By Albert Wang with Robert Cain for China Film Biz
February 3, 2012
In mainland China, the seven-day-long Spring Festival is a holiday break to commemorate the Lunar New Year, and it is also the time when many make the long and arduous trip back home to celebrate with their families and relatives. For about a hundred million Chinese migrant workers this holiday break is one of the few times during the year they ever have a chance to visit home. And so as one might expect, the Spring Holiday is an incredibly difficult travel season, regardless of whether one is traveling by plane or train.
If the week’s box office numbers are anything to go by, mainland Chinese are also increasingly taking time out of this hectic annual holiday break to enjoy movies at their local cinemas. Weekly box office was up by about 25 percent (in US dollar terms) over the comparable holiday week last year, with a total of $62 million. The month of January was very strong, running 43 percent of January, 2011, though it should be noted that this is not a direct comp, since last year’s Spring Festival didn’t occur until the beginning of February.
The big winner for this week was the Brad Bird directed action picture Mission: Impossible 4 – Ghost Protocol, which in a span of only two days took in an estimated $15.8 million at the Chinese box office, or well over half of M:I 4’s $25 million weekend total on the foreign theatrical circuit.
Paramount claims that Mission: Impossible 4 took in a haul in China that was five times greater than that of 2006’s Mission: Impossible 3 opening weekend in China. But this feat may not seem quite so impressive when one realizes that China’s box office has grown by more than six-fold during that period.
Rounding out the top 5 for last week were Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, The Viral Factor, All’s Well Ends Well 2012, and The Great Magician.
During the week-long holiday, the mainland Chinese box office totaled 390 million yuan (roughly $US 62 million), significantly higher than the Spring Holiday Week numbers from 2011 and 2010 (320 million yuan and 340 million yuan, respectively).
What makes this year noteworthy is the fact that non-domestic films dominated what has traditionally been a solid week for domestic Chinese films.
Typically, the Lunar New Year ushers in a selection of ensemble Chinese films headlined by big Chinese stars. The All’s Well Ends Well series, for instance, is an example of this distinct genre; the franchise dates all the way back to 1992, when the original All’s Well Ends Well featured a massive Hong Kong cast that included Stephen Chow, Maggie Cheung, Leslie Cheung, Raymond Wong, Sandra Ng, and Teresa Mo.
Just last year, the Spring Holiday week (Feb. 2-Feb.8, 2011) saw three Chinese films – All’s Well Ends Well 2011, My Own Swordsman, and What Women Want – take the top spots at the Chinese box office.
This year’s Spring Festival Holiday, however, saw fewer big domestic films in this genre. The week’s top grossing Chinese language film, for instance, was the Hong Kong-produced The Viral Factor, which released a week prior to the Spring Holidays and had no thematic connection to the Lunar New Year celebrations. The only newly opening non-Hollywood films to crack the top 10 last week—the Taiwan-made Perfect Two and the Shangjing-directed Fan Ju Ye Feng Kuang—opened to less than $5 million each. The latter was in fact a Chinese New Year film directed by the director of My Own Swordsman, a comedy that played to big opening numbers last year.
It remains to be seen whether 2012 marked a fundamental shift in box office behavior over the Chinese New Year Holidays. It may be that the Chinese government prefers to see domestic films dominate this culturally important holiday week, and would thus implement policies to favor domestic films. This could have been the reason that M:I 4’s release came at the tail end of the holiday. Then again, with so much money being spread around during the Spring Holidays, party officials may not mind sharing in the profits that a Hollywood blockbuster like M:I 4 or Sherlock Holmes can rake in.
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.
Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at email@example.com and at www.pacificbridgepics.com.