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The Golden Rock - August 29, 2011 Edition

With talk about the box office battle looming in China come December, it’s a good time to do a focus story about the art of scheduling movie releases in the Greater China area:

- As i had mentioned in an earlier entry, this summer has not been a particularly great one at the movies here in Hong Kong. The thing is that it hasn’t been that great in China, either, as BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL, WU XIA, and MYSTERIOUS ISLAND have been the only three major stories all summer. This may baffle those who are used to the usual summer tradition around the world, with the biggest, loudest blockbusters rolled out to make money from kids out of school on holiday (high weekday grosses).

While the vacationing kids audiences is big in China, high ticket prices means that the movie going audience tends to skew a little older, which means that big filmgoing periods are more likely to coincide with big holiday periods when people don’t have to work.

There are essentially four big release periods in China that every distributor of major blockbusters in China want to get their hands on: Lunar New Year, Golden week in May, National Day extended holiday in October, and mid-to-late-December. Since the summer is when Hollywood blockbusters dominate the global box office, the summer is not a huge release period unless you have something big enough to compete.

Case in point: Out of the top ten grossing films in China in 2010, only two films were not released during those four periods - AFTERSHOCK was big enough to take on the summer, and UNDER THE HAWTHORN TREE was released a week before the National Day holiday rush began with LEGEND OF THE FIST.

Three of those periods are pretty self-explanatory when it comes to why they’re huge for filmgoing - Instead of long weekends, China’s holidays are clumped into longer batches because it allows time for workers in big cities to return home to visit their families. Extended holidays also mean theaters and distributors are blessed with consecutive days of high box office gross, which also means plenty of good publicity for the films as well.

However, the period that baffles even me is the December period. The so-called “year-end celebratory” period has long been where Feng Xiaogang reigns as king (ever since his SORRY, BABY in December 1999, only THE BANQUET was not released during that time), and that’s when China made so many major blockbusters that it’s become the place where Zhang Yimou and Feng Xiaogang earn top box office dollars with films like HERO, THE ASSEMBLY, IF YOU ARE THE ONE, and CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER. In 2010, the period saw its most intense competition yet with a direct battle between Jiang Wen’s LET THE BULLETS FLY and Feng Xiaogang’s IF YOU ARE THE ONE 2. While BULLETS came out on top, IF YOU ARE THE ONE 2 also made 473 million yuan, Feng’s second highest-grossing film after AFTERSHOCK.

That battle is about to get even more intense this year, with three big films already locked to duke it out in the same week in mid-December:  Derek Yee’s THE GREAT MAGICIAN (Tony Leung + Lau Ching Wan + Zhou Xun), Tsui Hark’s IMAX 3D FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE (Jet Li +wuxia + 3D), and Zhang Yimou’s NANJING HEROES (big budget +rumored IMAX release + Batman!). There’s even word that Wong Kar Wai’s GRANDMASTER may be trying to make that release date as well.

But why? and how? December sees no major holidays in China (I’m pretty sure they don’t get Christmas Day off over there), and yet, that’s when the year’s biggest films (yes, even bigger than Lunar New Year) are rolled out. But at least now you know why all the talk in Chinese cinema right now is concentrating on that all-important December period. If your film is there, you’ve hit the big time, baby.

- China has three major film awards - The Golden Rooster Awards, the voter-based Hundred Flower Awards, and the Huabiao Awards. Held by the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television every two years, the latest edition of the Huabiao Awards has just announced its nominees. The Huabiao is a little unique in that it clearly separates purely Chinese productions and co-productions into two separate categories.

Under “Excellent Chinese Narrative Films”, the 20 nominees include both FOUNDING OF A REPUBLIC and BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL, as well as “box office hits” like WENTIAN, GUO MING YI, and WEN SHAN ZHOU. Of course, Zhang Yimou’s UNDER THE HAWTHORN TREE, Chen Kaige’s SACRIFICE, and Feng Xiaogang’s AFTERSHOCK are included. Even GO LALA GO managed a nomination.


10 other films were also nominated for “Excellent Digital Film”, but those are just small productions that no one really cares about.

Only two foreign films were recognized in the nominations - AVATAR and INCEPTION. Those who care, raise their hands? OK, moving on.

WENTIAN, the astronaut film produced by the People’s Liberation Army’s August 1st Studio (Last I heard, they were making an inspiration sports film about their basketball team), scored the most number of nominations - with “Excellent Film Techniques”, Best Script, Best Director, Best Actor in addition to its best film nod. I can’t wait for that WenTian sequel, which might be some twisted, communist propaganda version of STAR TREK.  Yes, soon, the PLA will be liberating the oppressed people of space from the evils of the intergalactic Kuomintang.

For those who still care, the awards were held on August 28th, and 10 out of the 20 nominated films were recognized for best films. They include REVIVAL, AFTERSHOCK, REPUBLIC, WENTIAN, GUO MING YI, WEN SHAN ZHOU, and HAWTHORN TREE. Meanwhile, WENTIAN and REPUBLIC picked up Best Director (s), REVIVAL won Best Screenplay, both Ge You (for SACRIFICE) and YANG SHAN ZHOU’s Li Xue Jian won Best Actor(s), Sandra Ng won Best Overseas Chinese Actress for ECHOES OF THE RAINBOW, and Chow Yun Fat picked up Best Overseas Chinese Actor for CONFUCIUS.

Notice one important omission? Yes, LET THE BULLETS FLY was completely ignored.

The complete list of winners (in Chinese) can be found here.

Not much for an entry today, but I promise Chinese box office and other gossip in the Chinese movie scene next time.

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