China’s Box Office: ‘Mysterious Islands’ Overtake the Mainland


by Robert Cain for China Film Biz

March 6, 2012

Foreign films continued to wallop domestic ones at China’s box office last week, taking a 77 percent share of total revenue for the week ended February 25th.  Led by Hollywood holdover Journey 2: The Mysterious Island with $10.5 million, foreigners  made off with $27 million of the total $36 million weekly pie, and Taiwanese co-pro Love took another hefty slice with $5 million, leaving only $4.8 million in crumbs for the three currently released films made wholly by local Chinese producers. Thank to the strongly performing foreign films and co-pros, aggregate weekly box office was up a stellar 68 percent over the same week last year.

Chinese audiences have been mostly staying away from local product. The average new domestic live action film has grossed barely $2 million in Chinese ticket sales in 2012, whereas the average foreign made film has averaged better than $13 million. Although precious few Hollywood films are allowed into theaters, those that do get released continue to dominate the field. The four US titles released in 2012 have earned $173 million, for a 43 percent box office share. The 18 new Chinese releases combined have collectively earned well under half the amount that one U.S. film, Mission Impossible 4, has generated all by itself.

When working with overseas Chinese co-production partners from the island territories of Hong Kong and Taiwan, Chinese producers tend to fare much better than they do on their own. Hong Kong/China and Taiwan/China co-productions have taken in $139 million so far this year, for a 34 percent box office share. It seems that non-mainland Chinese writers, directors and producers have a much better ability to attract Chinese audiences than do their mainland brethren.

Source: Pacific Bridge Pictures analysis

The big story so far this year is Taiwan’s emergence as a player on the mainland scene.  In just the first 8 weeks of 2012, three films by Taiwanese directors have each grossed $8 million or better, and have collectively grossed almost $40 million. Compare this with last year’s tally of barely $7 million for the 4 made-in-Taiwan films to hit Chinese theaters. With a population barely one percent the size of China’s, and with huge traditional barriers to their acceptance in the mainland (I remember being warned not so many years ago not to bring my Taiwan-printed Chinese dictionary to the mainland for fear that I would be arrested on contraband charges), Taiwan has captured 10 percent of the Chinese box office.

All of this begs the question: Why can’t mainland Chinese filmmakers create movies that anyone wants to see? We’ll explore this question in an upcoming article.

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.

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China’s Box Office: “Love” in the Air on Valentine’s Day


By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

February 27, 2012

Valentine’s Day offered a tasty treat for cinema operators in China, with a massive Tuesday gross of more than $20 million from nearly 3 million admissions.

Lovers were lured to theaters by a slew of new and holdover romantic offerings, led by Huayi Brothers’ all-star ensemble romantic drama Love (), which snared $13.89 million in ticket sales during Cupid’s week. The film is stocked with stars who have played romantic roles before, like Eddie Peng (My DNA Says I Love You, My So Called Love, Love You You), Ethan Ruan (L-O-V-E), Shu Qi (New York I Love You) and Zhao Wei (A Time to Love), and tells the story of three couples whose lives are intertwined in romances across Beijing and Taipei.

Other romance-themed pictures included holdovers I Do with $6.31 in its second week and Romancing in Thin Air with $1.17 million, and new release Truth or Dare with $1.82 million.

Valentine’s Day, like Christmas, has swiftly become a major commercial holiday in China. It has supplanted the traditional Chinese Lovers Day holiday as a time for romance, popular for candle-lit dinners followed by movie dates, and for spikes in supermarket sales of chocolates, cakes, flowers and wine.

Not all the romancing is as wholesome as Confucius would have liked; in addition to blossoming young love, Valentine’s Day has also become synonymous with extramarital affairs. According to anti-adultery activist Xia Haixin “Hotels are booked up around Valentine’s Day and florists, sex shops, and jewelry stores are booming, but few people spend Valentine’s Day with their spouse.”

According to a recent Christian Science Monitor article, Xia has paid to install billboards on a highway in Hebei Province, not far from Beijing, urging drivers, “Don’t have an affair on Valentine’s Day. Bring your love home.” As Xia explains, “We want to remind people to behave themselves instead of making mistakes on the day.”

Aside from romance, Chinese moviegoers also had adventure on their minds, as Journey 2: The Mysterious Island seized the top spot at the box office with $21.24 million for a 10-day cume of $36.5 million. Journey benefitted from numerous IMAX and 3D playdates, and is now the second film of 2012 to top $30 million, after Mission Impossible 4. M:I4 added $12.3 million to its gross, and now appears likely to break the $100 million mark in China.

New releases for the week of February 20th include 3 foreign films: Happy Feet 2, Conan the Barbarian and, nearly a year and a half after its initial US release, the 2011 Oscar winning hit The King’s Speech. It promises to be another good week at the box office so long as all those Chinese lovers aren’t too fatigued from their Valentine’s Day  trysts.

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 Box Office: Western “Lin-fluence”


By Albert Wang for China Film Biz

February 24, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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