‘Tiny Times,’ Gargantuan Grosses

Follow me on Twitter @robcain or Sina Weibo @robcain, or connect with me on LinkedIn.Tiny Times

by Robert Cain for China Film Biz

July 4, 2013

Happy 4th of July everyone, it’s America’s Independence Day. As a person who enjoys the uninfringed right to express my thoughts to readers around the world, I’m extremely grateful for the precious freedom America’s founders fought for and bequeathed to their descendants.

On another note, I’m dedicating this post to Dominic Ng, Bennett Pozil, and their superb team at East West Bank. They recently hosted me at two of their events and made invaluable introductions for me to their clients. Dominic was kind enough to publicly recognize my work in a room full of heavy hitters at his “U.S.-China Economic Relations“ summit at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. And since Bennett has been after me to keep writing this blog, pleading that in its absence he’s been forced to read trade papers like the Hollywood something-or-other and another thing whose name I forget that starts with the letter “V”, I suppose anyone who gets some use out of this humble publication should thank Bennett for his persistent cajoling.

It has been an eventful month or so since I last wrote about China’s film biz. In recent weeks Iron Man 3 finished its run at $121 million, edging out local romantic drama So Young to become the second highest grossing film of the year so far behind Journey to the West. Dreamworks’ animated movie The Croods defied everyone’s expectations, including my own, running up a magnificent $63 million, which places it among the highest grossing animated films in Chinese history. Legendary East announced a partnership with China Film Group; local film American Dreams in China ran up an $86 million gross; Man of Steel opened on 6,500 screens, the biggest launch to date in China; and Paramount’s World War Z was barred by the censors, despite the producers having made pre-emptive changes to avoid offending them.

Also, the July release schedule was announced, and with four big Hollywood titles opening (After Earth, White House Down, Fast and Furious 6, and Pacific Rim) the U.S. studios might finally get a chance to make up some ground against their Chinese competitors. Finally, the release schedule for December 2013 has been set, and it looks to be a blockbuster holiday, with Tiny Times 1.5, Jackie Chan’s Police Story 2013, mega-director Feng Xiaogang’s Personal Tailor, and possibly Overheard 3 and the star-studded Monkey King (with Donnie Yen, Chow Yun-fat and Aaron Kwok) all set to open within a two-week period. My Chinese correspondent Firedeep predicts that four of these five films will wind up out-grossing Iron Man 3.

Which brings us up to the present. China’s exhibitors and producers are enjoying another stellar year so far, with almost $1.7 billion in grosses in the first half, nearly 40 percent ahead of the first half of 2012. Given the patterns of prior years, I expect a $3.7 billion final tally for the year. It’s worth noting that China is now routinely grossing more each month than it did in the entire year of 2006. At the current rate of growth the PRC market will surpass North America as the world’s largest territory in 2017, and even if growth slows considerably the succession will take place in 2018 or 2019 at the latest.

The week ending June 30th was the third biggest so far this year, at $87.5 million. Tiny Times set new records for the opening day of a local film at $12.4 million, and went even wider than Man of Steel, running on nearly 50 percent of China’s 15,000+ screens. Look for the teen female oriented Tiny Times to wind up at around $100 million when its run ends.Box office week ending 6-30-13

Man of Steel continued strong, with $21.1 million in its second week. Heavy competition from Tiny Times will curtail its grosses, and it will likely finish in the $55 million to $60 million range, which is where many recent U.S. blockbusters have settled.

Star Trek Into Darkness finished up its run right in that same range, with $57 million. To the surprise of many observers Star Trek outperformed in China, earning a healthy 13 percent of its worldwide gross in the PRC. Compare this to, say, Skyfall, Oz the Great and Powerful, and The Hobbit, each of which earned only 5 percent of their respective worldwide totals in China.

In the coming days I’ll write more about China’s first half results and the U.S. studios’  performance. Until then, happy independence day!

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.

Standing Up to [CENSORED] in China

Follow me on Twitter @robcain or Sina Weibo @robcain, or connect with me on LinkedIn.Feng Xiaogang directors guild photo

By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

April 21, 2013

Last week one of China’s most prominent movie directors, Feng Xiaogang (Aftershock, Back to 1942), boldly seized the opportunity on national television to speak out against his country’s media censorship policies. It’s difficult for western filmmakers to imagine how painful it must be for their Chinese counterparts to contend with artistic repression, but Feng poignantly conveyed this pain in his words and his expressions.

In his heartfelt acceptance speech for the honor of “director of year” from the China Film Directors Guild, Feng grew teary-eyed when he referred to the “torment” that China’s filmmakers must bear. The torment he was referring to was censorship, but in the video of Feng’s acceptance speech the word “censorship” was bleeped out, as can be seen at the 3:51 minute mark

It is it forbidden not only to criticize the Communist Party’s iron-fisted censorship rules, but to even utter the word “censorship” in the wrong context is verboten.

Feng knows all of this, of course; his Film Directors Guild speech was just the latest in a string of public criticisms he’s levied at SARFT and its restrictions on artistic expression.  A lesser director would undoubtedly be prosecuted for such misbehavior, but Feng’s fame and international visibility make him ‘too big to jail.’

The heart of his message is encapsulated in this passage from his speech:

A lot of times when you receive the order [from the censors], it’s so ridiculous that you don’t know whether to laugh or cry, especially when you know something is good and you are forced to change it into something bad. Are Hollywood directors tormented the same way? … To get approval, I have to cut my films in a way that makes them bad. How do we all persist through it all? I think there is only one reason — that this bunch of fools like us love filmmaking — are entranced by filmmaking — too much. (translation excerpted from Rachel Lu’s Atlantic magazine article “Chinese Film Director’s Censorship is Torment“)

Last year the director Lou Ye (Summer Palace, Mystery) took his dissatisfaction a step further: when his dramatic film Mystery was subjected to the censors’ scissors, he tweeted the details of the censorship process to the public in a series of postings on his Sina Weibo account. After weeks of waiting for a decision as to whether his film could be exhibited, Lou tweeted:

I’m waiting for an answer: Can the film be released on time without any changes, yes or no? The answer is so simple but so difficult–[the process] makes me feel disappointed and sad, but I also feel a sense of understanding and support. China’s domestic film industry needs everyone to work together. I totally accept the fact that I’m a director in the age of film censorship. I just want a dialogue [with the authorities], and a dialogue is not a confrontation. There are no winners and losers in a dialogue. There are no enemies.

Both Feng’s and Lou’s pleas were met with widespread approval and support from China’s general public. The job of the censors is ostensibly to promote Confucian morality, political stability and social harmony, and these are noble aims, but in carrying out their edicts they sometimes risk defeating these purposes by offending the sensibilities of their fellow citizens.

As Rachel Lu put it in her Atlantic article, “Many exclaimed the decision to bleep out Feng’s mention of censorship was ‘painting the eyes on a dragon,’ a figure of speech which refers to the finishing touch necessary to bring something to life. In other words, the ironic result may only have rendered Feng’s message more poignant.

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 Wild and Wooly December

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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

December 25, 2012

Back in the fall, most everyone who follows China’s film industry predicted a record-breaking December. Three films by three iconoclastic Chinese directors—Feng Xiaogang, Wong Kar-wai and Jackie Chan—would sweep audiences into the multiplexes, with each picture grossing around US $100 million or more. Confidence was high that 2011’s December box office record of $218 million would be shattered and that a $350 million record-setting month was in store.

Now, as December draws to a close, the prognosticators can congratulate themselves at least on the latter point: China’s box office is running a scorching 70 percent ahead of last December, and the $350 million record should be in the bag before New Year’s Eve. But the path that China took to get there was one that no one could have foreseen.

Box office week ending 12-23-12

The first step in December’s long march to glory was the surprising performance of Taiwanese-American director Ang Lee’s film, Life of PiPi enraptured Chinese audiences with its lush 3D images and its weighty philosophical themes, becoming only the third non-Chinese film to achieve a higher gross in the PRC than in North America (the other two films are the American re-release, Titanic 3D, and the Australian shark attack thriller Bait). Pi would have likely reached $100 million in China if SARFT hadn’t clipped its run at 30 days on Sunday, so it finished with an $89 million final gross.

The next surprise was that Wong Kar-wai’s star-studded action pic The Grandmasters was pushed from its December 18th slot to January 8th, 2013.  At first this appeared a blow for Grandmasters, as it will completely miss out on the December box office bonanza, but the pushed date may actually be a blessing. Grandmasters would probably have gotten buried in the fierce pre-New Year’s competition, and January tends to be a strong month in China, as was proven by the early 2012 successes of  Flowers of War, Flying Swords of Dragon Gate and Mission Impossible 4, which launched last January and became the year’s first $100 million grosser.

Another shocker was the dismal under-performance of Feng Xiaogang’s war drama Back to 1942. The film’s grim and depressing themes, underwhelming marketing, and poor critical reception (my favorite quotes called it a “daisy-licking drama,” “a sledgehammer epic” and “an emotional strip-mine”) combined to diminish turnout. 1942’s $60 million gross would be heroic for most Chinese pictures, but with its reported $40+ million cost and $100 million expectation, 1942 caused the stock of distributor Huayi Bros to tank by 20 percent in the first few days after its release. Huayi’s stock regained some of its losses after it released CZ12 a few weeks later, but the stock of director Feng Xiaogang may not recover so quickly.Huayi Bros stock price

The biggest surprise of all was the emergence of sleeper hit Lost in Thailand, the low-budget comedy that has smashed dozens of Chinese box office records on its way to becoming the highest-grossing domestic Chinese film of all time. Only two weeks into its run, Lost in Thailand is now certain to surpass Titanic 3D and become the highest grosser of 2012. The little comedy that could has propelled the stock of its distributor, Beijing Enlight Media, to a 40 percent gain this month.Enlight Stock Price

The only detail that Chinese box office watchers predicted correctly was the success of Jackie Chan’s CZ12. The action-comedy opened to a $35 million first-week gross and, with little serious new competition this week, has a good chance of crossing the $100 million threshold by early January.

All told, December’s box office result will beat April’s prior monthly record by more than 35 percent. With the PRC’s box office record books being re-written on a weekly basis these days, film distributors can look forward to a very happy new year in 2013.

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.

‘Pi’ Slices Up the Chinese Competition Again

Follow me on Twitter @robcain or Sina Weibo @robcain, or connect with me on LinkedIn.Ang Lee and TigerBy Robert Cain for China Film Biz

December 10, 2012

Screenwriting and producing assignments have kept me from posting here on China Film Biz during the past few weeks, but I’ll aim to catch up in the coming days. Much has happened since I last put virtual pen to paper.

First things first: the extraordinary box office performance of Life of Pi. The Ang Lee fantasy adventure is remarkable not only for its gravity-defying theatrical run in China, but also for what it reveals about the contemporary Chinese moviegoing audience. Not since Avatar has a film so captured the imaginations of China’s movie literati as Life of Pi, which has inspired more than 5 million tweet messages on Sina Weibo, the PRC’s leading Twitter-like site. The picture is well on its way to becoming only the second U.S. film this year to earn more in China than in North America, and its success underscores a broadening trend of the PRC’s mainstream audience beyond popcorn spectacles to include more thoughtful fare.

Widely expected before its launch to earn only middling numbers, Life of Pi has caught fire with multiple audience segments, including Ang Lee fans, 3D movie fans and, perhaps most importantly, sophisticated moviegoers who appreciate Pi’s symbolism and its exploration of weighty topics like faith and religion. China’s social media sphere has positively lit up with speculation about such topics as the metaphorical significance of the film’s carnivorous island, and its philosophical musings about the subjective nature of storytelling.

Three weeks after its debut Life of Pi has grossed nearly $70 million in China—$9 million more than it has earned in North America. It should wind up at around $95 million when SARFT’s regulators pull it from theaters after its sanctioned 30 day run. If—and this seems unlikely—SARFT allows the picture a 2-week extension, it could surpass Painted Skin: Resurrection to become the mainland’s second highest grosser this year after Titanic 3D.Box office week ending December 2, 2012

Pi’s success has not only dealt a serious blow to director Feng Xiaogang’s film Back to 1942 (not to mention his stature in China’s film industry), but it has also thrown a wrench in SARFT’s hard fought schemes to keep the market share of foreign films below 50 percent in 2012. Pi will outgross SARFT’s initial estimates by about $70 million, thus tipping the market share balance in favor of imports, much to the dismay of China’s bureaucrats who are responsible for market share manipulation .

If Back to 1942 manages a decent hold and if Jackie Chan’s Chinese Zodiac performs at or near expectations, the mainland’s total 2012 gross could approach $2.6 billion.  That would represent a 29 percent increase over last year’s total, another record year for the PRC and another step closer to catching up with the $10+ billion North American market.

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.

‘Life of Pi’ Washes Up a Wave of Cash in China

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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

November 27, 2012

Strong word of mouth and a weekend surge in attendance led Life of Pi to a surprising box office win last week over the 3D re-release of Roland Emmerich’s 2012. The Ang Lee directed adventure-drama (Chinese title: 少年派的奇幻漂流, or “Young Pi’s Rafting Fantasy”) netted $17 million in its four-day opening, versus a six-day total of $14.7 million for 2012.

After two weeks at the top of the box office, Hong Kong actioner Cold War slipped by 49 percent to a $7.5 million haul. The film has edged out Silent War and now stands as the second highest-grossing Chinese language film so far this year, at $38.4 million.

A pair of animation imports from Hollywood, Wreck–It Ralph and Rise of the Guardians, landed in fourth and fifth places, with $1.37 million and $1.14 million respectively. As is so often the case with non-sequel animated films, neither film has indexed well in China: Ralph will finish in fifth place among all 2012 animated releases in the PRC—notably, behind the Chinese cartoons Pleasant Goat and I Love Wolffy—and Rise of the Guardians will be lucky to crack the top ten (although it will probably surpass Pixar’s latest China misfire, Brave).

Three significant factors are driving Life of Pi’s success: Its strong IMAX/3D footprint; high praise from critics and cultural influencers; and the drawing power of the film’s director, Ang Lee.

China is one of IMAX’s top countries, not only in terms of screen count, but also in revenue per screen. According to anecdotal reports I’m hearing, Life of Pi enjoyed IMAX’s third biggest ever launch in the PRC, behind Avatar and Titanic 3D.

Critics praised the film not only for its lush imagery and superb direction, but also for its Asian viewpoint and deep philosophical essence. And after viewing the film such high profile stars as  Lee HomCarina Lau and Shu Qi urged their millions of social media followers to come out and see the picture, helping to trigger a big weekend turnout.

Filmgoers wait on a long line to see ‘Life of Pi’ at a Shenzhen theater.

Finally, China’s filmgoers respond at least as much to top directors as they do to stars. Only a handful of directors have true drawing power, and Ang Lee is one of them. Life of Pi has a shot at topping $50 million in China; the only thing that might hold it back is a competing release from another marquee director, Feng Xiaogang (Aftershock, If You Are the One). It will be a surprise to many if Feng’s new film Back to 1942, which opens on Wednesday, November 29th, doesn’t break all records and become the highest-grossing Chinese language film ever.

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.

Big Trouble in Movie China

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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

November 26, 2012

Crisis in China’s movie business was narrowly averted on Friday when the country’s film authorities announced that they will award performance-based box office bonuses to domestic film distributors and to theaters, ending a weeks-long dispute that had each side threatening to boycott the other over revenue splits. Thanks to the feds’ intervention, the eagerly awaited release of Feng Xiaogang’s Back to 1942 will proceed as planned on Thursday, and Chinese moviegoers will enjoy a normal December movie season,

Tensions were high in mid-November when five of China’s biggest film distributors banded together to demand an increase in their shares of box office revenues from 43 percent to 45 percent. The five companies—China Film Group, Huayi Brothers Media Group, Bona Film Group, Stellar Mega Films, and Enlight Pictures—told theaters that if they didn’t get their way they would immediately start withholding the releases of their blockbuster movies, including Back to 1942 and Jackie Chan’s China Zodiac, both of which are expected to be major holiday season hits.

In a notice issued to theater chains, the five film distributors said that China’s domestically-made blockbusters have contributed significantly to the nation’s film market. Yet, they complained, as they continue to produce films using state-of-the-art technology, production costs will continue to rise. “Therefore,” the distributors asserted, “In order to boost the creation and production of domestic movies, improve their quality and gradually smooth over the economic relationships between the stages of producing, distributing and screening, we five companies have reached the consensus that the profit share proportion for distributors should not be lower than 45 percent.”

Theater operators responded by holding an emergency meeting of their industry organization, the China Film Circulation and Projection Association, on November 17th in Guangzhou. They published a combative response (copied below) to the distributors’ demands and offered some choice words to reporters, with veteran Wanda Cinema salesman Liang Liang telling a reporter, “I have only three words [for the distributors]: Go to hell!”

In their declaration, the theater operators deemed the distributors’ demands unacceptable, for the following reasons:

  1. The five film distribution companies failed to follow the rules; without any attempt at consultation, they simply went ahead and gave the theaters an ultiimatum.
  2. The five film companies failed to consider that the industry’s current revenue split has been formed over an extensive period of trial and error and therefore any change in pattern would require adequate preparation.
  3. The five film distribution companies only took into consideration their own interests, without considering the challenges faced by theater operators. Most theaters are unprofitable due to the exorbitant rents they must pay their landlords.
  4. The distributors failed to use the correct method to address their grievance. They could have easily taken their request for a raise in revenue shares to China’s Movie Special Funds and apply for the increase in rates there.
  5. The distributors exchanged friendship for profit. China’s movie industry has always supported these five major players in film distribution. However, their actions showed how they have seemingly left behind their integrity when the temptation of personal gain showed its face.

Note that most of these objections are moral and ethical ones, not legal arguments. It’s an interesting example of how business operates in a country like China, where contractual obligations are usually less important than relational ones.

Civil war was ultimately prevented when the National Film Development Funds Management Committee (NFDFMC) stepped in and offered a solution in the form of bonus compensation to both sides, as follows:

For distributors of domestically made 3D and IMAX films 

If a film grosses RMB 50mm to 100mm , a RMB 1mm bonus

If a film grosses RMB 100mm to 300mm, a RMB 2mm bonus

If a film grosses RMB 300mm to 500mm, a RMB 5mm bonus

If a film’s box office gross surpasses 500mm, a RMB 10mm bonus

For theater operators

If at least 50 percent of a theater chain’s total annual box office gross is earned from domestic films, 100 percent of fees paid during the year by the theater chain to the NFDFMC (a straight 5 percent of every RMB of ticket sales) will be reimbursed to the theater chain.

If the percentage of box office earned from domestic films is between 45 percent and 50 percent, the NFDFMC will reimburse 80 percent of the fees a theater has paid to it.

If the percentage is below 45 percent, but the domestic film revenue is still more than last year’s, the NFDFMC will reimbursed 50 percent of the fees.

Both sides were apparently satisfied with this solution, and the show will go on. China’s theaters will continue to run films from the five distributors, and Back to 1942 will unspool on the 29th.

Having witnessed an endless string of financial shenanigans in China’s movie business, I can’t help feeling that this whole dispute was staged as a ploy to justify an end result that undeniably favors domestic films over imported ones. After all, China’s film regulators have for years twisted and strained to get around the WTO rules, and have often simply reneged on their legal obligations, in order to keep foreign films’ revenues below a 50 percent aggregate share of the box office.

With the attractive NFDFMC bonuses to tempt them, it’s hard to imagine that any theater chain in China will ever again submit an annual report with a domestic film box office share of less than 50 percent. The new rules give them powerful incentive to under-report the grosses of the foreign films they exhibit (if they aren’t already doing so) in order to maintain the desired balance and win their juicy year-end spoils.

As if this shift against the interests of foreign distributors wasn’t injury enough, I’m also hearing rumors that SARFT is planning to find ways to roll back the 25 percent share it pays foreign films to a somewhat lower rate. If you’ve heard anything about this please write me at the email address below.

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.

‘Cold War’ Chills Competition For Second Straight Win at Chinese Box Office

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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

November 20, 2012

Strong word of mouth propelled the Hong Kong cops and robbers thriller Cold War to a $15.2 million take last week, its second straight week atop the Chinese box office rankings. This marks the first time all year that a non-co-pro Hong Kong picture repeated in winning the box office title for two consecutive weeks. The film has grossed a solid $30.6 million after 10 days, which places it fourth among all non-Hollywood titles in the PRC in 2012. 

Six new films opened this past week, but none managed to capture much of an audience. First among these new entrants was Rise of the Guardians, which became the latest non-sequel animated film to disappoint its distributors in China, drawing a modest $3.1 million gross in its 3-day debut weekend.

Overall PRC box office has been sluggish of late, with the weekly cume again falling short of the total for the same frame last year, this time by an 18 percent deficit.  SARFT’s blackout periods, a slowing Chinese economy, and a shortage of commercial, audience pleasing pictures have put a damper on the PRC’s box office growth since mid-summer.

Cume for the year is now $2.2 billion, about 23 percent ahead of where it stood at the same time last year. The final six weeks of 2012 will almost certainly beat the $265 million total for the final six weeks of last year, which would put the year-end total above $2.5 billion, but the final tally will fall short of the expectations that had been set through the year’s first 6 months.

This week: 2012 3D opened on the 20th, Life of Pi opens on the 22nd, Chinese thriller Zombies Reborn on the 23rd, and Feng Xiaogang’s Back to 1942 will launch the busy December season on November 29th.

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.

‘Cold War’ Off to Hot Start in China

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

November 13, 2012

The Hong Kong cops and robber thriller Cold War got off to a hot start last week with a $15.4 million 4-day debut, enough to make it the 3rd best Chinese language opener of 2012 and 12th best among all PRC debuts this year. For first-time writer-director Sunny Luk and his all-star cast, Cold War warmed up what had been a moribund Chinese box office, marking the strongest opening for any film on the mainland since Expendables 2 knocked off $25 million in its opening weekend two months ago.


Produced and distributed by Bill Kong’s EDKO Films and starring Aaron Kwok, Tony Leung, Andy Lau, Byron Mann and Aarif Lee, Cold War will likely rack up another strong week before serious competition shows up at Chinese theaters, with the 3D re-release of 2012 arriving on November 20th and Life of Pi drifting in on the 22nd. Mega-director Feng Xiaogang’s Back to 1942 will almost certainly freeze out Cold War when it debuts on November 29th.

Reaching $31 million in its third week, The Bourne Legacy is now Universal’s 2nd best performer in China this year after the surprise hit Battleship. With a few more weeks left in its run, Bourne should easily surpass the low end of the $35 million to $50 million range that I had predicted for it.

Wreck-it Ralph’s 6-day opening tally of $5 million continues Disney/Pixar’s long string of misfires in China. The only consolation for Wreck-It Ralph is that it didn’t open as poorly as Brave, which managed a tepid $4.6 million over its entire PRC run back in June. Disney/Pixar’s last truly successful animation release in the PRC was more than two years ago when Toy Story 3 tallied a then respectable $16 million box office total over its 4-week run in 2010.


Bait 3D wound up its extraordinary run by biting off another $500,000 to finish at $25.7 million, by far the best performance ever in China for an Australian film, and the biggest gross for any non-Hollywood import.

Aggregate weekly national box office was $39.3 million, down 23 percent relative to the same week last year. But the year-to-date tally of $2.13 billion is already 3 percent ahead of the full-year total for 2011, and with 7 weeks left in the year, China is well on its way to setting yet another annual box office record.

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.

Gangnam Interregnum; plus Newly Announced China Release Dates

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by Robert Cain for China Film Biz

October 25, 2012

As I was writing the 3rd and final installment of my “Korea Conundrum” series, which explores the cultural and institutional impediments that prevent China from achieving global soft power influence, I came across a couple of music videos out of the PRC that explain the problem far better than I can.

While South Korean K-Pop star Psy of “Gangnam Style” fame was enjoying his brief reign as king of the pop culture meme, China was doing its part to say “Hey, we get it, we’re cool too” by producing Gangnam parody videos. Here’s a seemingly popular one that appeared on both Youtube and also on Tudou, China’s Youtube equivalent:

Click on image above to start playing video

Of all the bad Gangnam Style parodies you’ll find on the web, this is undoubtedly one of the worst. Where the original Psy video has irony, wit, and biting satire, “China Style” is utterly vacuous. Take a look at the opening lyrics:

Reprinted from Beijing Cream.com

The creators of this video take a song that satirizes the excesses and emptiness of consumer culture and turn it into… what? An anthem celebrating international broadcast companies? As Beijing Cream noted:

Not only are the creators ignorant about the original song’s meaning, they insult us by trying to explain Gangnam Style’s popularity. Where they lack in originality, they also lack in self-awareness. These are the type who, at a party, stand stone-faced through your jokes and then say, “So what you’re saying is…”

The only thing China Style has on Gangnam Style is more T&A. A lot more. Shockingly so, given China’s censorship strictures. There’s even some weird nipple tweaking at the 2:42 mark.

At least the video did get over 500 ‘likes’ on Youtube. But then, it also got almost 3,300 ‘dislikes,’ six times as many.

Surely there must be someone in China who gets it. Someone cool, detached, a keen observer of Chinese culture who has something meaningful to say. Someone like Ai Weiwei, China’s most famous artist and symbol of dissent…


Alas, here’s Ai Weiwei’s contribution to the cultural conversation:

Click on image above to start video.

This is just so wrong, on so many levels. Say it ain’t so, Ai…

Guess I’ll be writing that 3rd installment after all, if for no other reason than to send China a few pointers.

In other news, release dates have now been set for the import films that will grace China’s movie screens in November. Here’s an excerpt from a missive I received this morning from my friend ‘Firedeep’

Feng Xiaogang’s Back to 1942 earlier today got approved by the Film Bureau. Huayi Bros set the release date as Nov. 29. And the final runtime is about 100 mins (obviously got cut down at SARFT’s request) including end credits.
Nov. 22 seems to be the right date for Life of Pi. It will be released in IMAX 3D and 3D.
2012 3D just settled Nov. 21. Just in 3D. No IMAX. As always, its theatrical time is about one month: 11/21~12/21. Coincidentally, its close date is the “world’s end” date …
Wong Kar-wai’s Grandmasters should still make its December release (though re-editing is undergoing).
November releases are pretty much all settled. While December’s mostly local titles , remain not very clear.

That’s the report for now. Back to Youtube– I mean research, for me.

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 Film Personality: Han Sanping

by Robert Cain for China Film Biz

March 7, 2012

This week Hollywood welcomes one of the Chinese film industry’s most important and influential players, Han Sanping (韓三平). As Chairman of the Chinese government/business mega-conglomerate China Film Group, Han is responsible for more financing, production, distribution, export and import of films than everyone else in China combined.

Han is visiting Los Angeles this week to meet with executives at several studios (Universal, Sony and Disney have been specifically mentioned in the industry trades) to seek out co-producing partners, and to consider requests for precious import quota slots. A couple of clients of mine are meeting Han this week to ask that he allow their blockbusters to screen in Chinese cineplexes.

There is no real Hollywood equivalent to Han, because he wears so many hats: producer, director, studio executive, government administrator, and mentor. If you took Jack Valenti, Lew Wasserman, and Steven Spielberg and rolled them into one, you’d begin to get an idea of Han’s power and influence in China. He has overseen the production and distribution of hundreds of movies and television series, he manages the Beijing Film Studios, and he has final greenlight authority on all co-productions with foreign partners.

Han is also widely recognized as a kingmaker who has nurtured the careers of such top directors as Chen Kaige, Zhang Yimou and Feng Xiaogang, and of many leading Chinese actors and actresses as well.

The kingmaker’s own career was nurtured and mentored by my new friend Liu Cheng. Han began producing movies nearly 20 years ago, which makes him the equivalent of an OG in China because there are few film veterans who can claim that sort of longevity. He has had a producing role on numerous Chinese blockbusters including Red Cliff (directed by John Woo), The Warlords (Peter Chan), Shaolin (Benny Chan) and Aftershock (Feng Xiaogang), and on such Hollywood films as Mission Impossible III and The Karate Kid. He also directed two of China’s highest grossing films of the past three years, the star-studded, Chinese Communist Party sponsored propaganda films The Founding of a Republic and The Beginning of the Great Revival.

Last year I helped Han to evaluate Hollywood visual effects companies for one of his films, and as a result I gained some access to his inner circle. I’ve heard that his trip this week has yielded at least one major surprise: there has been a marked negative shift in the major studios’ attitudes toward co-production with Chinese partners.

Apparently, in the wake of the Chinese government’s recent announcement regarding its relaxation of film import quotas and its enhancement of revenue sharing, the studios’ appetites have diminished for co-production as a means of boosting their China business. With enough quota slots now for each major studio to average 5 or 6 Chinese releases per year, and with their share of revenue now bumped up to 25 percent of box office gross, the Hollywood giants see little incentive to deal with the hassles of Chinese co-production. An unanticipated consequence of Beijing’s opening up of the Chinese market is that it may encourage less Hollywood cooperation, not more. Most of the studios have had trying experiences in the past with Chinese partners, and any incremental revenue they might theoretically earn by making movies in China isn’t considered sufficient compensation for the risks, creative restrictions, and headaches they would have to bear.

From my vantage point this is a good thing. China still wants access to Hollywood expertise and market clout, and the less the studios want to provide these things the more opportunity there will be for entrepreneurial American and other foreign companies. We may see more Chinese money begin to flow into high profile independent productions.

Han Sanping won’t have to concern himself with these issues for much longer; he’s nearing the mandatory retirement age of 60, and it’s widely anticipated that he will soon be leaving his post. Some speculate that Zhang Qiang, a younger protégée of Han’s, will step into the China Film Group chairman’s seat later this year.

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.