No Golden Ring For ‘Hobbit’ in China


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

By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

February 24, 2013

With its $5.6 million opening day and projected $18 million 3-day weekend gross in China, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has become the third major Hollywood film in a row—after Skyfall and Jack Reacher—to fall short of expectations in its mainland theatrical release. In its first two days Hobbit managed only a distant second place finish behind the Chinese language hit Journey to the West, which has been in release for two weeks, and its attendance pattern over the course of the weekend suggests a relatively soft theatrical run ahead.

To be sure, an $18 million weekend in China is not in and of itself a bad result. Not many pictures, Chinese or foreign, reach that level in their first three days in the PRC. But for a global phenomenon like the Hobbit, which has grossed nearly $1 billion in the rest of the world, this result comes as a surprise to the downside. As the following chart illustrates, several much smaller territories will generate bigger total grosses for the film.Hobbit Gross by Intl TerritoryEven given the context of the picture’s long-delayed opening and marginal post-holiday release slot, one could have reasonably expected Hobbit to at least match Skyfall’s total China gross of $60 million, but this now appears highly unlikely. Hobbit’s Friday-to-Saturday revenue bump was just 26 percent, among the smallest increases I’ve ever seen for a wide release in the PRC. A total gross in the low 40 millions is looking more probable, a figure that won’t even place the film in the top 20 releases in China this year. That number would be on par with the PRC performance of last year’s John Carter, a picture that grossed barely a fourth of what Hobbit did worldwide.

What is particularly troubling about China’s cool reception to The Hobbit is that it is a 3D fantasy film, a genre format that has consistently performed handsomely with Chinese audiences.  Painted Skin 2, a poorly reviewed Chinese fantasy, earned $115 million in its 2012 China release, and Journey to the West has just reached $160 million and could well surpass Avatar‘s record $209 million China gross. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II earned $63 million two years ago, when China’s market was barely half the size that it is now. Journey 2: The Mysterious Island took in $60 million early last year, and Life of Pi grossed $91 million just a few months ago.

What’s impeding the success of The Hobbit may have less to do with the film itself and more to do with the current mood of Chinese moviegoers. During the past few seasons they’ve demonstrated an increasing preference for Chinese faces in Chinese stories, and a growing impatience with Hollywood blockbusters which, rightly or wrongly, have been criticized for being too much alike.

While it is far too early to sound the alarm for Hollywood’s movies in China, the recent trend ought to be cause for concern at the major studios. China will account for 10 percent of the global box office this year, and given that only those select few Hollywood films with the best perceived commercial prospects are allowed to release there, such releases ought to earn around 12 percent or more of their worldwide grosses in China.  But Skyfall earned barely 5 percent of its worldwide gross in the People’s Republic, and The Hobbit will probably wind up at around 4 percent.

If the next three U.S. releases—Les Miserables, A Good Day to Die Hard, and Oz: The Great and Powerful—turn in sub-par performances, then it may be time for the studios to heed the advice I’ve been freely offering for a long time: focus on what Chinese audiences want, and give it to them. Otherwise, the world’s fastest growing and soon to be biggest movie market will get along just fine without them.

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 Bests Previous Weekly Record by 61 Percent With Scant Help From Hollywood


Follow me on Twitter @robcain or Sina Weibo @robcain, or connect with me on LinkedIn. For info on China Pooch email info@chinapooch.comSay Yes one sheet

By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

February 22, 2013

What a difference a year makes. Last February, Hollywood action pictures like Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island dominated China’s multiplexes, seizing a 70 percent share of the market and leaving only crumbs for local Chinese films. Tom Cruise reigned as box office king with his Mission Impossible hitting $100 million, only the fourth film to reach that plateau in Chinese history. Hollywood’s long-term hegemony over the Chinese movie landscape seemed secure.

A year later, the situation could scarcely be more different. So far this month Hollywood’s share of Chinese theatrical revenue is barely 10 percent. Tom Cruise, whose new action flick Jack Reacher debuted to a tepid $5 million last weekend, has been supplanted by a Chinese star named Bo Huang, who has notched three successive breakout hits: Lost in Thailand, Journey to the West, and now the China-Japan co-pro (!) romance Say Yes. Chinese action-comedies are routinely cracking the $100 million threshold, while Hollywood action movies are underperforming to a troubling degree.

One non-Chinese player that has fared exceptionally well in China of late is Village Roadshow Pictures Asia, which nabbed the number one and number two box office rankings last week with its co-pro entries Journey to the West and Say Yes.Box office week ending Feb 17, 2013

Journey to the West broke numerous records, including the biggest single-day gross with nearly $20 million on Valentine’s Day, the biggest weekly gross ever ($93 million) and the fastest arrival at the $100 million mark (8 days). As of Tuesday, its tenth day in release, the film’s cume stood at $122 million. I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb here in predicting that Journey will break Lost in Thailand‘s all-time record Chinese language film gross of $201 million.

Say Yes, a Chinese-language remake of the hit 1991 Fuji Television drama “101st Marriage Proposal,” debuted to an impressive $19 million. Journey and Say Yes combined gave Village Roadshow and its partners an 83 percent share of the week’s $135 million nationwide gross, also an all-time record. The previous weekly record gross was $84 million.

Year-to-date, China’s aggregate box office is up by 30 percent, while U.S. films are down by 59 percent. Some might blame the U.S. films’ decline on long release delays or on the individual films themselves (Skyfall, Gone and Jack Reacher), and they may be right, but I believe the most important factor is that Chinese audience tastes have shifted.Weekly box office 2012 vs 2013

Not only have several Chinese language films caught on with audiences, but the non-Chinese films that are indexing well now are different than the ones that indexed well a year ago. During the past several months the foreign pictures that have over-indexed in China have been more offbeat or intellectual movies like Life of PiLooper, and Cloud Atlas, or the more quirky action films like Bait and Expendables 2.

The trend could turn again in favor of Hollywood’s tent-poles, with upcoming releases that include The Hobbit on February 22nd, Les Miserables on February 28th, and Oz: The Great and Powerful and a Good Day to Die Hard in mid-March (I had previously been advised that the latter two films might open on the same day, but I’m now told it’s more likely they’ll be spaced at least a few days apart). The only certainty in China is change, and for the moment, anyway, it is trending in favor of China’s local producers and those foreign producers who have committed to serving the Chinese 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.

China’s Box Office: Which Way to a Global Chinese Cinema?


by Albert Wang for China Film Biz

March 12, 2012

Well no surprise here – Hollywood dominated the mainland Chinese box office once again with 5 films taking a 73 percent share, reaffirming the fact that China’s film industry simply does not yet have what it takes to compete with Hollywood imports at its own domestic box office.

This is an observation that has been written about extensively here on China Film Biz over the past month, and deservedly so – it has been nearly two months since a Chinese film claimed the top box office spot in the mainland.  The last time was mid-January, when The Great Magician starring Tony Leung and Zhou Xun opened.  Even then, The Great Magician’s reign was short-lived, lasting all of one week before a series of Hollywood imports began their recent streak of domination.

It may seem like we’re beating a dead horse by mentioning China’s inability to produce popular mainstream films for its masses. This is perhaps especially true this week, when even beating a dead horse was something that China literally failed to succeed in doing at the local Chinese box office.

I am referring to the film War Horse, the Steven Spielberg-directed epic war adaptation that is based on a children’s novel.  War Horse, which was released in the US on Christmas of last year, found itself atop the mainland Chinese charts this past week, grossing a rather modest $8.8 million over the span of six days.

To put that opening gross in perspective, the week’s second highest grossing film, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, made $15.2 million in half as many days when it opened in China in mid-February.  The Taiwan co-produced romance Love, meanwhile, made $13.9 million over the course of its first seven days of screening on the mainland.

Also opening this past week was the US action-fantasy film animation Conan the Barbarian, which took in $3.1 million over six days to come in at number four at the box office.

Mission Impossible 4 and the previously released family animation Happy Feet Two rounded out the Chinese box office top five.

*****

A recent post here on China Film Biz highlighted several challenges that make it difficult for mainland Chinese filmmakers to make commercially successful films.   That post focused mostly on the rules and regulations that stifle what should very well be a vibrant and productive creative culture within the mainland Chinese film industry.  Rather than rehash the critical (and very true) observations made in that post, I’m going to focus here a bit on another aspect of the same question – i.e., what I believe needs to be explored in regards to actual film content if China plans on ever developing a successful global Chinese cinema.

Now everyone knows that China will be an increasingly important power in the 21st century.  But how will China’s developing economic and geopolitical might translate on a cultural level?

This is a question that the Chinese government is seeking to address in part through the development of a global Chinese cinema.  But does the Chinese government, headed by a consortium of book smart and savvy politicians with academic educations largely in engineering, know the first thing about what this global Chinese cinema should look like?

Chinese civilization is often described as being over 5000 years old, and it is in part this rich history that has led many scholars to assert that Chinese culture and society is one that often looks backwards in time with great reverence. You see this reverence for the past played out in Chinese cinema/media through the strong, recurring theme of nostalgia in many Chinese movies.   Traveling back in time became such a popular theme in Chinese television that SARFT actually banned the storytelling device from the mainland Chinese airwaves a year or two ago.

In my opinion, the Chinese people’s reverence for the past is an aspect of Chinese culture that will likely hinder the development of a global Chinese cinema. The recent government-produced period films Beginning of the Great Revival and The Founding of the Republic – which featured basically everyone and anyone who has any star power in China/HK/Taiwan – have had little to no global appeal.  As rich as it is, Chinese history has little appeal to the average global moviegoer.  You can even have a certified A-list Hollywood actor like Christian Bale headlining your Chinese period film, but it won’t get potential moviegoers off their sofas and into theaters.

It’s true that the US and the rest of the Western world are fascinated by China, but not the China of the past.  This should be obvious, especially when it comes to the average American – we are a people that aren’t particularly known for caring about history, even our own. Yes, people are aware of China and its rapid economic growth.  But it is not China today that people want to know about.  It is the China of tomorrow.

Ultimately I believe this is one of the major areas that needs to be explored by the mainland Chinese film industry if it is to succeed at developing a global Chinese cinema.  No one really cares what China looks like today, and in some regards they shouldn’t – the country is changing so fast, what you see today will likely be radically different from what you see five years from now.

What people will want to know – whether they realize it yet or not – is where China will end up, because to a large extent, depending on what this future destination of China looks like, so too will the rest of the global world look as well.

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.

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.