China’s Billionaire Actress Zhao Wei (赵薇)


China’s Billionaire Actress Zhao Wei (赵薇)

China’s Billionaire Actress Zhao Wei (赵薇)

Zhao Wei

The world’s wealthiest working actress is a former kindergarten teacher with such keen investing acumen that she’s been nicknamed “China’s show-business Buffett” by her country’s media.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/robcain/2015/06/06/chinas-billionaire-actress-zhao-wei-赵薇/

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Why is China So ‘Furious’?


Paul Walker

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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

April 22, 2015

In the weeks leading up to its April 12th opening day in China, the consensus among box office watchers was that Furious 7 would wind up with a final gross of around $125 million for its PRC run, and that its distributors would be ecstatic about that.

After all, only four Hollywood releases—Transformers 3, Transformers 4, Avatar and the 2012 Titanic re-release—have ever reached that rarefied level in China. The previous Fast & Furious installment had topped out at $68 million in Chinese receipts in 2013, a strong but not spectacular showing.

But from its earliest midnight screenings it was clear that Furious 7 wasn’t going to stick to the driver’s manual. Now, 11 days into its scorching China run, Furious 7 has amassed an incredible total of $280 million in China, and will likely finish up at about $375 million. With a May Day holiday boost and a bit of luck it could even approach $400 million. China is absolutely mad for Furious.

What was unthinkable just a few weeks ago is now a certainty: Furious 7 will not only beat the previous PRC record holder, Transformers 4, by a wide margin, but is also certain to top its own North American total. While it’s not unprecedented for films that do moderately well in North America to perform better in China than in their home territory (e.g., Pacific Rim), never before has a bona fide American smash hit exceeded its own domestic gross in a foreign territory. This is truly uncharted territory.

First 11 days comp F7Source: Pacific Bridge Pictures research

What happened? Let’s break it down.

Furious 7’s success in the Middle Kingdom can be explained partly by the same factors that made it a winner everywhere: quality marketing, high ‘want-to-see’ factor, and strong word of mouth. But several factors worked especially well in China to drive the film to its world-beating grosses:

  1. Advantageous release date. What first appeared to be a so-so Sunday release slot proved not to be a problem, mainly because Furious faced no Hollywood competition in its opening week, and it has flattened the Chinese films unfortunate enough to stand in its way. Even Chinese megastar Fan BingBing proved no match for Diesel, Walker and company, as her romance Ever Since We Love scored only $11 million this past weekend against nearly $90 million for F7.
  2. Massive release pattern. With an allocation of more than 70 percent of China’s screens, and more than 90,000 showtimes per day, this undoubtedly ranks as one of the widest releases ever seen. It’s only on the film’s third weekend that Furious will control less than half of all PRC screens as DWA’s Home and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Sabotage arrive in mainland theaters.
  3. First-class promotion. With the two-year gap since Fast and Furious 6, Universal had plenty of lead time to work with SARFT and China Film Group–an investor in the film–to arrange a smooth release and mount a stellar marketing campaign. With CFG’s clout behind it and with its new China executive team in Beijing, the studio was able to support Furious 7 with more on-the-ground resources than with any past release.
  4. Strong word of mouth. Furious notched a very high 8.5 rating on audience review site Douban.com as word spread like wildfire that Furious 7 is FUN.
  5. The Paul Walker factor. Curiosity to see the final ride into the sunset of the well-liked actor who was in many ways the heart of this franchise drew numerous Fast and Furious newbies to Chinese multiplexes. Granted, this was an important factor in most of the world, but probably more so in China, where social media can instantly make or break a movie. According to a charming Chinese banker friend of mine, Paul Walker was THE trending topic of conversation on WeChat as the film rolled out.
  6. The right movie at the right time. Furious 7 is precisely the sort of big budget, effects-driven, Hollywood action spectacular that Chinese audiences love best. Sure, superhero movies are nice, but as the Transformers franchise has amply demonstrated, what the PRC really wants is machine porn: movies featuring monster machines that race and fly and do gravity defying stunts to save the world. It had been nearly a year since the last such film in this genre, Transformers 4, had graced China’s screens, so there was lots of pent-up demand for a film like F7 when it arrived.

There’s talk around the industry that Universal hasn’t yet decided whether to produce another installment of what is now the 8th highest grossing movie franchise in Hollywood history. That the ensemble of actors may not wish to come back for another film. To this I say, “If you believe that, there’s a Wall in China that I’d like to sell you.”

With all respect to the individuals involved, there is absolutely no way that Universal is going to put this golden goose down.

There are so many options Universal has now that Furious 7 has established its status as a juggernaut franchise in mainland China. They can produce the next installment of Fast and Furious as a co-production there and be reasonably assured of recouping their entire budget in the PRC alone, with the rest of the world, including North America, as gravy. If the cast doesn’t want to come back, re-boot it with a brand new cast. Or do a China spin-off with an all-Chinese cast. Do it with talking cars if necessary, for goodness’ sake! Or call me, I’ve got a script outline and treatment ready to go. But don’t think for a second about trying to stop this mean, green, driving machine.

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

“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 Helios 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

China’s Monster Summer


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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

August 22, 2013

The disturbing drought that plagued Hollywood’s movies in China through the first half of 2013 has been quenched, at least temporarily, by a string of box office successes that began in July. Chief among these has been Pacific Rim, a monsters-meet-robots spectacle that couldn’t have been more perfectly aimed at Chinese moviegoers. In its first three weeks of PRC release (as of Thursday August 22nd) the film has devoured $109 million in receipts, good enough for 2nd place this year among all Hollywood imports, and better by far than the $98.7 million the film has earned in North America.

While some might attribute Pacific Rim’s PRC success to its giant CG robots—the Transformers franchise is after all the highest grossing movie series in China’s history—I’d like to make the case that the film’s massive monsters are at least as responsible for scaring up Chinese ticket sales. Chinese audiences love a good monster movie as much as anyone, but the country’s strict censorship policies have restricted the homegrown monster movie quotient to practically zero. It’s a quirk of the Chinese film administration’s policies that monsters can invade China—or its theaters, anyway—from overseas, but they’re generally prohibited from breeding, hatching, or emerging from slimy lagoons onshore in the Middle Kingdom.

Further proof of my theory can be found in this week’s monster opening of Jurassic Park 3D, Universal’s reissue of the 20-year old Steven Spielberg dinosaurs-gone-wild classic. With almost $17 million in Chinese revenue in its first three days, the film ranks as the fourth biggest foreign opener of 2013 and is is well on its way to becoming the biggest grossing re-release of the past 12 months. Although the grosses for reissues tend to quickly fall off, the pattern so far suggests a final gross in the $30 million to $40 million range, which would make it China’s second highest grossing 3D re-release ever—albeit a far distant second—to 2012’s Titanic 3D.Top-grossing HW rel

The next ‘monster’ movie up is of a more kid-friendly variety, Pixar’s Monsters University, which is scheduled to open on Friday, August 23rd. China’s monster mania may help the film to break the Pixar curse, which has seen most of that animation studio’s films open poorly in the PRC and quickly fade away. With little family-fare competition I expect Monsters U to take at least $25 million in China, which would put it well above Toy Story 3’s $16.7 million gross in 2010, Cars 2’s $11.9 million in 2011, and Brave‘s dismal $4.7 million in 2012.

Last week’s box office saw Pacific Rim win its third week in a row, the first time that’s happened for a Hollywood film in 2013 (the China/Hong Kong co-pro Journey to the West won 5 straight weeks in February and March). Tiny Times 2, the sequel to July’s teen girl-oriented hit Tiny Times, ran up its total to $44 million with a $17 million second place finish. And Fan Bingbing’s romantic comedy One Night Surprise from writer-director Jin Yimeng (Sophie’s Revenge) took third with $15 million, proving the rom-com genre’s continuing strength with Chinese audiences.Box office for week ending Aug 18, 2013

Bona’s boxing flick Unbeatable took fourth place with $9 million on generally positive reviews. Rounding out the top 5 was Wanda Media’s disappointing release  The Palace, which managed just $7.4 million in its first 7 days despite the huge opening screen count allocated by its sister company, theatrical exhibitor Wanda Cinema Line. This marks Wanda’s second flop in a row after Man of Tai Chi. Wanda is new at the feature production game, and with its deep pockets the company presumably has the staying power to get enough at bats to eventually generate some homeruns.

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.

Will ‘Iron Man 3’ Get China Co-Pro Status, and Does it Really Matter? Most of the Co-Pro Benefits Have Come Already


Follow me on Twitter @robcain or Sina Weibo @robcain, or connect with me on LinkedIn. For info on China Pooch email info@chinapooch.comIron Man with Xueqi

By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

March 7, 2013

Two thoughts on all the media speculation about whether Iron Man 3 will get official co-production approval from SARFT for its China release this spring:

  1. It won’t, in my opinion.
  2. I doubt that Disney, Marvel and DMG—the film’s backers—really care.

A while back Disney, Marvel and DMG had to decide whether to comply with the strict SARFT co-production rules, or to sacrifice some of the benefits of official co-pro status and instead optimize Iron Man 3’s potential for the global market. Not surprisingly (as was revealed by a flood of press coverage that included some untimely revelations at last summer’s Comic-Con), they decided on the latter approach, making a film broadly aimed at the global audience.

Although they shot scenes in China last December with local actors—most notably the venerable Wang Xueqi and even a rumored appearance by movie diva Fan Bingbing—the partners’ overall creative and business approach precluded full adherence to the co-production rulebook. Namely, their strategy made it impractical to hire enough Chinese citizens to comply with the rule requiring that one-third of “major actors” be Chinese nationals, and they didn’t incorporate the requisite level of Chinese cultural content to qualify the film as an official co-pro under the Chinese guidelines.

But by working closely with the Chinese government, the co-producing partners have already secured many of the benefits they would have received with official co-pro status. These include:

  1. Iron Man 3 will almost certainly enjoy a rare day-and-date release, perhaps even a pre-U.S. release date. Current chatter on China’s movie blogs and chat sites has speculated that the film will release in China in April, before its May 3rd U.S. debut.
  2. The Chinese government has allowed the parties to promote the film since April of last year, whereas most U.S. imports only get a 2-3 week marketing window prior to release.
  3. IM3 has enjoyed a high degree of media access in China, at a level usually reserved only for high-profile local films. This has included various web and digital promotional activations; uncensored “leaks” of photos and news items to the national press; and an unprecedented promotional segment on the most watched TV program of the year, CCTV’s annual Chinese New Year Gala.

CCTV Gala-Downey and WangThey managed to work in a smart show of goodwill toward China on the Gala program by presenting the “Iron Man Hero Award” to a young Chinese boy who committed a heroic act worthy of Iron Man’s approval, as pictured below.Iron Man AwardThough no one at Marvel, Disney or DMG are talking publicly about their plans for IM3 in China, I’ve confirmed through other sources that they’re planning a major worldwide premiere for the film in Beijing, something that has rarely if ever happened before for a major U.S. studio.

The one major thing that these three companies presumably won’t get is the full 43 percent rental fee that comes with co-production status. But with all the other promotional consideration and support they’re receiving, by my estimation they’ve positioned the film to very likely become one of the top 3 U.S. films in China this year. Given the way things have been going for U.S. action films in China lately, that’s a very big advantage indeed.

In any case, for Disney and Marvel theatrical revenue is only a small part of a bigger picture that includes their interests in the Shanghai theme park and their consumer products business in China, both of which I expect will benefit nicely from the exposure and interest they’ve generated in the Iron Man franchise.This is exactly the sort of hustle and outside-the-box thinking that are required to ride the China wave. If Disney keeps up this level of focus and commitment to the market, this could be the year they win bragging rights as the top-grossing U.S. studio in China.

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.

Did ‘Deadline’ Commit a China ‘Looper’ Blooper?


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by Robert Cain for China Film Biz

October 3, 2012

Over the past several days I’ve received an unprecedented volume of calls, emails, texts and tweets, all asking me whether Looper had just become the first film to earn more revenue in its China debut than in its U.S. debut. Apparently the “Deadline Hollywood” blog reported on Saturday evening that Looper had earned “between $23M to 25M grosses” in China over the weekend. The story was quickly picked up by other media outlets, and within 24 hours it was accepted as fact around the world that Looper had smashed all sorts of records in China.

I was immediately doubtful of this report for two reasons: 1) Looper could not be the first film to gross more in its China debut than in the US because Titanic 3D had already achieved that feat back in April; and 2) The $23-25 million opening over 3 days seemed unlikely for reasons I’ll explain below. I checked around with my sources in China and found that almost no one believed the Deadline story to be true. Most felt that Deadline had gotten its currencies confused, and that the real number was around 27 million Chinese yuan, which equates to roughly 4.3 million US dollars. If correct, that figure would put Looper’s China opening far short of its $21 million US debut.

I’m unwilling to go on record as saying that Deadline is wrong, because I won’t know for certain until SARFT publishes the official box office figures. But because it’s a holiday week in which the SARFT report will be delayed for at least several days, and because there is so much international interest in this story, I’m going to weigh in with a few thoughts and some figures of my own, with the disclaimer that much of what follows is speculative and based on what I consider reasonably reliable, but unofficial numbers. I will say that if Deadline had someone on staff who understood the Chinese market, it’s unlikely that they would have rushed to put out their report.

Following are a few reasons why I’m more inclined to believe the $4.3 million weekend figure for Looper than the $25 million one.

  1. Only two films have grossed $25 million or more in their opening weekends in China this year—Titanic 3D and Men in Black 3. Both were heavily pre-sold blockbusters with strong, dedicated followings in China, and both had little competition when they debuted. As good as Looper is, it had none of that going for it.
  2. Many of Looper’s prints didn’t make it to theaters in time. Because SARFT only decided at the 11th hour to grant Looper co-production status, distributors and exhibitors didn’t know until a few days ahead of time that they would be allowed to release the film. Looper’s marketing and distribution were hence severely disadvantaged.
  3. This past weekend was a major travel period for China, the biggest in its history. Hundreds of millions of Chinese were traveling in advance of the National Day holiday week. Lots of people who might have ordinarily gone to the multiplex were busy getting from one place to another, welcoming guests, or making preparations for the holiday.
  4. This past weekend was also probably the most competitive film weekend China has ever seen. In addition to Looper’s opening, four major Chinese movies featuring big stars—among them Chow Yun-fat, Tony Leung, Daniel Wu, Fan Bingbing and Zhang Ziyi—opened against it. With only about 12,000 total screens China’s box office capacity is limited, and for Looper to earn $25 million it would have had to thoroughly dominate all the other films. It’s unlikely that’s what happened.
  5. Although Looper’s U.S. producers Sony and Endgame apparently insisted that the film earned $23 – 25 million in China, no one else backed up that figure.

I’ve presented below the figures I’ve received through back channels in China:

That’s the story so far as I see it; if I’ve been wrong about this I’ll eat my words. As soon as the SARFT numbers come through I’ll publish an update.

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

Daniel Radcliffe Starrer ‘Woman in Black’ Falls Flat in Soft Week at Chinese Box Office


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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

September 25, 2012

Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe couldn’t bring his magic to the China debut of his horror vehicle The Woman in Black, and two new Chinese language releases—Great Rescue and That Year School Ended—failed to connect as China’s box office take slipped last week to $29 million, its lowest level since March.

Although the last four Harry Potter films were solid hits in China, that franchise’s popularity failed to carry over to Woman in Black, which suffered one of the year’s worst openings for an English language film, with $1.45 million in receipts over its first four days. Among 2012’s nearly 50 English language releases so far, only The Lincoln Lawyer, The King’s Speech, A Man Apart and Ninja have fared worse.

Horror still hasn’t firmly established itself as a reliable genre in China. A few modest Chinese language successes like Bunshinsaba ($9.5 million total), Blood Stained Shoes ($7.2 million), and 2011’s Mysterious Island ($14 million), have been outnumbered by flops. It may be that Chinese audiences haven’t yet caught on to the pleasures of a good scary movie, but it’s more likely that the problem lies in China’s censorship strictures, which don’t allow much room for a true horror film, with blood, gore, torture, ghosts, demons, and “excessively terrifying scenes” all strictly prohibited.

On a brighter note for Chinese filmmakers, White Deer Plain out-grossed The Expendables 2 to take the week’s number one spot, the first time in a month that a Chinese film has taken that honor. Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises, and the Amazing Spider-Man, all nearing the end of their PRC runs, rounded out the rest of the top five.

Business should be brisk next week as six new Chinese films and the U.S.-China co-pro Looper will open just ahead of October’s Golden Week holiday. Look for the Stephen Fung steampunk comedy Taichi 0 to lead the pack, with China’s divas Zhang Ziyi in Dangerous Liaisons and Fan Bingbing in Double Xposure giving Taichi 0 some serious competition, especially with their female audience appeal. Although Looper’s Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt don’t have major fanbases in China, that movie’s genre, action-SciFi, tends to over-perform in China, so don’t count it out.

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