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Archive for July, 2011

The Golden Rock - July 29th, 2011 Edition

Before getting into the news today, here’s a friendly reminder:

 squattertown.jpg

 

The SQUATTERTOWN premiere is happening on July 30th at 7:30 pm Hong Kong Time. I will be there, checking in live on Twitter and Facebook with constant updates before and after the film. You can check out the details on Facebook or see what’s going on live at the ustream page. It’s going to be a great night, and we’ll cover the premiere with a special entry next week, so stay tuned!

- Today’s focus story comes from Jinan Shibao, and it attempts to explain why the star-studded propaganda film BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL did not do as well as the predecessor FOUNDING OF A REPUBLIC.

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Here’s some background: BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL is China Film Group’s big blockbuster made to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party. The film features 170+ stars from the Greater China area (plus Taiwan, depending on your politics), and it was expected to do major business at the box office ahead of the party anniversary on July 1st. You can read Boss Kozo’s review here.

In case you don’t know (and if you’ve been reading western media, you probably don’t), BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL was expected to be a record breaking box office hit. China Film Group said they were targeting 30 million admissions for a gross of 800 million yuan. They didn’t just want to barely pass by LET THE BULLETS FLY’s reported 700 million yuan record, they wanted to DESTROY IT, and 800 mil was the sensible next step. There were 89,000 showings in the first 5 days alone, with organized screenings by governmental organizations and a huge advertising campaign. Yes, an advertising campaign for a movie advertising the communist party.

Problem was, it wasn’t enough. The film only had an average of 36 admissions in each of those 89,000 showings, meaning that they screened it, but not enough people came. As of July 24th, it has only made 367 million yuan (roughly US$57 million) after 40 days. Sure, that’s no small number, considering it’s currently the highest-grossing Chinese film of 2011 so far. However, it’s far lower than the 800 million target set by CFG, and it’s still below the gross of FOUNDING OF A REPUBLIC two years prior, when there were less screens (It made roughly 410 million yuan). REVIVAL has already been released on DVD, and it has already made its way to the legal streaming sites, which means no revival for this poor fella.

Why can’t a country with reportedly 80 million communist party members get enough people to watch a movie about the communist party? I will first paraphrase each point provided by the article, followed by my own comments in bold.

1) Scheduling. BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL picked what seemed to be a perfect opening date on June 15th - right in the beginning of summer - with only an “alternative” film like WU XIA and low-key dramas like SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN in its way. However, FOUNDING OF A PUBLIC opened during the extended National Day holiday in October, and it was able to benefit greatly from that. On the other hand, REVIVAL could only benefit from school holidays, and students is not the target demographic for the film. Even though REVIVAL saw more organized screenings than REPUBLIC, it did not attract enough audiences to voluntarily watch it.

Let’s not kid ourselves here, China Film Group may not be a prolific film producer, but they are the biggest distributor of films in China. They serve as distributor/co-distributor on at least half of all Chinese films released, and they are one of the only two distributors of foreign films, including KUNG FU PANDA 2, TRANSFORMERS and HARRY POTTER. They held TRANFORMERS 3 , the biggest threat to REVIVAL’s box office dominance, back by a month.

Of course, the holding of foreign films to give local films a leg-up is an unofficial annual tradition in China, and this practice is only getting extra attention this year because the leg-up was given to a propaganda film. So it’s hard to say whether they held TRANSFORMERS back for commercial or political reason. All we can say is that they held it back. There was also a rumor that WU XIA (not distributed by China Film Group) could’ve done better if it had opened on the extended July 1st weekend in China, and that it “voluntarily” pushed its opening date to the following Monday. We’re not going to guess if that’s true or not. And you probably shouldn’t, either. 

One thing the article speculated and probably got right was that REPUBLIC benefited from an extended national holiday, and REVIVAL didn’t. Not even the communist party anniversary holiday helped the film get the boost it needed. 

In a future entry, we’ll look at the art of scheduling in the Chinese film industry. 

2) The star syndrome. The biggest selling point of FOUNDING OF A REPUBLIC was probably its large cast of stars. BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL attempted to cash in on that same selling point, packing it with stars like Andy Lau, Chow Yun Fat, Zhou Xun, Liu Ye, Chang Chen, and all those Mainland Chinese stars with two-word names. However, after REPUBLIC, fans of the stars knew that their idols would likely only appear for several minutes in order to fit in the next star appearance. As a result, fans would rather skip wasting money on seeing their idol for a few minutes in REVIVAL and instead saved their money for a movie where they knew their idol would actually be appearing for longer than five minutes.

Likely true, but I’m not sure if it really played that huge of a role, since audiences will likely see more than one of their idols in a movie promising 170 stars. 

3) (lack of) Critics’ influence/word-of-mouth. While REPUBLIC sparked conversations on the internet and elsewhere, REVIVAL saw decreased enthusiasm and negative word-of-mouth from audiences. The film had no professional reviews, which meant general audiences weren’t properly guided on whether the film was good or not. On movie rating sites Douban and Mtime, the rating system and the discussion sections were both shut down, preventing people from having a public opinion on the film. These days, young audiences like to check movie rating sites to see word-of-mouth on a film before they choose to watch it. Without that tool, people simply decided not to watch it. One netizen speculated that since REPUBLIC didn’t run into to the same situation, the powers that be must’ve been afraid that the focus of discussions would be placed on Tang Wei.

This being a mainstream media report, they wouldn’t point out the fact that the rating system was initially opened on douban, only to be shut down later that day when the average score was only 2.2/10. For a film to be so often voted on with such a consistently low score on only opening day, netizens were obviously having fun trashing the film. Douban’s immediate action of shutting voting down didn’t help the film’s publicity, either, as people then simply skipped the film out of principle. It’s true that the film had negative word-of-mouth, but what the report didn’t point out was that it started long before the film even opened. 

On the other hand, weibo didn’t shut down any opinions on the film (it even had its own unique trending section), but most of them were sarcastic comments and netizens trashing the movie. Either way, REVIVAL was damned whether they allowed Douban and Mtime’s voting system to be opened.

Other than this report (which was reposted on at least Mtime’s news section), not many mainstream Chinese media has covered REVIVAL’s box office failure. China Film Group is acting nonchalant, saying that they will accept whatever the free market dictates them to do. With REVIVAL obviously making a profit and China Film Group still laughing to the bank with TRANSFORMERS and KUNG FU PANDA’s record-breaking box office grosses, it appears that China Film Group is simply moving on and not looking back.

With the Douban/Mtime situation, the reported “box office gouging”, and now the box office piggybacking of other China Film Group-involved party anniversary commemoration films all dragging down the reputation of commercial “mainstream” (as in “mainstream values”) films, what will happen to it in the future? Will there be any more large-scale propaganda film for the next big national anniversary? We’ll keep an eye out in the years to come.

- Speaking of “mainstream films”, August 1st Studio - the People Liberation Army’s film division and the producer of patriotic films like WEN TIAN - is releasing another party anniversary movie this weekend. SHOU WANG TIAN SHAN depicts the heroic efforts of the PLA during the paving of the Tianshan highway in Xinjiang province. Judging from WEN TIAN’s miraculous box office performance this past weekend, I’m looking forward to see what the August 1st Studio and distributor Hua Xia has in store for us come Tuesday.

- Film company Media Asia (INFERNAL AFFAIRS, LEGEND OF THE FIST) has been merged with fellow eSun subsidiary East Asia Music to become just Media Asia. In addition to the IPO, it announced that it will be targeting the Macau/Mainland China market. At the press conference, the company announced that it will be producing the latest Johnnie To film, and it will be reuniting Sammi Cheng and Andy Lau. Andy will be playing a cop who loses his sight working on a case, and Sammi will be playing his lover.

Pang Ho-Cheung, Miriam Yeung, and Shawn Yue also made an appearance to talk about LOVE IN A BUFF, the sequel to LOVE IN A PUFF. Pang revealed that the Hong Kong section of the shoot is complete, and that they will be starting the Beijing portion of the shoot soon. In fact, Pang recently asked on Weibo for couples to join as extras for a scene on August 18th. If you’re in Beijing and interested, check out Pang Ho Cheung’s weibo. I assume if you can show up, you can read and speak Chinese, so you can look for the post yourself.

Also announced: Shawn Yue will be joining the cast of THE FLYING GUILLOTINES, LIFE WITHOUT PRINCIPLES has completed shooting, Media Asia will be opening its own cinema chain in China, and it will be working on a major Hollywood production.

-  Also recruiting for people is Japanese paid television network WOWOW. During their free preview weekend, they are looking for someone to help dub their Japanese version of Jackie Chan’s PROJECT A. You will be trained to become a professional voice actor AND join in on the new Japanese version of the PROJECT A theme song. Check out this page for details. Again, if you’re looking to become a Japanese professional voice actor, I assume you already speak Japanese, so no translation.

- According to Donnie Yen’s Weibo, he has signed up to star in “Assassin Couple” (translated from Chinese title), an unofficial Chinese take on MR AND MRS SMITH (unofficial because they probably didn’t buy the rights). The production company has yet to confirm, but the media is reporting that Cecilia Cheung will be starring opposite Donnie, and she will be getting 15 million yuan for the role. What’s Donnie getting? 30 million yuan. Production budget is reportedly around 80 to 100 million yuan. No other talent attached yet.

- I will be using this article again for the horror focus story later. What’s relevant now is that MYSTERIOUS ISLAND director Chung Kai-Cheong said that he is still working on a 3D JIN PING MEI movie. In case you don’t know, JIN PING MEI was the source material for the SEX AND CHOPSTICK films. Who is Chung planning to get as his star? Jeon Do-Yeon. Yes, Cannes Best Actress winner and one of the best actresses in Korea Jeon Do-Yeon.

He also explained that Jordan Chan skipped out on promotional activities for MYSTERIOUS ISLAND because he went home to conceive a child with his wife Cherrie Ying. I am not joking at all about this.

- The Venice Film Festival lineup was recently announced, with Ann Hui’s A SIMPLE LIFE representing Hong Kong and SEEDIQ BALE representing Taiwan. One film that was being rumored to enter the festival was Zhang Yimou NANJING HEROES. However, the film wasn’t announced to be screened at neither Venice nor Toronto. A reporter talked to the film’s production company, and the spokesperson simply said they’re not in the position to comment right now. Either the film is really going the commercial route and giving up the festivals for direct commercial distribution (the way LET THE BULLETS FLY went), or it’s that mysterious Venice film that will be unveiled during the competition. Or it could be going to another fest.

Who cares? We’ll all get to see it in December anyway.

Next time: A special Hong Kong Book Fair edition.

Sources:

Cinema Today
Jinnan Shibao
Mtime 1
Mtime 2
Sina 1
Sina 2
Sina 3

The Golden Rock - July 26, 2011 Edition

There’s a lot of real troubles going on in the world that make what I do here seem insignificant. And it’s true - who cares if some theaters are using shady accounting? Who cares about feud about film cuts? Who cares about trailers being posted on the internet? While real journalists out there in Wenzhou and Norway continue to work hard to get to the truth about events that really affected people’s lives, it’s hard to continue on writing as if what this blog does actually matters at all.

Well, it doesn’t.

Nevertheless, we all have our own jobs to do, and my job is to keep presenting issues that are related to this site from as many sides as possible. Sometimes, I may even run into a story that actually matters to people, but most of the time, they won’t matter to more than 50 people out there.

And for some reason, that’s OK.

And now, onto the news:

- With Chinese films often relegated to the arthouse and film festivals in the west, we often forget to see the Chinese film industry as a burgeoning commercial film industry. Chinese filmmakers (and Hong Kong filmmakers looking to the Chinese market) and investors are now experiencing growing pains that Hollywood filmmakers have been dealing with for years. This entry will look at a report of one recent example:

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After 2007’s TICKET, Hong Kong filmmaker Jacob Cheung wanted to adapt a web story about a woman who turns into a butterfly to save her boyfriend’s life. That film was REST ON YOUR SHOULDER. The fantasy romance would require a huge budget due to the special effects, a score by Joe Hisaishi, and a shoot that will take the crew to Japan.

That’s where Straw Family came in. Formed in 2008, Straw Family had planned six animated features, one animated series, and six feature films, and REST ON YOUR SHOULDER was to be the film that announced their arrival as an aspiring key player (one animated film and one animated series have been released since). The company’s key investor was an entrepeneur who found his pot of gold in the furniture business, and he trusted Cheung completely because of the director’s extensive experience in the film industry (Cheung also directed CAGEMEN and BATTLE OF WITS). He even allowed Cheung to be labeled as Straw Family’s leader.

Investor Liu (his full name was not revealed) initially gave Cheung 20 million yuan as the film’s budget, but it kept ballooning during the production, and they estimated that they ended up spending 80 million yuan when all’s said and done (fairly high for a director who’s never made a special effects-driven fantasy before), including advertising, Cheung’s fees (he was paid separately salaries for writing and directing), and other expenses.

According to Straw Family staff (which is apparently no longer led by Cheung), Cheung promised them a commercial film that will outdo A BATTLE OF WITS, the biggest commercial project of his career at the time. Cheung even estimated that the film will make 150 million yuan at the box office - not bad for an initial investment of 20 million yuan. At that time, the investor apparently already knew that Cheung is the type of director who refuses to let any production company or producer change his script, but they felt that he was a director worth helping.

The troubles started when Cheung finally delivered a 123-minute film. Shocked at the length, Straw Family and the investor wanted to edit it down to a more audience-friendly 93-minute cut. However, due to the time it takes to edit down the film and get a permit from SARFT, the film would not have been able to make the Shanghai Film Festival. Straw Family insists that it was Cheung, not them, who submitted the film to the festival, and that they only found out about the submission after the film was accepted into the competition. Liu very, very displeased.

According to e-mails Cheung wrote to Straw Family, he argued that the two-hour length of recent Chinese blockbusters like LET THE BULLETS FLY, DETECTIVE DEE, and even his own BATTLE OF WITS did not affect box office performance. He admitted that he had no power to stop Straw Family from cutting it, but he flat out refused to participate in the editing process. He also wrote that to keep quiet about the situation, he would simply bow out of all promotional efforts for the film and remain in Canada, where his family lives.

The problem, the investor said, was that the 123-minute cut wasn’t screened for them until the day before it had to be submitted to the censors. This means that they wouldn’t have had enough time to get the 93-minute cut to the Shanghai Film Festival, and they weren’t confident enough about the cut they were screened to show to the world. To the press, they said that they wanted to film cut to fit in more shows. However, in reality, Straw Family wanted to cut the film because they thought they had a stinker on their hands.

Distributor Gao Jun is on the investor’s side, saying that the 93-minute cut actually plays a lot better and would’ve resulted in a higher gross. He knew that Straw Family didn’t want to fight Cheung to the end, but he said he would’ve insisted on the 93-minute cut if he was the investor because he knew that was the superior cut that would’ve helped him make his money back. Gao didn’t comment too much on the feud itself, but he warned benevolent investors to spend their money wisely.

And the rest was history: When Straw Family and Gao Jun announced they would be releasing a 93-minute cut in theaters at the Shanghai Film Festival, Cheung himself announced he would withdraw from all promotional activities for the film, including his scheduled appearance at the festival. Originally the opening film, Straw Family withdrew the film from the opening slot, though the film remained in competition. The company then arranged for the competition screening in a small auditorium (all other competition films played at the larger auditorium in the same multiplex) and screened the film for a very small audience.

Finally, Straw Family relented after the press began reporting what was happening and announced they would show Cheung’s preferred 123-minute cut in theaters. But two weeks before the opening of the film, Cheung complained on his weibo that the distributor didn’t contact him to do any promotion on the film (the premiere was also canceled, citing “talent unavailability), and the film ended up flopping at the box office with only a 11 million yuan gross.

As for Cheung, the reporter managed to get a hold of his spokesperson. In his defense, the spokesperson said that Straw Family never communicated with Cheung about needing edits and edited the film without him knowing. She also said that despite Straw Family’s claim that they didn’t get the commercial film they were promised, REST ON YOUR SHOULDER is actually Cheung’s most commercial film yet. She finally said that it’s unfair for Cheung to take the full responsibility for the failure of the film and suggests that Straw Family is at fault as well.

So, what can we learn from this mess?

1) The power of the investor. Straw Family claimed that the investor essentially allowed Cheung to do whatever he wanted, until the finished product wasn’t what they wanted. They claimed that Cheung never signed an official agreement with the company, which meant that they had the right to do whatever they wanted with the film. However, that also meant that Cheung was able to just bow out of promotional activities as he wanted. The story paints Straw Family and investor Liu as the victims in this case, and this should at least serve as a warning to future investors that they should set clear terms and conditions on paper about what they can and cannot do. On the other hand, there are probably not many investors as kind as Liu, and they will impose many impossible terms on a filmmaker. Agreements on paper hopefully can control that issue as well.

2) The power of the director. Should Cheung have stood firm on his position and refused to compromise? If he’s the one that will be taking credit for the film’s success, should he be taking all the blame for its failure as well? From my personal opinion, the film was really overlong, and someone should have guided Cheung from the script stage to final cut. Problem was Cheung was acting as his own producer. So this brings us to:

3) The power of the producer. A bad producer compromises a director’s vision and a film for the sake of personal taste, but a great producer can help rein in a director’s vision for the sake of the film. From this and the case of PRETENDING LOVERS (director fired and had credit taken away, film cut by 15 minutes), it’s clear that a gap is widening between investors (especially those with personal interests) and directors (especially those who think they’re auteurs). A great producer can step in and fill this gap. Derek Yee, Chen Kuofu, and Peter Chan make great producers because they happen to be filmmakers who have also dealt with investors, meaning they can be excellent middlemen who can serve in both sides’ interests.

When people win film awards, they always say that making a film is a collaborative effort, and that’s truer than ever in the case of the Chinese film industry. Egos will always clash, but filmmakers, investors, distributors, and producers all have to work to find a compromise that serves the films. Otherwise, the only true loser will be the paying audience.

- Time for a quick look at the Chinese box office. As mentioned in the previous entry, TRANSFORMERS 3 pretty broke all box office records in China - best opening day, best midnight show grosses, best single-day grosses. According to figures from entgroup, Michael Bay’s crazy robot movie made 401 million yuan in the first 4 days. Despite a very high 42 yuan per ticket price, the film had an amazing 90.4 admissions per show.

However, the most interesting thing on the chart is WENTIAN’s amazing jump to fifth place. If you remember, WENTIAN is one of the three “excellent recommended films” that is commemorating the Chinese Communist Party’s 90th anniversary. The film’s 5.3 million yuan gross in the last seven days may look like nothing, but not only is it 660% higher than the previous week’s gross, it also has 90 admissions per show (compared to 54.4 the previous week). How is this possible for a film that’s been in cinemas for over three weeks? Well, you can probably guess.

Elsewhere on the chart, WU XIA is now at 169 million yuan, which means it’ll beat THE LOST BLADESMAN, but not by much. LEGEND OF A RABBIT now at just 15.9 million yuan after two weeks, making is a massive failure considering its reported 100 million yuan-plus budget. TO LOVE OR NOT finally makes it to the top ten, but its total after ten days is only 5.85 million yuan. Congratulations to both MYSTERIOUS ISLAND and TREASURE INN, which have broken the 80 million and 100 million yuan mark, respectively.

- Gao Xiaosong’s MY KINGDOM, starring Han Geng, Barbie Hsu, and Wu Chun has pushed back its release date from August 12th to September 9th. This is actually a programming move to get it into the Mid-Autumn holiday weekend, and it will go directly against romantic comedy LOVE IN SPACE.

- The Wenzhou-based investor of the heist comedy COMING BACK, starring Simon Yam, has announced that it will announce all of its box office proceeds from July 26th onwards to the victims of the recent rail accident in Wenzhou. Problem is the film has only made 8.15 million yuan after 10 days, and it isn’t poised to do much business after July 26th.

- Macau will finally get its first multiplex, courtesy of Hong Kong’s UA Cinemas. According to a friend from Macau, the cinema scene there is dreadful, and anything with more than three houses (with two houses actually working) will be better than what they have right now. Bad news for Macau residents is that it’ll be in a casino rather than a truly accessible part of town.

Next time, how the Chinese press explain why BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL under performed at the box office.

Sources

Entgroup
Entgroup 2
Film Business Asia
Mtime
Sohu
Sina

The Golden Rock - July 24, 2011 Edition

First, we’re following up on the “internal memogate” that we devoted our previous entry to:

- A reporter for Sina has followed up on the story and managed to come up with the actual memo that even includes literally the stamps of approval from all six committees: The Propaganda Department of the Communist Party of China, State Administration of Radio, Television, and Film, The Organization Department of the Communist Party of China, the People’s Liberation Army General Political Department, the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, and the so-called “Good Activities Guidance Committee” (not actual English name).

However, the approved memo simply includes the point about using union/party membership fees to pay for the film. It also orders the PLA to organize screenings for its troops, that departments must ensure that as many people as possible get to see the “excellent recommended films”, and for the media to give these “excellent recommended films” as much coverage as possible to provide “positive guidance” and “elevate its influence amongst audiences”. What it DOESN’T include is that theaters should piggyback the films on any other films as double features and gouge box office gross.

Instead, it was the theaters who decided to do it. The reporter got in touch with Wu Hehu, the Vice President of the Shanghai United Circuit, where the original memo originated. Wu outright admitted that the internal memo, which was specifically for the Shanghai United Circuit, does exist, and that he believes it’s the cinemas’ responsibility to promote Chinese-made films. This is his exact quote (loosely translated):

“What people think is their business, we will not refute them. We are upholding our own responsibilities. The six committees asked us to recommend these three films to more audiences, and we have a responsibility to use any means necessary to promote Chinese films. We are upholding our own responsibilities.”

To be clear, the government nor China Film Group never asked on paper for these special “double features” and “group tickets”.  This is purely the act of at least one cinema chain. The reporter surveyed several Beijing cinemas and saw no such promotion. Also, Gao Jun, a cinema chain owner and the guy that’s been quoted by the western media about the so-called 800 million yuan requirement for BEGINNING OF GREAT REVIVAL, also said that his cinemas are not using such a tactic.

As for the minimum ticket price, TRANSFORMER’s distributor has revealed that the minimum ticket price for the 35mm version is 15 yuan and 20 yuan for the 3D version, which means the 20 yuan share for TRANSFORMERS pointed out in the previous entry does NOT break the law.

In other words, it’s douchey, but it ain’t illegal. Take that, world!

If you care (and most chances is that you don’t), TRANSFORMERS 3 broke the record for highest opening day in China (91 million yuan), highest midnight show grosses in China (12 million yuan), and highest single-day box office in China (112 million yuan on July 23rd.). It is the first film is make more than 100 million yuan in a single day. After 3 days, the robot fightin’ movie has made 295 million yuan. By now, it has likely beaten the total box office gross of BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL and maybe even FOUNDING OF A REPUBLIC. Michael Bay: Communist propaganda killer!

- In case you haven’t noticed, it’s been a pretty exciting week for trailer fans. We saw the latest trailers for THE GRANDMASTER, THE SORCERER AND THE WHITE SNAKE, and if you’re at a Chinese cinemas this weekend, you can add Tsui Hark’s FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE (and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES teaser, but that doesn’t matter) to that list. A news article has pointed out that the battle of the December films has started early, with all three of these films premiering their trailer in the same week in cinemas. However, note that the GRANDMASTER December release date is only tentative, just like the last 20 release dates Sil-Metropole scheduled.

With these (especially GRANDMASTER and FLYING SWORDS) and the not-too-bad LOVE IN SPACE teaser that also hit the web this week, it seems that the art of trailer is now being appreciated in Chinese cinema. A executive at Polybona (who’s releasing the Tsui Hark film) says that trailers used to be just about three things: introducing the main talents, introducing the film’s genre, and introducing the film’s release date. Now, a film will release multiple trailers - a teaser, a final trailer, and sometimes one more in between - as part of their extended promotional campaigns.

To be honest, I really was impressed by these new trailers. It’s not because they make the films look good (some do, some don’t), but rather because it seems like film companies here finally recognize the value of well-made trailers. Due to resources and other unknown reasons, Hong Kong trailers tend to be put together very sloppily without much sense of storytelling. Instead, they simply serve the points of showing cool moments/dialogue and introducing the stars. As a result, you have trailers that literally tells you nothing about the film except the people in it. The last really great Hong Kong trailer I can remember is ISABELLA. Yes, it may have something to do with me being a Pang Ho-Cheung fan, but the trailer makes me want to watch the film again whenever I see it. Not only do the song and the visuals effectively establish the tone of the film; the dialogue actually gives you an idea what the story is about for once. Once you’ve sat through it, you want to see more of it. THAT’S what a good trailer is about.

What do the LOVE IN SPACE, FLYING SWORDS, and GRANDMASTER trailers have in common? None of them tells you what the story will be, but all three of them give you a taste of the tone of the film instead of just the selling point of the film. Not only are they clear about the tone they want to strike with audiences, they also work as well-edited pieces of video in their own right.

Of course, there’s also the issue of really good trailers leading to really bad films (MR. AND MRS. INCREDIBLE, anyone?), but that’s not something we’ll talk about here.

Two other trailers hit the web this week: Wong Jing’s TREASURE HUNT (Starring Cecilia Tse Cheung, Ronald Cheng, and Lucas Tse), and the new TVB/Shaw Brothers production FORTUNE BUDDIES. They open in Hong Kong on August 18th and August 11th, respectively.

And if you’ve read this far, here’s a little reward for you.

- Back to Hong Kong news, Juno Mak picked up the Best Actor award at the Puchon Fantastic Film Festival for REVENGE: A LOVE STORY. I’ll let Film Business Asia pick up the rest later on.

- With the announcement of the Venice Film Festival line-up coming this week, Sina speculates which Chinese-language films has a chance of getting in. For strictly Mainland China, we have Zhang Yimou’s NANJING HEROES and THE SORCERER AND THE WHITE SNAKE. Ann Hui’s A SIMPLE LIFE may end up representing Hong Kong/China. There’s word that Taiwan’s mega-budget SEEDIQ BALE is a shoo-in.

Also, the report updates the production statuses of several high-profile director’s latest: Wang Quan’an’s latest film just started the scoring process and is nowhere near completion. Lu Chuan’s LAST SUPPER is still in production. LIFE IN PRINCIPLE recently just began reshoots. Wang Shaoshuai already said his latest film will go to a very reputable film festival that doesn’t have an official competition (report guesses Toronto).

And now, I read Weibo so you don’t have to:

- Dante Lam writes that he’s already cut a one-minute long trailer for THE VIRAL FACTOR. The action film literally just wrapped shooting and is aiming for a Lunar New Year release.

- Wong Jing writes that the Nicholas Tse letter to Cecilia Cheung floating around the internet has to be fake because Nic’s Chinese is just OK, and that he would write such a letter in English, not Chinese.

- Yang Zi, the director of CHASE OUR LOVE and executive producer of THE SORCERER AND THE WHITE SNAKE, unveiled a new musical to star Eva Huang (rumored to be….well, I don’t have to say it). Hong Kong director Lee Lik Chi was also at the press conference, but he’s not the director. He was apparently just there.

Next time: Finally we’ll look at how one Chinese new report analyzes why BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL flopped, and maybe the in-depth story about REST ON YOUR SHOULDER. It depends how much sleep we get here.

Sources:

M1905.com
Sina 1
Sina 2
Sina 3

The Golden Rock - The Internal Memo Edition

Everyone thinks of China Film Group’s BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL as THE film celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party, but that is actually not true. In the month of July, three more films have been released in Chinese cinemas under the 90th anniversary celebration banner.

WENTIAN is a film by the notoriously patriotic August 1st Studio about the Chinese space program. GUO MING YI is a biopic chronicling 16 years in the life of a devoted party member who is presented as the modern Lei Feng. YANG SHAN ZHOU is another biopic about a party member’s achievements working as the party secretary.

What do these three films have in common? China Film Group is the co-distributor of all three films.

This afternoon, a self-proclaimed film industry insider (who is obviously remaining anonymous, but with over 6,000 followers, obviously influential) posted pages of an internal memo from a cinema chain in China on Weibo:

memo-1.jpg

memo-2.jpg

memo-3.jpg

Of course, I’m not going to translate the whole thing, but here are the essential points

1) 6 (possibly governmental) committees have issued a memo about organizing party members to watch WEN TIAN,  YANG SHAN ZHOU, and GUO MING YI. The essential goal of the memo is to make sure these three “recommended, excellent films” are properly distributed, and to do so with “principles that break the usual methods, but don’t violate the rules”. The memo not only said that admissions for these films can be paid with party and union fees, it also said that these films can be watched together with, and I quote, “imported films such as TRANSFORMERS 3, HARRY POTTER, and THE SMURFS”.

2) Here’s the fun part, so guess what? I’ll just let the memo do the talking:

“The screening period of the party 90th anniversary films coincides with the screening of popular import films TRANSFORMERS 3 and HARRY POTTER 7 (part 2). These two films have two points in common: they’re both major 3D, IMAX films, and they’re both the last film in their respective series. As a sort of a farewell, these films are expected to attract more audiences than usual. Attempts can be made to screen these together with the three excellent recommended films in order to get results that may not be achieve through the usual methods.”

Yes, what this memo is saying is that theaters should try double features, doubling TRANSFORMERS and HARRY POTTER up with one of the three “excellent recommended” films. The memo then details the rules - two tickets must be printed (one for each film), the ticket price for both films cannot be higher than the ticket price for a single film, each film’s share of the price cannot be lower than the mandatory minimum ticket price, the second film MUST screen as long as the audience is still there, and of course, NO REFUNDS.

Now, in consideration of the audiences’ energy, the memo also suggests that the two screenings can be at separate times, meaning the two films will be sold as “group tickets”. The rules about ticket prices and no refund still applies, but this means audiences don’t have to sit around for two films on the same day.

Here’s another part that needs to be quoted:

“The ‘Double Features’ and ‘Group Tickets’ methods of sale are absolutely approved by most audiences, because economically, the audience receive savings from them. However, the possibility of individuals expressing doubts cannot be eliminated. As a result, cinema chains and cinemas (especially managerial and those working at the foundation level) must be honest, and take notice:

1) When cinemas promote “Double Features” and “Group Tickets”, refrain from using the phrases ‘combined selling’, ’sell one get one free’, ‘buy XXX and get XXX for free’, ‘mixed sale’, or other phrases that may cause conflicts or be too promotional in nature. Instead, use neutral phrases like ‘discounted ticket price’, ’steps to benefit the people’, ’sincere recommendation’.

2) When facing provocative ‘questions’ and ‘doubts’, hold to the principle of avoiding direct confrontation. Try hard to not respond directly, emphasizing instead the cinemas’ efforts to promote a variety of choices to consumers with different sale tactics, and that this is a way to explore new ways of promotion for the cinema”

The memo even suggests ways for the cinemas to defend their action, such as saying that cinemas have a responsibility to show “excellent Chinese films”, that such tactics is to make sure both local and imported films both make profits, and my favorite, mental support to help create a “socialist and harmonized society”.

Later, a reporter for Sina Entertainment news wrote a story about the memo and captured a photo uploaded on weibo by a netizen:

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The photo shows that this audience member bought a ticket to TRANSFORMERS 3 and received two tickets - one for TRANSFORMERS and one for YANG SHAN ZHOU. The employee even told the netizen that he doesn’t need to watch the second film. The ticket prices for the two tickets: 60 yuan for YANG SHAN ZHOU, and 20 yuan for TRANSFORMERS.

This means that 60 yuan will go to YANG SHAN ZHOU’s box office (to be split by distributors, cinemas, and production companies), while 20 yuan will be split by the same parties for TRANSFORMERS. Yes, that’s another form of box office gouging.

Of course, there’s no official confirmation that the memo or the ticket photo are actually true. The memo doesn’t have any official seals on it, which means it’s not an officially approved memo. The cinema chain’s name is also in the content, with no letterhead on them. With a specific Shanghai-based cinema chain named, this memo may only be applied to one of the many cinema chains in China. The Sina reporter’s inquiry to Paramount AND China Film Group have gone unanswered.  So these are all points of doubt, but if this is true, this is going to be VERY BAD for China Film Group, August 1st Studio, and these so-called “mainstream films” in the future.

For the record: TRANFORMERS just broke the record for the best opening day in China ever with 91.2 million yuan. GUO MING YI made only 200,000 yuan in its first three days from only 441 shows, and WEN TIAN has only made 1.75 million yuan after 17 days.

Back to normal news in the next entry.

Sources:

Sina
Weibo

The Golden Rock - July 20, 2011 Edition

Today’s focus will be this week’s Chinese box office:

- As expected, WU XIA tops another week at the Chinese box office, adding an extra 52 million yuan to its take. After 14 days, Peter Chan’s action flick has taken in 152 million yuan. Yes, topping the box office for two weeks is good news, but its box office pattern is almost exactly the same as THE LOST BLADESMAN, which topped out at 160 million yuan. For a film that cost a reported 120 million yuan to produce, having only 27.2 admissions per show in its second week is not good news. Normally, the film would make about 200 million yuan at its current rate, but with TRANSFORMERS pretty much swallowing up all the screens this weekend, WU XIA will definitely not be hitting that number. Now, We Pictures will have to look to overseas sale and box office in the rest of Asia (it opens this weekend in Singapore, Malaysia, and Taiwan - all major Chinese-speaking territories) for success.

Meanwhile, MYSTERIOUS ISLAND continues its surprisingly successful run, making 41.3 million yuan over its first full week at the box office with 29.09 admissions per show. After 10 days, it has already made 65.6 million yuan, which is amazing for a film that reportedly cost only 5 million yuan to produce.  It’s likely to top out at around 75-80 million yuan, again due to TRANSFORMERS killing all competition this weekend.

Elsewhere, A LEGEND OF A RABBIT managed to make 12.1 million yuan over 7 days from 20,000 showings and 3D prices. With just 16.45 admissions per showing, it seems like Chinese animation still has a long way to go (more in a future entry). Milkyway’s PUNISHED (shown in edited form in China) makes just 6 million yuan over 6 days, and Simon Yam’s heist comedy COMING BACK makes just 4.75 million yuan over 3 days. Wong Jing’s TREASURE INN was at 96 million yuan by the end of this past weekend, which means it should end with just over 100 million yuan to become one of the highest-grossing Chinese films of the year so far.

For those that still care, BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL is at 362 million yuan after 33 days. It still has a strong per-show admission of 29.5, but let’s face it, how many of those admissions are voluntary, and how many of those people that bought tickets actually showed up? Still way below FOUNDING OF A REPUBLIC, so while it’s the highest-grossing Chinese film of the year, I think we can chalk it up as a disappointment now.

And for those that actually cared in the first place, HARRY POTTER will be opening in China on August 4th.

- Since we’re on box office, Studio Ghibli’s latest KOKURIKOZAKA KARA, by Goro Miyazaki, only mustered a third place opening behind HARRY POTTER and the latest POKEMON film. Ghibli films have a history of having staying power at the box office, but I think Goro might not be feeling so good right now.

- It’s pretty much TRANSFORMERS day over there in China, as the film officially premiered at midnight July 21st. Expectations are high, as multiplexes are taking down as many as 10 films to clear the way for the robot fightin’ blockbuster. Those films include REVIVAL, KUNG FU PANDA 2,  FAST FIVE, TO LOVE OR NOT, and ANIMALS UNITED. The films that remain - WU XIA, LEGEND OF A RABBIT, PIANO IN A FACTOR - are all only getting two to three showings per day.

According to a post of weibo, Beijing has the film in 68 cinemas for a total of 1380 shows on July 21 alone. How’s that for a foreign invasion?

Speaking of Weibo, people are literally live weibo-ing from their showings. Now, that’s how you trend.

Demand is so high that cinemas are reporting packed midnight showings and IMAX prices jumping up to 150-180 yuan per ticket. Some cinemas said they will even add 3 am IMAX showings if the demand calls for it.

However, on the eve of its opening, some digital projection-equipped cinemas are reporting that they still haven’t gotten the encryption key to download their digital prints, even though the film has been available for exhibitors to download since Monday. Netizens began screaming conspiracy right away, wondering if higher powers are meddling. However, insiders have pointed out that this is actually not the first time theaters didn’t get their encryption key in time, and that this is simply getting so much attention because the film happens to be TRANSFORMERS. Those insiders say that this actually points out that the Chinese film industry is developing so rapidly that cinemas are not prepared in terms of handling the technology. From my experiences in Urumqi cinemas, I can say that’s probably true.

- Zhou Dongyu update: See UNDER THE HAWTHORN TREE’s Zhou Dongyu and Aarif Lee on the set of the Barbara Wong tearjerker in Shanghai. Yes, I’m only posting this because I’m a fan of Zhou Dongyu.

- Full-length trailer for THE LIFE OF DAVID, starring Huang Bo as a fried rice-loving mentally challenged man. The film’s poster is already promoting this as the Chinese version of FORREST GUMP, and it certainly looks like it. The film opens in China on July 28th. Whether there’ll be screens playing it is a different story.

If you’re in Hong Kong, the Summer International Film Festival website is now open. Taiwan’s YOU ARE THE APPLE OF MY EYE is opening film, while Woody Allen’s MIDNIGHT IN PARIS will close. Tickets go on sale July 22nd.

And if you’re in China, go celebrate the return of foreign films with some robot fightin’

Sources:

Entgroup
Mtime 
Nikkan Sports
Sina 1
Sina 2

The Golden Rock - July 18, 2011 Edition

- It happens every quarter - Chinese box office rises to new heights, making big money, blah blah blah. However, an Mtime article looks deeper into the numbers and looks at certain problems that still exist in the Chinese film industry.

Here are the statistics: In the first six months of 2011, 103 films were released in China - 74 Chinese films (14 of them co-productions) and 29 imports (*gasp* I thought they allow only 20 all year! No, 3D films are exempt). 18 of those films passed the RMB 100 million mark (the psychological barrier of success in Chinese box office). Total box office was RMB 5.698 billion, with the 74 Chinese films grossing a total of RMB 2.932 billion for an average of RMB 39.62 million per film.

The 29 imported films, meanwhile, grossed a total RMB 2.766 billion for an average of RMB 95.37 million per film. While no Chinese films broke any box office records this year (no, not even BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL), KUNG FU PANDA 2 shattered the highest-grossing animated film record with RMB 600 million at the box office.

However, there were still a few surprises on the Chinese side, as BUDDHA MOUNTAIN managed to gross RMB 70 million - not bad for a small-scale drama. MY OWN SWORDSMAN, based on the successful 100-episode sitcom, grossed more than RMB 189.6 million during Lunar New Year, and TV-based romance ETERNAL MOMENT made RMB 196.3 million on a budget of only RMB 30 million. Even DON’T GO BREAKING MY HEART, Johnnie To’s first foray into the Mainland film market, surprised many with RMB 96.2 million at the box office.

On the other hand, big-budget period films seem to be hitting fatigue. LOST BLADESMAN opened RMB 102 million, but topped out at just RMB 159.7 million. WARRING STATES cost a reported RMB 150 million, but made only RMB 77 million. WIlson Yip’s A CHINESE GHOST STORY opened with RMB 73 million, but stopped at RMB 140 million. Even SHAOLIN, which is the second-highest grossing Chinese film of the year at RMB 216 million, can be considered a disappointment because it cost a reported RMB 200 million to make.

Here’s the big lesson that China can learn here:

Audiences want new topics/new genres, and they don’t always cost money:

Traditionally successful genres like the period epic is beginning to lose its appeal. 4 years ago, when THE WARLORDS made RMB 200 million, it was impressive because there were no AFTERSHOCK’s and LET THE BULLET FLY’s. BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS stood apart because the story structure and production values mirrored Hollywood’s.

Now, people aren’t impressed by Donnie Yen action and big battle scenes anymore. If they want special effects spectacle, they can turn to Hollywood. When it comes to local films, they want spectacle, but with a human side. They want smarter films that really use their stars to their full extent. They want stories that they can relate to. MY OWN SWORDSMAN not only had its TV audience, it was also full of modern, local humor. ETERNAL MOMENT brought in adult audiences who watched the drama when they were young. BUDDHA MOUNTAIN was a prestige arthouse flick with issues and characters they recognize. GO LALA GO brought in audiences who read the book and related to the office politics issues (though the film didn’t deliver) And all of these films didn’t even cost as much as SHAOLIN combined.

Be careful, bank slowly:

When GO LALA GO and SOPHIE’S REVENGE were successful, investors started piling up on urban romance films. WHAT WOMEN WANT, COLOR ME LOVE, YOU DESERVE TO BE SINGLE, LOVE IN COSMO all appeared and flopped. There are so many production companies these days that when one trend begins to get popular, all these new companies jump in to make their own copycat, and then the genre quickly fizzles. TO LOVE OR NOT is already lining up to flop.

Remember, Hollywood films make money because they’re big, but Chinese films can make money if they’re good:

LET THE BULLETS FLY sold Jiang Wen, fast-talking punch lines, and a smart, twisty story. Audiences like to feel smart, which means Chinese filmmakers can’t assume that a low-brow comedy like CHASE OUR LOVE is going to bring the audience just because there’s stars. As much as I didn’t like AFTERSHOCK, I can see how people can be touched by the melodrama. Even AVATAR didn’t just bring people in because of the spectacle (those are for front-loaded films). People were involved in the story and the thematic issues it raised. I wouldn’t be surprised if those netizen talk about the parallel of the human’s actions in AVATAR and the forced removal of residents in redeveloping areas actually helped drove the film’s box office.

And God help you if your movie sucks:

The producers of LOST BLADESMAN and WARRING STATES believed that their movies were so good that they were convinced their low Douban scores (5.1 and 4.1, respectively) must’ve been the work of saboteurs. So they offered a reward for netizens who find the culprits that intentionally dragged the scores down. Problem is that people really did think their movies sucked, and the front-loaded box office performances reflected that. The companies were dragged through the mud by netizens who joked about turning themselves in for the reward, and now they’re the butt of jokes within the film industry.

Douban and Mtime are a few of the rare places in China where people’s opinions are actually reflected. You can see it in the star breakdowns and the average score (they don’t always add up, so look at both). Yes, there’s always ringers sent by film companies (they’re easy to find - they write a long review for a particular movie, but hasn’t actually rated much films before), but it still reflects the people’s opinions. This isn’t some niche film geek internet film community we’re talking about here, either, and crossing them will not do your movie any good.

Don’t gamble. Remember how much you really need to make money on a movie

As I wrote in the last post, investors have to be careful when they think about how much money they really have to make at the box office to break even. REST ON YOUR SHOULDERS cost RMB 70 million to make, but with advertising, prints, and giving cinema owners taking away revenue, the production company said they’d need to make RMB 200 million just to break even. It applies to Hollywood, and it certainly applies to China.

Oversea sale prices are based on how much money the foreign distributor can make on a film they buy, and let’s face it, Chinese films do not make bank overseas unless your name is John Woo, or you have a leading man named Donnie Yen or Jackie Chan (double the chances if you have both, but your movie will cost twice as much!).

The problem is that right now, investors are gambling on how much they predict overall box office will be when the film is released without looking far ahead enough on box ofice trends. When SHAOLIN went into production, the trend at the time probably suggested they will rise the wave of rising box office and do BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS numbers. That didn’t happen.Does that mean the period epic genre is completely dead in the water now? Not exactly:

Tentpoles. Make them events.

People got tired of martial arts epics because there’s a big one every other month. People are getting tired of comic book movies in America because there’s one every big release slot (in 3D, no less). The less you make, the more special they are. Then again, the big production companies are not going to sit together and hammer out release plans together, because then, what fun would a free market be?

Of course, then there’s the issue of ticket prices, who really goes to the movies (hint: not many people, but they go to movies a lot), and what China can do to break the international market, but that’s another story for another time.

And now, more news:

- Speaking of box office, TRANSFORMERS 3 will be opening in China in 4 days, and presales for midnight showings are reportedly packed already. Ironically, insiders are predicting the film may have a chance at hitting RMB 800 million at the box office. Haw, haw.

- The 2011 Summer Edition of the Youku Film and Television Awards were held this past weekend, and Gu Changwei’s LOVE FOR LIFE picked up six awards, including Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Film. The Youku index is apparently based on view counts and search queries in Youku to determine which films are the most popular.

Honestly, the awards don’t mean much to me. The news here is Gu Changwei, who said that he would like to restore the missing 50 minutes of his first cut and release a director’s cut in the future. He said that they will have to be properly mixed and that he would likely change the Chinese title back to his original title if he ever gets it done. He’s not promising anything yet, but I, for one, would watch that cut.

- Chinese film media are buzzing about Wong Kar Wai showing up at the hip Sanlitun District in Beijing recently. Reporters followed him into a cinema, and Wong went into a closely guarded auditorium. The media talked to audiences, who revealed that they saw a one-minute teaser for THE GRANDMASTER, starring Tony Leung.

The reporter called Sil-Metropole, who confirmed that the teaser for GRANDMASTER will be attached to TRANSFORMERS prints in China this coming week, and that WKW went to the cinema himself to see how the teaser plays on the big screen. It still won’t get me to go watch TRANSFORMERS again, though.

Does that mean THE GRANDMASTER is done? None of the reports say, though they speculate that it’s possible since WKW looked “relaxed”. I wouldn’t assume that it is, though. It’s just a teaser.

- Last, but not least, Emperor Films CEO Albert Lee announced on his weibo that action director/actor Ailen Sit passed away today. Sit has worked on films with Stanley Tong, Jackie Chan, and Jingle Ma on films like TOKYO RAIDERS, CHINA STRIKE FORCE, and SUPERCOP. His final film is LET THE BULLETS FLY. As Boss Kozo tweeted earlier, you can find his HKMDB page here.

Sources:

Mtime 1 
Mtime 2
Sina 1
Sina 2
Sina 3

The Golden Rock - July 15, 2011 Edition

- Today’s focus story goes back to the “box office gouging” story popping up on the internet recently about BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL. However, it seems like not many people (including the western press) know that this isn’t the first time it’s happened. An article in a lifestyle site has analyzed the trend, so here’s what they find, plus a little bit of my own insights:

On the opening day of WU XIA, some netizens reported that they were getting printed tickets for BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL when they bought tickets for other movies. This so-called “box office gouging” has reportedly happened in a few cities, but no one knows the full extent of the practice. However, the CEO of Stellar Megamedia, a co-investor of Peter Chan’s WU XIA, said that the effect was actually minimal on its disappointing opening week.

This isn’t the first time box office gouging has been reported. According to the article, the first report of this happening goes all the way back to 2006, when Ann Hui’s THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT made only RMB 5 million, despite good word-of-mouth. The report quotes an “insider” who said that the box office gross for that film was actually split with other films in secret. The “insider” did not say what films they were.

Then, in 2010, CITY OF LIFE AND DEATH director Lu Chuan wrote an angry tweet on his Weibo, describing his anger when he saw a certain male company executive stood up at a meeting of film professionals and proudly proclaimed  “the main-stream has actually made money!”. He angrily wrote that that the box office for that executive’s “main-stream film” was gouged from box office grosses from smaller films. Of course, Lu did not write what film, what executive, or what company.

The last time such box office gouging happened was in December 2010, when audiences at one multiplex in China reported over the course of two days that they got printed tickets to Chen Kaige’s SACRIFICE when they wanted tickets to MY NAME IS NOBODY. That was probably the first actual recorded case of box office gouging by netizens, but rumor of such practice goes back as far as 2005, when there were rumors of KUNG FU HUSTLE’s box office gross being gouged by Huayi Brothers’ A WORLD WITHOUT THIEVES.

Of course, the first party everybody blames is either the production company or the distributor (or in the case of REVIVAL, the government!). However, there are actually many parties on each film that benefit from a film’s success. The report directly points its finger to cinema owners.  Typically, a Chinese film’s box office gross is shared by three parties - the cinema owners, the distributor, and the production company. The cinemas take the biggest share at 45-55%, and they can actually negotiate for a bigger piece of the pie if the film is a bigger release.

Now, let’s suppose that you’re a cinema owner that will be getting, say, a 55% of the gross for, say, BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL. China Film Group tells you that they’re targeting a gross of RMB 800 million for the film, which means you’ll be picking up RMB440 million of that gross. So you line it up in your biggest auditoriums, give it half your total shows, expecting your local party members to show up and buy lots of drinks and popcorn.

Now suppose the film under performs.

As of Monday, July 11, BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL has made only RMB 348 million, which is not only a ways to go before matching the gross of predecessor FOUNDING OF A REPUBLIC, but also a LONG way to go from the RMB 800 million target. If you find yourself only getting RMB 170 million out of the RMB 400 million you were promised from a film that’s giving you a higher percentage of the box office gross than other films that’s taking up your auditoriums now, what would you do?

The report goes to point out that it’s virtually impossible right now for Chinese production companies to send people out to monitor these practices because there are far too many cinemas in China (remember, it’s a big country, with lots of people). Also, the government has essentially bought into this ideology called free market and hasn’t done anything to monitor the practices of its film industry because of its rapid growth. The communication scholar quoted in the article essentially blames the government for not doing anything to crack down on dubious business practices in the film industry. Because seriously, who the hell would trust people to have a conscience or business ethics, right?

Of course, we’ll never know who is really behind these box office gouging practices, but I wouldn’t start pointing fingers immediately at China Film Group or the government just because one of the accused films happens to be a propaganda film celebrating the communist party’s 90th anniversary. Of course, they’re an easy target, but can China Film Group really send out a memo out to theaters all across China telling them to boost box office? And since we’re talking about the government being the puppet master here, why would they need to bother printing out fake tickets when they can simply get the numbers rigged?

Anyway, with netizens proving to be a more powerful monitor than any team sanctioned by production companies (WU XIA’s distributor immediately offered a cash reward for those who report box office gouging of their film, and they said they already allotted RMB 5000 - 1000 for each case), it’s not likely this type of behavior will become regular behavior.

HOWEVER, let me remind you that there are many shady practices in the film industry, including China’s, as well as its media. Hell, the report that I based this focus story on apparently literally steals portions from an older story (and maybe so on and so forth). There’s a possibility that we’re all being taken for a ride by PR firms, publicists, film distributors, media outlets, and even cinema owners. Right now, not even Peter Chan is willing to comment anything specific about possiblity of such practices, except he did say that he always found film distribution “very shady”. So, keep an open mind and just watch how things develop down the road.

- Some more Facebook pages of Hong Kong movies have opened:

Dante Lam’s big-budget actioner THE VIRAL FACTOR stars Nicholas Tse, Jay Chou, and Andy On. The film recently wrapped its shoot in Malaysia, and it’s not clear whether Lam will be shooting more in Hong Kong. The film’s shoot, unfortunately, has been on the news everyday due to the media’s coverage of the Nicholas Tse-Cecilia Cheung divorce. The film has yet to lock down a release date.

Wing Shya and Tony Chan’s LOVE IN SPACE is their follow-up to HOT SUMMER DAYS. Like SUMMER, the film will follow multiple love stories, and it stars Rene Liu, Aaron Kwok, Eason Chan, Guey Lun Mei, Angelababy, and Jing Boran. The 20th Century Fox production opens September 9th in China (and likely Hong Kong as well)

- Peter Chan and Takeshi Kaneshiro attended a promotional event for WU XIA in Beijing, and the film’s distributor released a deleted scene from the film online. The scene shows Takeshi Kaneshiro’s mental alter ego sparring with his investigator, played by Jiang Wu. The scene is amusing, but I can understand why it was cut from the film.

- In March, Huayi Brothers revealed a series of upcoming films called Plan H, including DETECTIVE DEE 2, YANG FAMILY, and Stephen Fung’s TAICHI (currently in production). Now, WINDS OF SEPTEMBER director Tom Lin’s STAR, starring Harlem Yu, Rene Liu and Xu Jiao CJ7), has locked down a November 4th release date. According to the news report, the film will be released day-and-date in Asia and North America. China Lion has a distribution deal with Huayi, so it’s not surprising that it will go to the states, but I have my doubts about Asia.

Another Plan H film getting ready to start production. Doze Niu (MONGA) is beginning a “test shoot” for his latest film LOVE, starring Shu Qi, Ethan Ruan, Mark Chao, and one more actress. While reports indicate that Vicki Zhao will be replacing Zhou Xun on the film, not even the media is willing to lock down who will be playing that fourth role.

And now, I read Weibo so you don’t have to:

- Musician Ah Niu, who made his directorial debut with ICE KAKANG PUPPY LOVE, has announced that his second film will be THE GOLDEN COUPLE. I imagine more info will come in a few days.

- Director Pang Ho-Cheung said that production has officially began on his LOVE IN A PUFF sequel, which is rumored to be called LOVE IN A BUFF

- Hong Kong producer Ng Kin Hung (GIRL$, HI, FIDELITY, the upcoming LAN KWAI FONG) is currently recruiting for his upcoming project about indie rock bands. Here’s the poster:

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- And to end the week on a high note: Actor Ronald Cheng has returned to the set of Wong Jing’s latest film after his wife gave birth to his baby daughter. Chapman To apparently attempted to console Ronald being separated away from his newborn baby, and this is the result:

 

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Next time: Why BEGINNING OF GREAT REVIVAL under performed, reading between the lines of China’s box office report, directors insisting their 3D movie really is 3D, and maybe some Korea/Japan news finally. Have a good weekend.

 

Sources:

China Times
ent.163.com
Film Business Asia
Lifestyle.com.cn
Mtime
Sina News

Yahoo News

The Golden Rock - July 13, 2011 Edition

Pushing the cheap Hong Kong summer focus story to the next entry so we can cover more detail about Chinese box office this past weekend:

- According to numbers from Entgroup, Peter Chan’s WUXIA made RMB 101 million in its first 7 days. On paper, this seems like a nice number, but it’s actually not a very good gross if you look at the details. In the first seven days, the film had 82013 shows for a total of 2.97 million admissions for the first seven days. In comparison, THE LOST BLADESMAN had 2.98 million admissions from 78966 shows in the first six days. In terms of admissions per show, WU XIA is doing worse than LOST BLADESMAN, and with word of mouth in China reportedly split down the middle, WU XIA may end up grossing under RMB 200 million. This would be considered a major disappointment, considering WARLORDS did this kind of number four years ago, when RMB 200 million was still impressive. As mentioned in the previous entry, the CEO of Stellar Megamedia is disappointed with the gross, but emphasized that the film will eventually find its way to profitability thanks to strong rights sales overseas. As reported in the last entry, Stellar’s CEO also believes that the current “box office gouging” scandal is not believed to be a major factor for WU XIA’s gross, stating that the week’s total box office was weak in general.

The other big surprise on the box office chart is MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, the horror film directed by Chung Kai-Cheung and starring Jordan Chan.  The film made a shocking RMB 24.3 million in its first three days, with 771859 admissions from just 18576 showings for a per-show average of 41.55 admissions (yes, that even beat WU XIA). With this and the success of MIDNIGHT BEATING, this is sparking off a new appreciation in the film industry for low-budget horror flicks, which is surprisingly in line with the way horror films are perceived in Hollywood as well.

Elsewhere on the chart, BEGINNING OF GREAT REVIVAL is taking is sharp dive, now with a total gross of RMB 348 million. With a 32.9 admissions-per-show average, it seems like there is still an audience for the film. However, it’s definitely under performing when China Film Group projections and comparison to FOUNDING OF A REPUBLIC’s gross are factored in.

REST ON YOUR SHOULDER, the fantasy film from Jacob Cheung starring Aloys Chen, Gigi Leung, and Guey Lun Mei, was dead on arrival over the weekend. It only made RMB 6.8 million in its first three days, with 204178 admissions from 12744 shows. That’s a per-show average of just 16 admissions. The distributor said before release that the RMB 60 million film will need to make RMB 200 million to recuperate cost, and that’s definitely not happening now.

Wong Jing’s TREASURE INN now takes a steady dive with a total of RMB 81 million in the bank, but it’ll likely hit the RMB 100 million mark by the end of its run. With LEGEND OF A RABBIT opening this week, KUNG FU PANDA 2 has probably just spent its final week in the top 10. It has made an amazing RMB 608 million in 44 days.

In addition to A LEGEND OF A RABBIT, this week also sees the release of PUNISHED (in edited for China form), Taiwan’s NIGHT MARKET HERO, the heist comedy COMING BACK (with Simon Yam), the adult romance TO LOVE OR NOT, animated film THE TIBETAN DOG, and film festival favorite PIANO IN A FACTORY. In other words, films taking screens away from WU XIA, REST ON YOUR SHOULDER, and BEGINNING OF A GREAT REVIVAL, so next week should be interesting.

- Speaking of Chinese box office, total box office gross in the second quarter of 2011 has gone up 47%. Four Hollywood blockbusters - THOR, FAST GIVE, KUNG FU PANDA 2, and PIRATES 4 - took up 50% of the RMB 2.8 billion total. Meanwhile, China had LOST BLADESMAN, A CHINESE GHOST STORY, BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL, and even DON’T GO BREAKING MY HEART helping to boost local films as well.

According to SARFT, this brings the half-year’s total box office to RMB 5.7 billion. Impressive.

- In more WU XIA news, Hong Kong censorship body TELA has rated WU XIA, and here’s what they wrote:

WUXIA line
Classification:     Category IIB Category IIB
Director:     Peter Ho-Sun Chan
Language of dialogue:     Putonghua
Language of subtitle:     Chinese & English
Duration:     116 min
Remarks:     Contains strong violence and shocking scenes

According to Australian cinema websites. the version playing there now also runs 116 minutes, one minute shorter than the length reported in China. So this may be the “international cut” being referred to on the internet.

Production news:

Facebook pages have been opened for two films currently in production:

- The Raymond Wong-produced, Wilson Yip-directed comedy is now called MAGIC TO WIN. According to the Hong Kong Film blog, this is Raymond Wong’s remake of his successful HAPPY GHOST series. Due to SARFT rules, Wong was forced to change the ghost part to magic/wizardry. The film stars Louis Koo, Wu Chun, Raymond Wong, and Jing Boran. The film will open in China on December 1.

- The other film just starting production is NIGHTFALL, the latest film from the Roy Chow-Christine To duo. The two last brought you MURDERER (whoo-freakin’-hoo). The film is a crime thriller starring Nick Cheung, Simon Yam, Michael Wong, Janice Man, Kay Tse, and UNDER THE HAWTHORN TREE’s Sean Dou. Cheung reportedly buffed up for his role of a criminal, and Simon Yam earlier referred to this film as MURDERER 2.

- No Facebook page, but it’s been confirmed that Pang Ho-Cheung’s first Mainland-produced feature film will be released in August. LACUNA is part of Pang’s “4+1″ project, with the four being the four short films produced by Samsung China and Sina that were released on the web (which included NAIL CLIPPER MONSTER, starring Zhou Xun). LACUNA was directed by Derek Tsang and Jimmy Wan, and it stars Shawn Yue and Zhang Jingchu as two people who woke up after a night of heavy drinking. Together, they trace back to their wild night together and find love in the process. Yes, I know it sounds like THE HANGOVER in China.

- According to Oriental Daily (no link!) , director/screenwriter team Mabel Cheung and Alex Law (AN AUTUMN’S TALE, THE SOONG SISTERS) are planning to make TRACES OF DRAGON, a love story that takes place in the 40s and 50s, and they have asked Nicholas Tse to star. However, no decision on the production will be made until they get a response from Tse’s side.

And now, I read Weibo so you don’t have to:

- Anthony Wong writes on his Weibo: “Hong Kong films must be seen in Hong Kong. It’s like going to Broadway to see a musical. The genuine thing”. On that note, PUNISHED opens in China tomorrow in edited form.

-  According to an unidentified source, Zhang Yimou’s NANJING HEROES may be ready for Venice at its current pace, and that it may get a week-long release in Mainland China in September (assuming to get qualified for the Academy Awards). This is just rumor on Weibo from what may not be a reliable source, so take it with a grain of salt.

- CHRISTMAS IN AUGUST and ONE FINE SPRING DAY director Hur Jin-Ho has joined Weibo. Funny, I’m following him, but not Emma Watson.

Next time: A low-budget Hong Kong summer, and whatever we can get our hands on.

Sources:

Entgroup 1
Entgroup 2
Entgroup 3
Mtimes
Film Business Asia

The Golden Rock - July 11, 2011 Edition

- Before getting into the focus story today, Sina News just posted a story about WU XIA’s box office in China:

According to the story, the film only made RMB 92 million in the seven days, which co-investor Stellar Megamedia’s CEO admits to being disappointed by. However, he also points out that the film already took up 50% of total box office gross in China this past week, which means that people just aren’t going to movies. He also believes that the recent box office gouging scandal has only minimal impact (more on that later), and that there are bigger factors at play here.

We Pictures marketing head Mr. Lu also admits to being disappointed with the gross, especially its weekend gross. He says total box office in July so far is “outrageously low” compared to the same time last year. However, Lu also says that with overseas sale, the film will eventually find its way to profitability. More analysis of WU XIA’s box office when figures come out in a day or two.

- Today’s focus story is on internet distribution for films in China. In January 2011, LET THE BULLETS FLY premiered on Chinese video sites such as Youku, Tudou, and others, on an on-demand basis. Essentially, the idea is that you pay RMB 5, and you can watch the film as many times as you’d like within 48 hours. The film was viewed over 200,000 times in 20 days, grossing over RMB 1 million.

With legitimate DVD cost continuing to rise and piracy still rampant, this is the new way of film distribution in China. Basically, a film typically lands on these video sites about a month after their theatrical release. After a paid VIP Zone window, which allows members to watch the film in HD for a small premium, the film becomes free for all members. As of today, A BEAUTIFUL LIFE, NO. 32  B DISTRICT, and LOVE FOR LIFE can all be seen for free already, some with subtitles and some without. These sites also include a large arsenal of television dramas, including all 30 episodes of NAKED WEDDING (trust me, they’re not naked like the way you think they are), which just premiered on one major Chinese regional network tonight.

Only a year or so ago, films were being uploaded illegally by users mainly on sites like Tudou and Youku. These sites pulled off a major cleanup and began acquiring licenses from content owners, which would make sense considering the amount of advertising these deals can generate. LeTV (the site I frequent the most) is one of the leading video sites in China. Not only has it built up an archive of over 4,000 films, it is also the first company of its kind to be traded on the stock market. In addition to a free iPad app, LeTV also sells an Apple TV-like device that streams its archive of films via the internet to television in HD, and they’re planning to sell 100,000 of these things this year. I saw an ad for it when I was in the cinema this past weekend:

004716533.jpg

Tudou, Youku, and now even CCTV’s movie channel have made mobile apps for easier access to their films.

This is a very similar model to what Apple is doing in the states and Japan with iTunes, opening up more platforms and choices for audiences to watch films legitimately. However, these Chinese film industry is relying on this platform to work more so than the studios in the United States. Due to high ticket prices, cinema going is still considered a luxury for workers who only make about an average of US$500 a month. By making films available at a lower price than pirated DVDs, content owners are taking back any revenue they can in any possible way. As I had predicted earlier, the Chinese film industry is definitely heading towards a bubble situation, but there are things being done to delay that day, and internet distribution is one of them.

However, there are problems that come with this model:

1) There’s no report on the true impact of these technology has on cinema revenue yet, but once there is, cinema owners will not be happy (the previous report about July box office being low may be one of the first signs). Like it or not, cinema revenue is still the best way for films to make money, and on a personal note, I believe that films are made to be seen in cinema. If the cinemas go down, the industry will also be severely impacted in a negative way. The same goes for legitimate video sales. Video publisher already had to resort to releasing inferior DVD-5 versions of Chinese films to make them more affordable, but internet distribution is offering these films at a better video quality for a lower price. With Blu-rays being sold at astronomical prices and DVD sales likely to go way down, the Chinese video market may eventually disappear. As far as I know, there is no legit video rental industry in China at the moment.

2) Rising licensing cost. While smaller films will appreciate that video sites will buy their content, production companies are likely charging more and more for bigger films. One day, these licenses may become so expensive that video sites don’t see the point in shelling out the money for them anymore. The rising cost situation is already happening on the TV drama end, where prices are per episode, not per series.

3) Copyright infringement. LeTV recently filed suit against a manufacturer of a home media center (similar to LeTV’s television box) for allegedly providing access to films that LeTV claims to hold exclusive rights for. The media scene in China is very fragmented right now, with more video sites, television stations, and news outlets than I care to count, which means many different companies sharing content that they might not be permitted of having. This may discourage video sites to pay the big bucks for exclusive rights, or encourage video sites to clamp down harder on enforcing their exclusive rights, as well as extending pay windows. This will have a negative effect on consumers, who may just go back to illegal downloads or buying pirated DVDs.

There are a million directions which internet film distribution in China can go, but I say the more legit ways people have to watch films, the healthier the film industry will be. Sure, a film should be watched in the cinema, but it seems like for now, the masses have spoken, and they say otherwise.

- Following up on the box office gouging story from last week, netizens are still reporting that they’re not getting tickets to films they paid to see. To refresh your memory, audience buys ticket to WU XIA, theater prints a ticket to BEGINNING OF GREAT REVIVAL. Audience watches WU XIA, but money go towards BEGINNING OF GREAT REVIVAL.

Netizens reported last week that this practice is still happening in some cities. The distributor lamented that cinemas are simply saying that their employees made mistakes at the box office and that they can do little more than that. China Film Group continues to deny and decry the practice, while Stellar Media continues its campaign of offering RMB 1000 to each report of box office gouging for WU XIA. Stellar Media says they have already given out RMB 5000, and they have no idea how many more thousands they’ll have to give out.

Weibo reports of gouging have slowed down over the weekend, and I will say that this past weekend, I was given printed tickets for films that I actually bought tickets for, so no RMB 1000 for me.

- TVB/Shaw Brothers’ FORTUNE BUDDIES, spun off from the TVB variety show FUN WITH LIZA AND GODS, completed its 20-day shoot. Star/producer Eric Tsang said the film will only have three days of post-production because it has to go through Mainland censorship before its opening date of August 11th (simultaneous with Hong Kong). This is not the shortest shoot for a Hong Kong film - Johnnie To/Wai Ka Fai’s HELP!! only took 30 days from shooting to hitting cinemas, and director Pang Ho-Cheung shot EXODUS in reportedly 18 days. Go, Hong Kong cinema!

Trailer for FORTUNE BUDDIES here.

And now, today’s edition of WHAT I LEARNED FROM SINA WEIBO:

- Derek “son of Eric” Tsang posted the cover of the script for Pang Ho-Cheung’s reportedly Beijing-set sequel to LOVE IN A PUFF. It revealed two things: the script is co-written by Pang and Hong Kong novelist Lu Yi Xin, and its current English title is LOVE IN A BUFF. No kidding. Tsang wrote that he was heading back to Hong Kong to do a cameo for the film, but the weibo post has since been deleted.

- William Chan (HI, FIDELITY) has signed on for a 3D film called WU XING GONG LUE, a drama about Mongolian wrestlers in the 1960s directed by Casey Chan. According to its Baidu entry, the film is supposed to star Siqin Gaowa, Betty Sun, and Josie Ho, and it was presented at Hong Kong’s Filmart in 2010.

- Donnie Yen says that he personally prefers the Cantonese version of WU XIA, though it may have something to do with the fact that he spoke Cantonese in the film (He was dubbed in the Mandarin version).

- MURDERER director Roy Chow will soon shoot a film starring a buffed up Nick Cheung and (after some research) Simon Yam. Could this be the MURDERER 2 that Simon Yam was referring to? According to this story, Janice Man will also co-star.

Next time, Chinese box office analysis, a busy, low-budget summer in Hong Kong and whatever else we can get our hands on.

The Golden Rock - July 9, 2011 Edition (a.k.a. Crossing the Border, part 2)

 I promise I will open up comments when I’m done cleaning out the spam comments that have built up. Trust me, there’s a lot of them.

Just returned from a trip up to Shenzhen to catch two films. That will be today’s focus:

Crossing the border: A personal guide to cross-border movie watching in Hong Kong and China

As China gets more films before Hong Kong, I found myself having the desire to cross the border to Shenzhen to take advantage of the nice, new multiplexes that have popped up thanks to the burgeoning film industry. The main reason I can do this is because a new multiplex’s online ticketing system allowed me to simply book my seats and pay when I get to the box office. I first took advantage of that with the IMAX version of KUNG FU PANDA 2, which worked wonderfully. Today, I tried it again with two new releases, and I’ll chronicle a bit of the journey here.

Today’s films were REST ON YOUR SHOULDER by Jacob Cheung (CAGEMAN, A BATTLE OF WITS) at 10:25 am and WUXIA by Peter Chan Ho-Sun at 2:55pm, which meant I had to make my way to Shenzhen bright and early at 8 am.

It was eerily coincidental (and totally appropriate) that this song would play on my Pandora Radio on the way up:

img_0287.PNG

90 minutes later, I arrived at Grand Theatre Station and KKMall, where the movie is supposed to be. Just about on time to pick up my tickets, right?

Problem is, the mall didn’t open until 10. So I had to sit outside in the humid summer sun as I waited.

img_0288.JPG

Lucky for me, I walked around the mall from the entrance closest from the subway station to the other side, because I found a Starbucks. No, I didn’t get a cup of coffee, I got something better: free wi-fi. Of course, the problem was that I was behind China’s Great Firewall, which means no twitter, no facebook, and not much use for the iPhone.

I have a VPN set up on my phone because I like to listen to Pandora, and I was able to access my VPN via Starbuck’s free wi-fi, which means I beat the Great Firewall. I consider that my biggest victory against China all year.

The mall opened at 10 am sharp, as people looking to get to the theater and/or out of the heat and into a shop rushed into the mall. I walked up to the theater box office, sure that my reservation had gone to waste. However, the staff nonchalantly collected my money and gave me my tickets. That’s because there were only a grand total of six people in REST ON YOUR SHOULDER. By the way, I actually got the tickets I bought, without any handwriting. Yay, me.

UA KKmall is a new-ish multiplex that opened last year. In addition to the IMAX, it has 6 regular auditoriums and one VIP auditorium. The biggest regular auditorium is only 180 seats (which is where I watched WUXIA), but the screen was nice, big, and wall to wall. Ticket prices are pretty steep if you’re not watching a morning show at RMB70 a piece (that’s about HK$84) for regular and RMB 140 for IMAX, so make sure you’re watching something you REALLY want to watch. That means I am not watching THE DEVIL BESIDE ME with Kelly Lin or TO LOVE OR NOT with Alex Fong, Li Shaoran, and a bathtub.

FYI: tickets are cheaper at the Golden Harvest Shenzhen Cinemas on the other side of the same subway station. It’s also one of the highest-grossing cinemas in China, so you’ll really have to book your tickets early there.  After their site renovation, they now have the same ticketing system as UA KKMall.

Couple of things to watch for when you watch movies in Shenzhen, though:

SUBTITLES: I’ve now watched four Chinese-language films in China, and none of them has English subtitles. Naturally, they’d be in simplified Chinese, so work on your Mandarin comprehension before you go.

GUANGDONG PROVINCE FTW: Even though the government demands films be in standard Mandarin, they have made an exception for Cantonese-speaking regions and allow Cantonese versions of films to play in cinemas there. Be sure to double-check your language version before you buy if you’re dealing with a HK-China co-production.

AUDIENCE: Let’s face it, people in general are getting less and less courteous in the cinema. China is no different. In REST ON YOUR SHOULDER, three people had their cell phones out during the film. Two of them were trying repeatedly to take pictures of Gigi Leung on screen. The other guy answered his phone twice. People will talk to each other, talk back at the movie, and talk to other people on the phone. It can get bad in Hong Kong, but at least you can shush people. There’s no use shushing people in China, because they will talk louder than you shush. That’s the way it is, and you can only hope the government will start making propaganda videos about cinema manners.

And now, the movies. I will only touch on them briefly because they will be reviewed for LoveHKFilm sooner or later (preferably sooner).

REST ON YOUR SHOULDER (Dir: Jacob Cheung, 2011)

rest-on-your-shoulder-2011-1.jpg

REST ON YOUR SHOULDER seemed like it had it all: A pretty cast, a solid director, a score by Joe Hisaishi (spelled Job Hisashi in the credits. No kidding), plenty of special effects (including talking insects), and even a distributor that succumbed to artistic integrity and gave the director his final cut. Problem is REST ON YOUR SHOULDER at its current length is too slow for kids and too whimsical for adults. At 120 minutes, it didn’t have enough magic to make its fantasy elements work, nor was the drama interesting enough to justify its length. It’s ambitious, but it was buried by its own self-importance.

I will cover more later in my review, so now we move on to the star of the show:

wu-xia-cannes1-480×6981.jpg

WU XIA (Director: Peter Chan, 2011)

It has secret societies, dangerous assassins and signature stances….yes, definitely a wuxia film. Like I tweeted, I loved Peter Chan’s latest film. It is his third China film, and it is the most simple in terms of story and character motivations, but yet the most satisfying. There is action, but over 60% of it is a period crime procedural not unlike CSI (except we know who did it). There are ultimately only three action set pieces, but they all serve the story, not the audience.

More in the review, but I want to cover some issues that I will not be covering in the review:

CANTONESE VS MANDARIN: One of the big selling points in China is Kaneshiro Takeshi’s eccentric performance as the nerdy detective, especially the fact that he is speaking in Sichuanese for the entire film. Problem with that is that anyone in Hong Kong and abroad won’t get why that’s amusing (I laughed, but I didn’t know why, either). Also, Donnie and Kara Hui were obviously speaking Cantonese on set (both are dubbed by others in Mandarin), and Kaneshiro seemed to have dubbed himself in Cantonese, if the HK trailer is any indication. So, you will have to make your choice there.

DIFFERENT CUTS: Hollywood Reporter review states that the Cannes version of the film is 110 minutes long. Variety says 116. Film Business Asia says 111. The version I saw is 117. Peter Chan said in interviews that he added more non-action (drama?) scenes in the film and took out some of the CSI computer imagery. Obviously, I’ve never seen the Cannes cut, but Maggie Lee’s criticism of the CGI anatomy stuff getting in the way of the action is all gone, as they only appeared twice in the final fight scene at pivotal moments. The current China version also lacks an explicit shot of ear slicing (shown here in the 8-minute trailer twice), and does run a little slow since Chan said the Cannes cut is paced faster to fit foreign taste. There’s also at least two scenes where Chinese folk songs are used in a humorous way, and I could imagine those playing only in the China cut as well. Apparently the cut playing in Australia now is 116 minutes. Not sure what cut we’ll get in Hong Kong.

I said I was going to keep gushing over this film in the blog, but I think I’ll wait until I get to the review to spill all. Don’t expect another WARLORDS, it’s a fun genre piece, and keeping expectations there will guarantee a good time. I can’t wait to watch it again when it comes out in Hong Kong

That’s it for this one-topic entry.  We’ll get back to our usual news stuff, with Chinese digital distribution, a follow-up on box office gouging, and whatever we can dig up.

Until then, I leave you with this wonderful ad I saw in the cinema today.  Trust me, this got as much laughs as WU XIA’s ending.

 
 
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