PRC opening, and Arnold’s last few films have performed much better in China than they have stateside, so Sabotage should easily beat its tepid North American results.
  • The April 30th release of Hellos starring Nick Cheung and Shawn Yue. Cheung and Yue’s previous outing The Man From Macau 2 grossed $154 million in February, so if their fans show up for them again they’ll put a major dent in Furious 7‘s record-breaking prospects.

Furious 7‘s surprisingly powerful start raises the bar on expectations for Marvel’s May 12th China release of Avengers: Age of Ultron. One of these movies or the other is likely to be the 2015 China box office champ. Up until last week the consensus for Avengers  was for a $175 million to $200 million cume; now that figure looks relatively unimpressive.

A major question Furious 7‘s box office bonanza brings up is whether the Chinese film authorities at SARFT will deploy their market management tactics to actively crimp the returns of upcoming Hollywood releases, in order to save face for locally made Chinese films. Avengers has what appears to be a big advantage vis a vis Furious in that it faces no major competition for nearly a month after its release. Still, Marvel and Disney should hold off on making any victory laps until SARFT reveals its hand.

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at rob@pacificbridgepics.com and at www.pacificbridgepics.com

Faster and Furiouser: China’s Q1 Box Office Review


Follow me on Twitter @robcain or Sina Weibo @robcain, or connect with me on LinkedIn. Man From Macau 2 By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

April 8, 2015

A Formula One race car. A California redwood tree. Superman. China’s box office.

Which one of these is not like the other?

A Formula One car can accelerate to 220 mph but it will eventually run out of gas. A redwood can grow tall and mighty but it will eventually reach its limit and topple to the ground. And Superman can’t keep flying forever—even he needs to take a break once in a while.

But the Chinese box office, like the Energizer Bunny, just keeps going and going and going. Two years ago I wrote in astonishment about the gravity-defying growth of the PRC’s movie business, and two years on the story just keeps getting bigger and better.

Fueled by a record-breaking February 2015 revenue haul which exceeded that of the U.S., and a March 2015 total that was 73 percent higher than the same period in 2014, aggregate PRC box office receipts for the first quarter of 2015 reached the unprecedented total of $1.54 billion. This is nearly 40 percent higher than the Q1 total in 2014, and more than China’s entire annual box office revenue of 2010.

If the trends of previous years hold, Q1 will account for about 22 to 24 percent of the year’s total gross. This would mean a year-end total somewhere between $6.4 billion and $7 billion. From there it will be just a few short years before China surpasses North America to become the world’s top box office territory.

Projected Annual Box Office, China vs. N. America, 2014-2020China v N. America box office 2014-2020

Even by China’s extraordinary standards of economic growth, the rise of the movie business has been nothing short of astounding. Just ten years ago China’s moviegoers accounted for barely one in one hundred of all the world’s ticket sales. By 2020 they will purchase more than one in three. China share of WW box office The impact of this massive growth is already being felt in the rest of the film world, with China becoming an increasingly important source of capital for films made in North America, Europe, and Asia. The global movie industry’s center of gravity is rapidly shifting across the Pacific from Hollywood to Beijing, and the key decisions about the types of films that are made, how and where they’re made, and who they’re made for are inevitably going to be heavily influenced by the Chinese Communist Party.

Of the 70 films released during China’s first quarter this year, 23 grossed at least 100 million RMB (US $16 million), and four crossed the $100 million threshold. The revenue leader for the year so far is the Chow Yun-fat starring action-comedy The Man From Macau II, which collected $154 million for Bona Film Group. March’s box office winner was Disney’s animated hit Big Hero 6, which moved into the #2 spot among China’s all-time highest grossing animated features at $85 million, just behind Dreamworks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda 2, which scored $92 million back in 2011. Top grossing films rel Q1 2015 U.S.-made films captured a modest 29.5% of the market in the quarter, the lowest share in several years, though they will begin to make up ground this weekend when Universal’s Furious 7 rolls into PRC multiplexes. Still, given the growing ability of Chinese films to compete on their home turf with Hollywood fare—not to mention SARFT’s careful management of the market—it’s unlikely that American films will ever come close again to taking 50 percent of China’s ticket sales as they did in 2012.

A look at film performance by genre reveals a few noteworthy trends. While action-adventure remains the PRC’s most popular genre, it has given up ground to family and animation films, which have continued to expand their market base over the past several years. As the bulk of China’s new cinema construction shifts away from tier 1 and 2 cities to the hinterlands, and as the market starts to mature, audience tastes will continue to broaden. B.O. share by genre Q1 2015 Coming soon: a look at China’s biggest male stars.

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at rob@pacificbridgepics.com and at www.pacificbridgepics.com

Fox scores with “Museum” while Sony strikes out with “Annie” in China


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NATM3

By Robert Cain for China Film Biz
January 14, 2015

The first full box office week of 2015 saw two studio film releases that spanned the spectrum of rankings from top to bottom: Fox’s Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb snagged the top spot with $26.5 million, while Sony’s Annie came in last among new releases with a hair-curling $355,000, possibly the poorest opening ever for a major Hollywood studio film in China.

Both Museum and Miss Granny, the Chinese remake of the Korean comedy hit of the same name (수상한 그녀) knocked Tsui Hark’s The Taking of Tiger Mountain out of the number one spot, which it had occupied for the previous two weeks. With its $132 million total as of this writing, Tiger Mountain is now the 6th highest grossing Chinese language film of all time, and the 3rd biggest 2014 release after Breakup Buddies and The Monkey King.

Box office for week ending Jan 11, 2015

 

Night at the Museum’s take is especially impressive considering that this is the first installment of that franchise to enjoy a PRC theatrical release. Its opening week numbers indicate a projected final gross north of $60 million, which should put it around the average for studio releases this year.

Annie, on the other hand, comes as a big surprise to the downside. Even taking into account its relatively modest release by China Film Group and Huaxia, with just 14,700 screenings during its first 3 days, the numbers are still mysteriously low, at just $23 per screening. By comparison, Khumba, a South African family animated film in its second week of release, earned more than double Annie’s average with $51 per screening. One wonders why Sony chose to use up a valuable release slot for the film, and even more, whether CFG and Huaxia put any effort into opening the picture.

Overall box office was strong at $80.4 million up 45 percent over the same frame in 2014. 2015 is off to a strong start after the blackout neutered December, with the first two weeks of this year running 46 percent ahead of last year.

Coming this week are the Jeff Bridges-Julianne Moore adventure vehicle The Seventh Son and the 3D reissue of Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle on January 16th, followed by The Hobbit: There and Back Again, which should clear at least $100 million if prior trends hold.

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at rob@pacificbridgepics.com and at http://www.pacificbridgepics.com.

A Guide to Recognizing Your Stars Part 1: Chinese Female Leads


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Galaxy By Robert Cain for China Film Biz
January 11, 2015

This is the first of a 2-part series.

Who are the kings and queens of the Chinese box office? It’s a pertinent question even if you don’t work in China’s film business, because owing to the size of their domestic market, these individuals are some of the world’s biggest box office draws.

They may not yet rival their Hollywood counterparts in earning power—their films don’t travel well outside the People’s Republic—but they are catching up fast. As China’s box office continues to boom, and as Hollywood studios increasingly cast Chinese stars in their movies to boost their PRC results, many of these actors will enjoy increasing global clout

You may not recognize some of the names mentioned below. Even if you’re familiar with the comings and goings of Chinese cinema, you may find yourself surprised by the names that make the list, and the ones that don’t. But if you’re in any way involved in the global entertainment industry, you’ll want to be acquainted with the who’s who of the Chinese movie scene.

This article will focus on China’s female stars, and a subsequent article will focus on the males. The actors in both articles are ranked by the aggregated mainland box office revenues, calculated in Chinese Yuan, of the films in which they appeared that were released in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

For a film to be counted toward an actor’s total, they must have been billed among the top five leads. If an actor appeared in a film but was not billed among the top five, that film is not counted toward their results. For Hollywood films in which a Chinese actor appeared, only the Chinese box office figure is tallied. Animated films in which an actor voiced a role are counted, including foreign animated films in which the actor provided a Chinese language voice dub (e.g., Deng Chao in Despicable Me 2).

So without further ado, here are the reigning divas of the Chinese film industry:

#1 Fan Bingbing.

female star Fan Bingbing

Chinese Name:  范冰冰
Birthdate:  September 16, 1981
Birthplace: Qingdao, Shandong, China
Education: Shanghai Theater Academy
2012-2014 Aggregate Box Office
(RMB): 3.41 billion
(USD): 554 million
Highest Grossing Recent Film: Iron Man 3 (2013), 753 mm RMB

For more than fifteen years since her 1998 hit TV series My Fair Princess, and then her 2003 breakout film role in director Feng Xiaogang’s thriller Cell Phone, Fan Bingbing has been at the top of the PRC’s A-list. Her acting talents have earned her a prestigious Golden Horse Award, a Hundred Flowers Award, a Huading Award, and other recognition, and Forbes China has ranked her as the number 1 Chinese celebrity for the past two years. She is among the first Chinese females to be featured in Hollywood films, with roles in Iron Man 3, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and this coming April’s The Moon and the Sun. Fan is also a successful recording star, a TV producer, and China’s top brand endorsement celebrity.

 

#2 Yang Mi

female star Yang Mi

Chinese name: 杨幂
Birthdate:  September 12, 1986
Birthplace: Beijing, China
Education: Beijing Film Academy
2012-2014 Aggregate Box Office
(RMB): 3.15 billion
(USD): 512 million
Highest Grossing Recent Film: Painted Skin: The Resurrection (2012), 727 mm RMB

The youngest of the actresses on this list, Yang Mi began acting when her parents enrolled her in classes at the China Children’s Film Studio. At just four years old she appeared as young Princess Xianyi in the TV period drama Tang Ming Huang, and by the age of 6 she was winning national acting awards. In an early film role she played Stephen Chow’s daughter in the Hong Kong martial arts comedy King of Beggars. After a stint as a magazine model she went on to star in several popular TV series, most notably as the time traveling lead character in Palace. Her breakout film role came when she played a quirky demon in the box office smash, Painted Skin: The Resurrection. She reached the #2 spot on this list mainly because she starred in the hugely successful Tiny Times romance franchise, which has spawned three sequels, and in the 2014 rom-com hit The Breakup Guru. She also enjoys the distinction of having starred in one of China’s most successful horror films, Mysterious Island. Together with her new husband, TV star Hawick Lau, she is part of one of China’s most famous celebrity couples.

 

#3 “Fanny” Shu Qi

female star Shu Qi

Chinese name: 林立慧 (Lin Lihui)
Birthdate:  April 16, 1976
Birthplace: New Taipei City, Taiwan
2012-2014 Aggregate Box Office
(RMB): 2.79 billion
(USD): 454 million
Highest Grossing Recent Film: Journey to the West: Conquering the Demon (2013), 1.25 billion RMB

Taiwan born Shu Qi is the unlikeliest of the actresses to appear in this list. The former porn actress and Playboy model somehow managed to earn the forgiveness of China’s puritan censors for having starred in such racy Hong Kong fare as Viva Erotica, Sex and Zen II and several soft core porn films, and went on to a mainstream career both in Chinese and international cinema. She has appeared opposite Jason Statham in The Transporter, she starred in the Hong Kong horror hit The Eye 2, and she won a Golden Horse best actress award for her multiple-character performance in director Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Three Times. In addition to Hou she has worked with several of China’s other top directors, including Stephen Fung, Jackie Chan, Jiang Wen, and Feng Xiaogang.

 

#4 Yuan Quan
female star Yuan Quan

Chinese name: 袁泉
Birthdate:  October 16, 1977
Birthplace: Hubei, China
Education: Central Academy of Drama
2012-2014 Aggregate Box Office
(RMB): 2.23 billion
(USD): 362 million
Highest Grossing Recent Film: Breakup Buddies (2014), 1.16 billion RMB

Actress and singer Yuan Quan had a big year in 2014, appearing in China’s highest grossing comedy, Breakup Buddies, and its highest grossing romance, The Continent. After a 7-year education in opera at the Chinese Opera Institute that began when she was 11 years old, she entered the Central Academy of Drama in an illustrious class that included Zhang Ziyi, Mei Ting, and four other actresses who came to be known as the “Seven Golden Flowers.” Her film career started auspiciously in 1999 with the film Spring Rhapsody, for which she won a Golden Rooster Award for best supporting actress. She has since moved successfully between film, television, and music, winning numerous awards including a 2009 Billboard Music Award for Best Album.

 

#5 “Vicky” Zhao Wei
female star Zhao Wei
Chinese name:
Birthdate:  March 12, 1976
Birthplace: Wuhu, Anhui, China
Education: Beijing Film Academy
2012-2014 Aggregate Box Office
(RMB): 2.13 billion
(USD): 346 million
Highest Grossing Recent Film: Painted Skin: The Resurrection (2012), 727 mm RMB

Zhao Wei caught the acting bug at 17 when the film Hua Hun starring Gong Li came to her hometown and she was chosen to appear as an extra. Soon after, she quit her job as a kindergarten teacher and headed to Shanghai to enroll in a new film arts academy founded by legendary director Xie Jin, and then at 20 she earned the highest score in the entrance exam to enroll at the Beijing Film Academy. While still a student there she rose to national prominence when she starred—along with Fan Bingbing—in the smash hit TV drama My Fair Princess. For that role she became the youngest actress to win the Golden Eagle Award. She went on to more awards recognition for a string of film appearances, most notably John Woo’s Red Cliff, the epic adventure Warriors of Heaven and Earth and the Painted Skin films. In 2013 she made her directorial debut with the hit romance So Young, which is the fifth highest grossing film in Chinese box office history.

Please look for Part 2 of this series, which will look at China’s leading male stars.

For detailed research reports on China’s movie stars and box office, write us at info@pacificbridgepics.com.

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at rob@pacificbridgepics.com and at http://www.pacificbridgepics.com.

Studio Report Card 2014: Sci-Fi and Animation Drive Another Banner Year in China


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Chinese NY lanterns

By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

January 2, 2015

Happy New Year’s wishes from Pacific Bridge Pictures!

2014 was an extraordinarily busy year, a bit too hectic for me to offer my regular posts, so I’m taking advantage of the holiday lull to make up for my absence and offer you a handful of reports this week on the current state of the Chinese film business. And if you’re interested you can read on to the end of this missive for a brief overview of the events that kept me busy.

China was once again a major bright spot in an otherwise challenging year for the global movie business. While revenues for U.S.-made films declined in North America, Europe, Russia and other places in 2014, in China they rose by 33 percent to just over $2 billion. Most of the studios enjoyed the bounty, especially Paramount, which jumped from its last place ranking in 2013 to first among the majors, largely on the strength of the record smashing $320 million gross of Transformers: Age of Extinction.

Box Ofc by H'wood major 2014

Although no other film came close to reaching the Transformers haul, most performed well, with the average studio picture grossing $65 million, a huge leap from last year’s $40 million average. Interstellar, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and Captain America: The Winter Solider all exceeded $115 million. Only two films—The Monuments Men and Ice Age: The Meltdown—failed to crack the $10 million threshold.

Avg China BO by studio 2014

American sci-fi & fantasy titles drove nearly two-thirds of all the Hollywood majors’ ticket sales in the PRC, a giant shift from 2013 when they accounted for only 20 percent of the studios’ receipts. And U.S. animated films continued the impressive run that I noted back in March, nearly doubling their cumulative annual gross from 2013 to $273 million.

Studio BO share by genre 2014

As the Middle Kingdom’s share of the worldwide entertainment pie continues to expand, Hollywood is becoming increasingly reliant on China’s moviegoers, financiers and government policymakers to sustain its business. China now accounts for 1 of every 8 box office dollars spent around the world each day, up from 1 of every 125 a decade ago. By 2020 China’s share will likely exceed 1 in 4. More and more the studios’ relevance and prosperity will depend on their skills in navigating the Chinese marketplace.

As I mentioned above, 2014 was an extremely busy year for Pacific Bridge as we aided a dozen great clients on both sides of the Pacific in finding business and financial partners, entering new markets, raising capital, developing creative projects, and generally catalyzing business opportunities between China and the rest of the world. We are grateful for the opportunity to serve you.

As for me, 2014 was an excellent year for deepening some great business partnerships ((you know who you are) and for some valued professional successes. A screenplay I wrote was chosen as a top 10 Finalist (from 7,511 entries) in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science’s Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting competition, and with investors circling I expect we’ll get the movie into production this year. And together with partners I raised development funds and production financing from Chinese investors for three U.S.-based independent feature films, the first of which wrapped principal photography in November. More on those in a subsequent post.

As always, I welcome correspondence from China Film Biz readers, especially those seeking help in understanding and exploiting opportunities in either direction across the Pacific. Drop me a line if you’re ready to make 2015 the year you strike it big in the China entertainment trade.

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at rob@pacificbridgepics.com and at www.pacificbridgepics.com.

China’s Looming Toon Boom


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Boonie Bears one sheetBy Robert Cain for China Film Biz

March 30, 2014

Back in the early 1990s, at the request of film critic Michael Medved, I researched and then published a strategic and statistical analysis demonstrating that Hollywood’s studios were distributing too few children’s, family, and animated feature films. My analysis was picked up by the industry trades and the national press, where it attracted quite a bit of attention and stirred up controversy.

In a matter of days I received calls from the heads of Disney, Fox, Sony Pictures, the MPAA and Blockbuster, and within mere months after that most of the major studios had established new family divisions and ramped up their production of animated features and PG-rated family films.  In the years since, these genres have consistently accounted for the studios’ very highest-grossing and most profitable films.

Recently, spurred by intuition, I decided to take a closer look at the situation in China’s film market. After delving into the numbers and the trends, it quickly became clear to me that China’s distributors would profit by distributing more quality films aimed at the family audience.

In fact, if my intuition is correct, family features, and animation in particular, ought to be among the fastest growing segments of the PRC’s film business over the next 3-5 years. Despite heavy investment and rhetorical support from China’s federal and provincial governments, these types of films currently capture a much smaller share of the market in the PRC than they do in North America. But I believe this is beginning to change as the Chinese audience broadens both geographically into the third and fourth tier cities, and demographically to families with children, and as marketing to these audiences improves.Animation Share of B.O. 2009-2013

Source: Pacific Bridge Pictures research

Animation is off to a rousing start in the first quarter of 2014, clearing $186 million in revenue in just three months, which puts it on pace to easily beat the previous full-year record of $261 million that was set last year. Given the line-up of animated features still to be released through December, I expect the cumulative gross for animation in 2014 will run to around $400 million. This would put animation’s share of China’s full-year gross at about 8.2 percent, up from 7.3 percent last year.

The first-quarter spoils have gone not just to imported big-budget Hollywood pictures, but increasingly to home-grown fare like The Boonie Bears, ranked third among animated films so far this year with a Chinese record-breaking $40 million gross, and Pleasant Goat: Meet the Pegasus, ranked fourth with $14 million in box office. It’s worth noting that both of these movies are spin-offs of popular Chinese children’s TV series.

Top Grossing Animation Q1 2014

Highlights for the rest of 2014 include the recently opened Dreamworks’ pic Mr. Peabody & Sherman, which is well on its way to a China gross of at least $24 million, Blue Sky and Fox’s Rio 2, opening on April 11, South Korea’s Koala Kid (aka The Outback) opening in early May, and Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon 2, expected to open in August. Mr. Peabody‘s stronger-than-expected results will make it China’s third highest grossing non-sequel, non-spinoff animated release to date after The Croods and Frozen.Average BO per animated film 2009-2014

Source: Pacific Bridge Pictures research

Since China’s film authorities allow only 5 or 6 Hollywood animated films to be imported each year as revenue sharing “quota” films, it will fall to locally produced features to drive most of the family market’s future growth. And there are signs that China’s animation houses are getting ready to play their part. Although technical capabilities and story quality have been lacking in prior Chinese releases, the tide is turning with several new films in development based on screenplays by talented American writers, and funding and services from top Chinese animation houses.

Indeed, I’m so convinced of the scale of this opportunity that I have personally initiated two new animated film projects for China, one in partnership with a multiple Oscar winning animation producer and with a theatrical release commitment from a major Chinese distributor, and a second that has attracted Chinese investors even before the treatment is finished.

If, as I expect, animation’s share of the Chinese market rises to match that of North America, by the end of this decade the PRC will become the world’s biggest audience for animated feature films, with $1.5 billion and more in annual revenues. And that’s not kids stuff.

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at rob@pacificbridgepics.com and at www.pacificbridgepics.com.

 

China’s Dismal December Gives Way to Jubilant January and Fantastic February


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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

February 13, 2014

If you were keeping tabs on China’s box office activity back in December you might have concluded that something was seriously wrong. Expected blockbusters like Personal Tailor and Police Story 2013 did fine, but fell short of expectations. Many other pictures failed to click. It seemed that the inexorable rise of cinema-going in China was finally, inevitably, slowing down. Unlike December 2012, which smashed all previously monthly records to become China’s highest grossing month of all time, December 2013 saw a precipitous 12 percent year-on-year drop in ticket revenue, despite a 39 percent increase in operating cinema screens.

If you were following all of this as it happened you might have said to yourself “All good things must come to an end.” Right?

Oh ye of little faith!

Mainland moviegoers shrugged off the December doldrums like they never happened, and halfway through 2014’s first quarter they’ve set a ticket buying pace that’s galloping along like, well, a horse.  A Kentucky Derby winner, that is.

To wit: January 31st, the first day of Chinese New Year, set a new box office record  set as the biggest single day ever in Chinese history, at 258 million RMB ($43.7 million); The Monkey King 3D set a new single-film record for the biggest ever opening day in China at 122 million RMB (besting Iron Man 3’s 121 million), and the ultra low-budget Dad Where are We Going enjoyed the best opening day ever for a 2D film, at 87 million RMB.

For the full week, grosses totaled 1.41 billion RMB, 81 percent higher than last year’s prior New Year’s record. According to Rentrak, Monkey King and Dad ranked #1 and #2 at the worldwide box office during their opening weekend. Almost every day of the week notched a new high water mark in Chinese movie history.New Chinese Box Office Records

Over the first 6 weeks of 2013, Mainland receipts are now a sizzling 70 percent ahead of the same period in 2013, a rate of growth nearly 10 times faster than China’s GDP growth. Right now China’s movie industry is one of the world’s most dynamic businesses.Box office for week ending Feb 9, 2014

In addition to Monkey King and Dad Where Are We Going, other bright spots of the year so far include Despicable Me 2’s very respectable $53 million gross despite a 7 month release delay; The Boonie Bears’ impressive performance as China’s highest-grossing domestically made animated feature ever with a $40+ million tally; and Man From Macau’s extraordinary run, the PRC’s leggiest in recent memory.Macau's leggy run

Dad, Where Are We Going also merits special mention because it is such a surprise hit. Inspired by the popular Chinese reality TV series, which is in turn a format licensed from the hit South Korean TV show, the film is said to have shot for just 5 days in the beginning of December, 2013, with a budget of less than $1 million. Fewer than 8 weeks later it arrived on thousands of Chinese movie screens, to generally poor reviews and word-of-mouth. But never mind all that; in less than two weeks the movie has gone on to become one of China’s biggest grossing films ever.

The big grosses should keep rolling as a raft of new films hit the theaters on Valentine’s Day, including Beijing Love Story, which got off to a solid start in box office pre-sales. Given the tough comps set last week, Valentine’s Day 2014 may not set a new all-time record, but it’s likely that it will come close.

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at rob@pacificbridgepics.com and at www.pacificbridgepics.com.

Who is La Peikang and How Did He Get Here?


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La Peikang

By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

February 11, 2013

There’s a new sheriff in town and his name is La.

OK, that didn’t quite have the gravitas I was going for. The point is that China’s New Year’s holiday week is over and the dominant organization of China’s film industry, China Film Group, has a new Chairman, La Peikang (喇培康).

La’s appointment to the PRC’s top film job signals a new direction and some interesting potential changes in the years ahead, both for Chinese filmmakers and distributors and their overseas counterparts. Namely, La’s extensive international experience overseas and in China’s co-production bureaucracy point to a likely increased focus by CFG on international cooperation and expansion.

Variously described by those who know him as “serious,” “educated and academic,” “quietly effective,” “well-liked” and “outward looking,” La could scarcely be more different than his predecessor, Han Sanping.

In the role he held for ten years, Han Sanping was a hustler, a mover-and-shaker who presided over the massive rise of China’s film industry from its status as a tiny backwater with a mere 0.7 percent share of the global box office in 2003 to its emergence as the world’s most dynamic movie territory, with a 10 percent (and rapidly rising) share of the worldwide pie in 2013.

I remember the early days of his tenure when Han Sanping would show up in Hollywood unknown and barely acknowledged, begging for meetings with studio execs, agents, movie stars, anyone who would pay attention. Most dismissed him in those days as unworthy of their time, because China was so negligible as a territory, let alone as a potential source of financing. But Han’s “Baqi” (覇气) loosely translated as “lord’s air” or “domineering spirit,” drove him to oversee the incredibly rapid modernization of the Chinese market, with the construction of 16,000 new cinema screens and a corresponding 2,700 percent increase in domestic box office receipts. Nowadays, thanks largely to Han’s contributions, China is on everyone’s mind, and it would be difficult to find a serious agent or executive who doesn’t know his name.

Given the legacy that Han created, La will find that the tables have turned and that studio heads and movie stars will eagerly, if not desperately, court his favor. Those who meet him will experience a completely different breed of Chinese movie czar. In contrast to Han’s bulldog approach, La is a more sophisticated executive, a fluent English and French speaker who is apparently viewed by China’s leaders as the right person to lead their country’s movie business to maturity and, they hope, to increasing global influence.

Before his appointment was announced, few anticipated that La would be the one to win the top job. It’s not that he lacked credentials—he was Deputy Chairman of the SARFT Film Bureau, and he had previously run an important CFG subsidiary, the internationally focused China Film Co-Production Company. But other candidates were more in the public eye, perhaps because they were more effective at outwardly promoting themselves.

When it came down to it though, it was La’s connections, his political skills, and his perceived loyalty to his Chinese Communist Party bosses that ultimately allowed him to prevail. He was chosen for the job by the Party’s ultra secretive, extraordinarily powerful Organization Department (中国共产党中央组织部), China’s political king-making office. Richard McGregor of The Financial Times described the Organization Department’s status thusly:

“To glean a sense of the dimensions of the Organization Department’s job, [imagine] a parallel body in Washington…that would oversee the appointments of every US state governor and their deputies; the mayors of big cities; heads of federal regulatory agencies; the chief executives of General Electric, ExxonMobil, Walmart and 50-odd of the remaining largest companies; justices on the Supreme Court; the editors of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, the bosses of the television networks and cable stations, the presidents of Yale and Harvard and other big universities and the heads of think-tanks such as the Brookings Institution and the Heritage Foundation.”

This Organization Department controls more than 70 million party personnel assignments across the country, and it is no small matter to win their approval for senior party roles like La’s. Although, as McGregor wrote, “their vetting process takes place behind closed doors and appointments are announced without any explanation about why they have been made,” it’s not difficult to imagine intense lobbying, backbiting, mudslinging, and all manner of political fisticuffs. And La would have had to pass intense scrutiny– the Organization Department has access to dossiers and background checking capabilities that put the CIA and NSA to shame.

So don’t let La’s quiet, academic demeanor fool you; he’s undoubtedly as tough and effective as they come in China’s political bureaucracy. And that’s saying a lot.

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at rob@pacificbridgepics.com and at www.pacificbridgepics.com.

‘Gravity’ defies ‘Storm’ and Staves Off ‘Hunger’ in China For Second Straight Weekly Win


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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

December 3, 2013

Strong word of mouth helped Gravity to float to a modest 36 percent decline in its second week, enabling it to fend off newcomer The White Storm and land its second straight win at the Chinese box office. Still going strong in its third week, Gravity should have no problem surpassing $70 million, even in the face of heavy competition from new Chinese openers.

This total would lock Gravity’s place as the 3rd biggest foreign release in China this year, behind Iron Man 3 and Pacific Rim. But it probably won’t be enough for the film to score a top 10 slot overall, as so many local films have performed well in 2013.

The Benny Chan directed action-crime thriller White Storm debuted to good but not great numbers, eking out a slim lead over Gravity during the past 3-day weekend, when they competed head-to-head. Blue Sky Studios’ animated adventure Epic fell far behind, mustering just $3.65 million in its 3-day weekend debut. The 7-month delay in Epic’s PRC release was undoubtedly a factor in its modest showing.

Box office for week ending Dec 1, 2013

Escape Plan will finish up its PRC run with an impressive $41.5 million, nearly double its U.S. total. Considering all the love China has shown in recent years for Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, the movie’s sexagenarian stars, it will be a good idea for Hollywood to dust off its old two-hander action scripts and re-set them in China for this dynamic action duo.

For the first time since early September the weekly box office tally fell short of last year’s comps. Cumulative box office for the week ending December 1st saw a 7 percent decline to $58.5 million from the 63 million total in week 48 of 2012, when Life of Pi reigned.

Today saw the long-awaited debut of director Ning Hao’s No Man’s Land, an adventure thriller that has survived two major revisions and six aborted theatrical release dates over the past four years as DMG, CFG, Galloping Horse and the filmmaking team struggled to conform to the SARFT censors’ restrictions. Originally slated to release in 2010, the film stars the hugely popular Huang Bo and Xu Zheng, who co-starred in last year’s megahit Lost in Thailand.

With its excellent $3.5 million opening day, No Man’s Land should easily top Ning Hao’s prior personal record gross of $24.7 million for last year’s Guns ‘n Roses, though the director claims he doesn’t care how much the new film earns.

“If I wanted to make big money, I could have stayed at home (in coal-rich Shanxi province) and mined coal with my classmates, who are now all billionaires,” Mr. Ning said in a recent Wall Street Journal interview. I just want to do something that I like.”

Of course, what China’s theater operators would like is a big December for local Chinese pictures. With nearly 18,000 movie theater screens now in operation (35 percent more than at this time last year) and an average of 12 or 13 new ones opening every day, they are increasingly reliant on local films to help them pay off their investments.

November’s box office totaled $250 million, a 36 percent increase over 2012, and cumulative year-to-date box office now stands at $3.22 billion. If December’s revenue merely matches last December’s total—a distinct possibility given the tough comps established in 2012 by Lost in Thailand—then China’s total for 2013 will wind up just shy of $3.6 billion.

If, on the other hand, expected hits No Man’s Land, Personal Tailor and Police Story can each draw $80 million to $100 million in ticket revenue, then the year-end total could, just possibly, reach $3.7 billion.

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at rob@pacificbridgepics.com and at www.pacificbridgepics.com.

‘Gravity’ Thrills, ‘Catching Fire’ Chills as China’s Box Office Tops $3 Billion


Follow me on Twitter @robcain or Sina Weibo @robcain, or connect with me on LinkedIn.Gravity Chinese poster

By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

November 26, 2013

Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity scored the PRC’s fifth best opening of the year with a nearly $36 million liftoff, as U.S.-made films grabbed the top four box office spots and six of the top seven in the week ending November 24th.

Gravity, which is performing nearly as well as surprise hit Life of Pi did at this time a year ago, also set records for IMAX, grossing almost $7.5 million, or more than 20 percent of the film’s opening 6-day total, on 123 screens. Gravity‘s marketing campaign benefited nicely from its liberal use of James Cameron’s quote calling it “The best space film ever.”

The fourth quarter has been a good one so far for Hollywood, with American movies capturing a 55 percent share of the market during the period from October 1st through November 24th.  U.S. films are now at their peak market share for 2013 with over 47 percent of all China box office revenue, though that figure will ebb back to about 42 percent as local Chinese releases dominate the calendar throughout December.Top 5 Opening Weeks 2013

One exception to this trend is Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Despite its rare day-and-date release and its huge reception in the U.S., Lionsgate’s sci-fi/action picture failed to stir up much interest in China. Its four-day total of $12.95 million makes it only the 31st best opener of the year, behind even such modestly performing titles as A Good Day to Die Hard and After Earth.  Although Catching Fire’s debut improved by about 16 percent over the opening week of its 2011 predecessor The Hunger Games, it did so in a market that has grown by more than 80 percent in the interim, so the sequel’s performance in the PRC has to be considered a letdown.

Another disappointment was the suspense-thriller Control, a China-Hong Kong-Taiwan co-production starring Daniel Wu that eked out only $3.5 million for the week. The California-born Wu has consistently been one of China’s most bankable stars, so his latest film’s weak opening must have surprised the film’s backers, who include Huayi Brothers, Media Asia and Celestial Pictures.

Box office week ending 11-24-13

Nationwide gross was $69 million, a 49 percent increase over the same period in 2012, and the biggest weekly total since early October, when Young Detective Dee reigned over a $101 million weekly theatrical total. Year-to-date gross has now eclipsed $3 billion, and if last year’s trend holds, the last five weeks of 2013 will generate a $500+ million haul for PRC theater operators, resulting in a final yearly gross of around $3.6 billion to $3.7 billion.

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at rob@pacificbridgepics.com and at www.pacificbridgepics.com.