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Archive for July, 2011

The Golden Rock - July 7, 2011 Edition

 

- This is an issue that’s been discussed since last year, but it’s still worth throwing it out because it’s an ongoing problem with no solution in sight.

 

Recently, a photo of an alleged list of actors’ pay on PAINTED SKIN 2 was posted on Sina Weibo by a netizen. The list showed that the highest-paid actor of the film is being paid only RMB4 million to be in the film, and award-winning actress Kara Hui is being paid only RMB 300,000 for her role. Hui immediately denied the list on Weibo, because, well…she’s not even in the film. However, one of the producers weibo-ed that the list is about right.

 

Whether the list is true or not, this is a good time to bring up what’s happening in China right now regarding actors’ pay and how it affects Hong Kong cinema. According to a report in Apple Daily last year, Chow Yun Fat is currently the top earner in Chinese cinema now, making RMB 40 million per film. Andy Lau and Donnie Yen are not far behind, with roughly RMB 25 million each. However, Mainland actors continue to get the shaft, with even names like Ge You, Aloys Chen, and Zhou Xun getting less than RMB 5 million for each film.

 

How does this affect Hong Kong cinema, you ask? With Hong Kong stars getting these outrageous pay, it’s now hard for Hong Kong producers to be able to afford films with bankable star. This may explain the attempt to nurture films with mainly young talent (not that it’s working. Is there even a new Andy Lau out there?), and this is the most likely reason that Chow Yun Fat hasn’t been in a Cantonese film in 16 years. Salary issues was rumored to be the reason he dropped out of John Woo’s RED CLIFF.

 

Meanwhile, the Chinese film industry is also realizing that revenue isn’t growing quick enough to cover costs. While Chinese blockbusters are making big bucks, they’re not making enough to cover ballooning budgets, especially if talents are taking up 1/3 of each films budget. THE LOST BLADESMAN made RMB160 million at the Chinese box office, which is no small feat. However, its budget was a reported RMB 80 million, which means it would need to have made at least RMB 200 million at the box office just to break even.

 

If the film industry shifts to a point where China can finally produce its own box office-guaranteed stars, producers will either get wise and use strictly China stars (bad for HK stars), or they will have to spend even more on talent (bad for everyone except the stars). Chinese cinema can only grow bigger with bigger productions, but it’s getting to a point where domestic gross is not enough to cover the budget any more. Foreign sales are also drying up, as foreign audiences are getting tired of big Chinese period flicks.

 

Will Chow Yun Fat, Donnie, and Andy Lau keep sucking up their 20-40 million per film, or will they soon have to compromise? Unless the Chinese film industry start controlling the number of productions, their inflating budgets, and the enormous amount of money they pay to Hong Kong talents, Chinese cinema is undoubtedly heading towards a bubble. And when that bubble pops, everyone’s going down.

 

- Hong Kong MPA released the box office figures for the first half of 2011. As we all know already, SEX AND ZEN: EXTREME ECSTASY, fueled by curiosity by both Hong Kongers and visiting Mainland Chinese tourists, managed to beat the general negative word-of-mouth (bonus: popular video of Chapman To reading a scathing netizen review - translation could be better, though) and became the highest-grossing Hong Kong film in years (which is amusing for a society that’s been progressing backwards in terms of morals). According to the report, 24 Hong Kong films were released, which would be about on pace with the past few years.

 

SEX AND ZEN was essentially the AVATAR-like outlier, with local films in general grossing lower than last year’s films. With the rest of the year looking fairly devoid of big box office performers (it’s WU XIA in August, then OVERHEARD 2, then not much until December), expect SEX AND ZEN to keep its top spot for the rest of the year.

 

- While we’re at it, Film Business Asia looked at Korean box office in the first half of the year. After its bubble popped a few years ago, it seems like the South Korean film industry is stabilizing, as admissions in the first six months of 2011 is only down 2.1% (remember last year cinemas had AVATAR). Better yet, Korean films are currently taking a higher market share in the first half year than the same period last year, as three of the five top-grossing films are Korean.

 

- Before you say say REST ON YOUR SHOULDER, another feud has brewed up in Chinese cinema. A few days ago, I tweeted a link to the peculiar poster for director Jiang Cheng’s TO LOVE OR NOT. The poster showed stars Alex Fong Chung-Sun and Li Shaoran making out passionately in a bathtub, and that has sparked a lot of feedback about what the film will be like.

 

20110705071751203.jpg

 

And then Li Shaoran fought back.

 

The star apparently now denies that she ever did the scene depicted in the poster. She insists that the “woman” spitting water is a male double wearing a wig, and then her part in the scene was only one shot that did not involve kissing. She is now refusing to do any further promotional activities for the film.

 

Director Jiang Cheng then fought back, saying that only one shot in the sequence (the one of the two falling into the tub) was done by body doubles, and that everything else was done by the actors. Of course, now the feud is turning into a he said, she said, with Li spilling everything she was dissatisfied about Jiang, and Jiang Li of essentially being a difficult actress to work with. Both sides have even used Alex Fong as their weapon against the other. Meanwhile, sources confirm that the stills are taken directly from the final cut rather than stills taken on set.

 

On the surface, this is close to gossip, but if we peel that back, we can speculate what is going on here. 1) There’s a real feud between Li and Jiang, with one actress embarrassed for being talked into doing a scene she now regrets doing. 2) It’s a week away from the film’s release. You don’t have real bankable stars. Any news is good news. 3) Something else. I won’t taking any of these three positions, but the Chinese film industry isn’t exactly the most transparent one, and it’s likely impossible to ever really know what is going on here.

 

Anyway, if you can read Chinese, read all about it here.

 

- Upcoming Chinese animated film LEGEND OF A RABBIT has the netizens talking, but in a bad way. Apparently, the character designs all look a little too close to KUNG FU PANDA for comfort. Director Sun Lijun is strongly denying that his work is being influenced by KUNG FU PANDA in any way.

 

Some of his defenses:

 

“Netizens say that LEGEND OF A RABBIT is the copycat version of KUNG FU PANDA, then why doesn’t Dreamworks sue us over copyright?! LEGEND OF A RABBIT has been sold to 62 countries. Overseas buyers are not stupid. You think they haven’t seen KUNG FU PANDA?!”

 

“The characters in LEGEND OF A RABBIT are very different from KUNG FU PANDA’s. Why don’t they say that KUNG FU PANDA took influences from Chinese kung fu?”

 

[when asked why has hasn’t seen KUNG FU PANDA 2] “Not interested. No second film is better than the first film”

 

Obviously, Sun hasn’t seen THE GODFATHER PART II.

 

See the trailer for LEGEND OF A RABBIT here and decide for yourself.

 

- After AFTERSHOCK and BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL, it’s now time for Korea to have their first film converted into the digital IMAX format. Korea still has something to be proud of, though – it’ll be the first non-English-language film to be converted into IMAX 3D. Korea currently has ten IMAX screens that can show the film, and CJ Entertainment operates all ten of them. It’s a no-brainer.

 

Check out the teaser for the monster film here.

 

Next time: Spike some Beach. A double feature across the border. And whatever else comes my way.

 

The Golden Rock - Beginning of a Great Revival Edition

No, this entry is not going to be purely on the communist propaganda flick. The title actually refers to the revival of this blog. The Golden Rock has been away for a while due to various issues (mainly time-related) and the shift to Twitter. For that I can only offer an apology to Boss Kozo and people who read on a regular basis, and I hope that this revival will last more than a few entries.

 

With that, the blog will not be updated on a daily basis. I will be tightening the focus back to Hong Kong and China, since there’s already plenty of news to cover in these two regions. Rather than line-by-line links, the blog entries will be more focused on analysis of each story. You will see that new format below.

 

As always, there will be no gossip, because whether Lucas Tse is changing his last name is none of my concern, and it probably isn’t yours, either (unless you’re a member of the family or Lucas’ school). On the other hand, if Cecilia Cheung causes production on THE LION ROARS 2 to stop because of her divorce, then it’ll be covered here.

 

For broader coverage of Asian cinema, please visit Film Business Asia. They are where I go to most for English-language Asian cinema coverage, and I recommend all to do the same.

 

So here we go:

 

- First story today is on Jacob Cheung’s REST ON YOUR SHOULDER. The Chinese media has been covering this film intensely ever since its premiere at the Shanghai Film Festival (it played in competition). It’s hard to dig through all the rumors and speculation, but here are what appear to have happened:

 

Cheung’s investors have spent RMB 60-70 million (a fairly high budget for its genre) on a special effects-filled fantasy starring Aloys Chen, Guey Lun Mei, and Gigi Leung. However, Cheung’s absence at the festival screening has sparked rumors that Cheung is perhaps not happy with how the film is being presented. Also, the distributor took many steps, including heavy security and playing it at a small auditorium, to make sure the film is not shown to a large audience, which also points to possible nervousness on the part of the distributors that the film isn’t very good.

 

At the festival, the head of the production company stated to the press that the theatrical version of the film will be cut to 90 minutes (from 120), which further fueled the “Cheung not happy” rumors. Two weeks ago, the production company gave in and said that the full 120-minute cut will be the theatrical version (especially ironic, given Derek Elley’s review).

 

Just when things seem to be settling, Cheung wrote on his Sina Weibo this past weekend that he has been waiting in Beijing to be contacted about promotion for the film, but no one has asked him to do so. It’s even messier because the production company has canceled promotional events with “talent unavailability” as an excuse (after Chen and Guey publicly stated they are fully behind the film). Now the talk is that the production company are simply giving up for some reason. Meanwhile, Cheung has taken to Weibo to promote the film on his own, with Charlie Yeung and other celebrities passing the word. The distributor has been contacted, and they said they are shocked by Cheung’s weibo entry. They also pointed out that the stars are all currently tied up on other projects (Aloys on PAINTED SKIN 2, Jian Yi Yan is doing a play, and the others as well).

 

Opening just four days after Peter Chan’s WU XIA, what will happen to REST ON YOUR SHOULDER this weekend? I’ll be watching the film this weekend on opening day in Shenzhen, and we’ll know whether Cheung’s efforts worked next week when the box office numbers are out.

 

Story is mostly from this article (and other articles) at mtime

 

- Speaking of WU XIA, the film opened on July 4th in China. However, a controversy has already brewed up before the day ended, as netizens uploaded pictures of their handwritten tickets from China’s Jinyi Cinemas chain on Weibo. Those posts were deleted several hours later.

 

Here’s how it works: You walk up to the box office, and you buy a ticket to WU XIA. However, the theater hands you a ticket to BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL instead and writes down your WU XIA showing information by hand. Yes, you can still watch WU XIA with your ticket, but the computer marks down that your money went to BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL. This happened reportedly in several cities.

 

Damage control was quickly initiated, with the cinema chain’s spokesperson explaining that the ticket buyers changed their mind, and their staff hadn’t followed proper procedure by printing new tickets and canceling the other ones. China Film Group denies that they have any hand in it, and WU XIA’s distributors have also said that they’ve spoken to the cinema chain and that the matter is “settled”. WU XIA’s distributor is also now offering a RMB 1,000 reward for any reports of such box office gouging, so if you get a handwritten ticket for WU XIA in China, be sure to send it in to Stellar.

 

This is not the first time “box office gouging” has happened. Back in December, netizens discovered that people were buying tickets to MY NAME IS NOBODY and ended up getting a printed ticket to SACRIFICE. Netizens are wising up to the practice, and it’s likely this will only be a temporary fad.

 

- And now, China box office:

 

As expected, BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL led the box office chart again, but the weeklong gross was not as high as I had predicted, given that the party would want to score on the big CCP anniversary. Between June 27th and July 3rd, BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL made RMB 92.15 million for a 19-day total of RMB 317.15 million. This is not close to the final gross of FOUNDING OF A REPUBLIC, and nowhere near the 30 million admissions / RMB 800 million gross that China Film Group is targeting.

 

So, what happened? The film had a significantly reduced number of showings this week (from 88,000 shows to 64,000), and the film faced competition from new entries TREASURE INN (which made an impressive RMB 54.5 million), THE DEVIL INSIDE ME (RMB 8.15 million), and the dubbed French flick COURSIER (RMB 8.1 million), as well as stayovers THE PRETENDING LOVERS (RMB 28.1 million after 10 days), SNOW FLOWER AND SECRET FAN (RMB32.75 million after 10 days), and ANIMALS UNITED (RMB39.95 million after 10 days). KUNG FU PANDA has also now passed the RMB600 million mark.

 

I had two reactions to this news (in order): Why didn’t the party/China Film Group do something to rig the numbers, and why am I surprised that China Film Group ISN’T rigging the numbers (especially with 80 million communist party members in China alone)? We were so bombarded in foreign media about how hard the party is pushing this film that we’re surprised when they follow the rules, and now the film seems to be performing beneath expectations. Shouldn’t we be ashamed of the assumptions and distrust we’re putting into this system, especially when they’re (appearing to be) proving us wrong?

 

China Film Group’s response to the current box office performance of BEGINNING OF GREAT REVIVAL? “When there’s a big film, shows will be cut accordingly. Everything will operate as the market dictates.” They have also said they’re ready for the release of TRANSFORMERS 3 on July 21st.

 

By the way, no one has confirmed there’s a cap that stops all foreign films from being released until REVIVAL hits 800 million. If China Film Group is going ahead with the July 21st release for TRANSFORMERS, then the quote in this New York Times story is wrong. Want to know why I kind of believe CFG? Because they’re distributing TRANSFORMERS, too.

 

- Short bits of production news:

 

  • Daniel Lee has officially wrapped the shoot for WHITE VENGEANCE, starring Leon Lai, Zhang Hanyu, Anthony Wong, and Jordan Chan. The film will reportedly now aim for a late November release. This now locks down the films coming in the year-end slot: WHITE VENGEANCE, Derek Yee’s THE GREAT MAGICIAN, Zhang Yimou’s HEROES OF NANJING, Tsui Hark’s FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE, and (supposedly) Wong Kar Wai’s GRANDMASTER. Sure they don’t want to shuffle that a little bit?
  • Zhou Dongyu, Richie Ren, Gigi Leung, Aarif Lee, and Teddy Robin will be starring in QIN CHENG ZHI LIAN (no English title yet), a tearjerker directed by Barbara Wong. The film began shooting on July 21st, and it’s aiming to open at the end of December. I’m afraid. Very afraid.

Next time: “How much did they pay them”?! / Stephen Fung starts on Tai Chi / SEX AND ZEN boosts Hong Kong box office in first half of 2011.

 

 
 
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