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Archive for November, 2011

The Golden Rock - November 28, 2011 Edition

 

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The Chinese title for Wen Hua-Tao’s LOVE IS NOT BLIND is 失戀33天, which literally means “Love-loss 33 Days”. Essentially, it refers to the period of heartbreak experienced by those who has just gotten out of a relationship. The so-called  失戀 period mostly ends when the person finds a new relationship. However, in the case of LOVE IS NOT BLIND, heroine Xiaoxian - who experiences “love-loss” when she catches her longtime boyfriend with her best friend - is simply trying to stop the pain and even find a shoulder to cry on with her effeminate metrosexual co-worker-turned-gay best friend, played by Wen Zhang.

Made for RMB 8.9 million, LOVE IS NOT BLIND has become a colossal hit in Mainland China, even outgrossing big-budget action blockbusters like SHAOLIN and THE LOST BLADESMAN. While the film itself has been well-received by the “post-80s” (those born in the 1980s) demographic in China, its success is also an example of what great marketing can do for a film.

Reputation: LOVE IS NOT BLIND is the 4th film by writer-director Teng Hua-Tao, whose film career has not exactly been remarkable (his last film was THE MATRIMONY, starring Leon Lai). Instead, he is better known for his television dramas DWELLING NARROWNESS and NAKED WEDDING, both hot topics in Chinese popular culture (especially among young women) when they were aired.

DWELLING, co-starring LOVE star Wen Zhang (OCEAN HEAVEN) deals with “housing slaves”, young people (usually urbanites) who end up being slave to their mortgages in a society dealing with high inflation (including in the real estate market), but it was mainly its plot line about an affair between one of the heroines and a corrupted government official that attracted so much controversy that SARFT stopped the airing of the drama and forced producers to re-edit the drama before putting it back on the air.

Meanwhile, NAKED WEDDING, starring AND co-written by Wen Zhang, deals with a post-80s who choose to get married out of love without the financial resource for material needs like a home or a car. The drama depicts a “naked wedding” couple whose marriage is broken up by family conflicts and their lack of material wealth. As the Wen Zhang character says in a pivotal scene, “our love was defeated by the small things”.

LOVE IS NOT BLIND deals with a far less serious subject - a girl getting over her heartbreak - but its popular original novel (written by a post-1985 female author in the form of a diary) and the reputation of the Teng-Wen team (some netizens are already dubbing them the next Feng Xiaogang-Ge You) all created a fair amount of anticipation before its release.

Issues: The idea of “love-loss”  may be a bigger deal among youths in more traditional societies (like Asian ones) than America, where the film that last truly dealt with the idea of heart-break was likely 500 DAYS OF SUMMER. The idea of a break-up being a major source of sorrow and sadness in one’s life is something that obviously connects with youths better than say, conservative middle-age people. In the film, Teng embraces how seriously his target audience takes “love-loss” by making the idea of getting over it his heroine’s ultimate goal.

Of course, just the idea of blowing up something as seemingly trivial as a break-up reflects the values of the film’s demographic. While there are politically and socially active “post-80s” in China, the majority of Chinese people in their 20s care about more personal issues like money, careers, their iPhones, and of course, their love lives. LOVE IS NOT BLIND embraces such values so well that not even one family member of the main characters ever appears on screen, and by zoning in so specifically on what this generation cares about, the film immediately connected to the biggest group of consumers of Chinese cinema right now - the youths.

Marketing: Some has already mentioned the release date being a key element, but the success of LOVE IS NOT BLIND’s marketing efforts extends further than that. According to an essay written by the film’s publicist on Weibo (which has NOT been refuted by any major players), in addition to picking “11-11″ singles day as its release date, the marketing team also recorded a series of interviews with young people around China. These interviews are all about these people’s “love-loss” experiences - the pain, the suffering, the crying, and even messages to their ex’s. Then, footage of mock-interviews featuring the film’s two main characters - Wang Xiaoxian (Bai Bai-He) and Wang Yi-Yang (Wen Zhang) - are also inserted. Before selling the film itself or the stars, the marketing team first sold the universality of its topic.

I don’t know when this particular video was released, but this is one of the “break-up interview” videos

Then, of course, came singles day. The film was made with the intention of being released around 11-11. In China, since the 11-11 resemble lone sticks standing on their own, it’s become a symbol for single people, and hence the beginning of “singles day”. Of course, no one is stupid enough to sell a movie about heartbreak on Valentine’s Day, so singles day is of course the best time.

By the way, why did the film open on November 8th instead of November 11th, you ask? In addition to the 8th being a Tuesday (so the film can gather positive word-of-mouth during the week to carry into the weekend), the 8th was also the birthday of Teng Hua-Tao’s father. Teng is one of the producers of the film, so he can do whatever he damn well pleases.

I’ll go more into the actual content of the film in my later review for the site, but all these factors have helped make LOVE IS NOT BLIND a super chick-flick hit in its home. At my screening, the film attracted mostly couples and groups of young girls who responded enthusiastically to the sharp verbal comedy, its tender observations about heartbroken young women, and even the brief digression into tearjerking melodrama. I might have been the only single man sitting by himself in that 300-seat auditorium, which tells you that LOVE IS NOT BLIND is not the cinematic experience equivalent of going to Yoshinoya alone in Japan - i.e. just for singles.

With the success of ETERNAL MOMENT, MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, LOVE IS NOT BLIND, and even BUDDHA MOUNTAIN, the direction of the Chinese commercial film industry is starting to reflect Hollywood a little bit, where films that appeal to a younger audience tend to do better at the box office. Perhaps China becoming a global film industry player is not so far away after all.

Read an excerpt from the original novel here.

There’s no particular source for this entry, as a lot of it came from what I’ve learned over the years, as well as the article I read on Weibo. This article from entgroup pretty much sums things up, as well as attribute part of the film’s success to the use of micro-blogs. I cannot confirm whether that’s true or not, so I will not comment further.

The Golden Rock 2011 Golden Horse Awards Live blog

  

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We like to cover two major film awards here at The Golden Rock - The Hong Kong Film Awards and the Golden Horse Awards. Now, it’s that other time of the year, so we’re doing what we love to do: Live blog!

Since we got that pesky iPhone thing this year, in addition to the continuous snarky, sarcastic comments running throughout the night, we will be uploading pictures on Twitter @TheGoldenRock and the LoveHKFilm Facebook group.  Beware, they will just be pictures taken of my TV.

I’ve tried to run some sort of interactions in the past year via live chat and the comment section. This year, we’ll do the interaction stuff via Facebook and the twitter.  Or you can just follow by reloading this entry page every couple of minutes

11:11pm: And that’s 4 awards for SEEDIQ BALE: Best Sound Effects, Best New Performer, Best Original Score, and Best Picture. A SIMPLE LIFE picks up three. Wuershan still gets the most baffling win of the night. And no award for me. At least I get sleep now.

11:09pm: Of course, the speech is all about making more and more money for this movie. This is the film award equivalent of a gold star for effort

11:06pm: And the winner of Best Picture is…………SEEDIQ BALE, the “sorry you didn’t win anything else major” award of the night!

11:04pm: True story: I peed next to Hou Hsiao-Hsien once. Not many people can say THAT

11:03pm: Carina Lau, Chen Kuofu, and Hou Hsiao-Hsien present Best Picture. Carina first congratulate the SIMPLE LIFE trifecta. “It’s been so long since a Hong Kong film is this successful!”

11:01pm: I wonder what’s been going through Wei Te-Sheng’s head as SEEDIQ BALE loses one award after another. It’s time to accept that it’s a fine, but still flawed, film

10:56pm: “Right now, Hong Kong cinema is at an all-tme low, so I hope we can find out way out [like Taiwanese films have]”

10:53pm: And the winner for Best Actor is……………oh, someone did get this man an award. ANDY LAU FOR SIMPLE LIFE

10:51pm: Of course, the two just put in a plug for Doze Niu’s LOVE, too. Classssssyyyyy

10:50pm: “Hi, I’m Shu Qi, the one who just lost an award”

10:49pm: Last year’s Ethan Ruan and Shu Qi now coming to present Best Actor.

10:43pm: “I got a stroke in the film, and now i got an award, too!”—Deanie Ip

10:41pm: And the Best Actress Award goes to………..DEANIE IP FOR A SIMPLE LIFE.

10:39pm: Eric Tsang asks Andy Lau whether he knows how to have a child. Lau growled back angrily. I laughed

10:38pm: of course, the fact that Andy Lau is presenting the Best Actress award kind of tells you who will be winning…..

10:36pm: Andy Lau gets the biggest applause of the night. Someone give the man an award!

10:35pm: Award prediction: I hope Shu Qi doesn’t win for BEAUTIFUL LIFE. Sorry, this type of hysterical award-bait performance gives award-bait performance a bad name

10:30pm: Andy Lau to present the Best Actress award. If you’re reading this and don’t know who Andy Lau is, what the hell are you doing here?

10:26pm: Considering we jsut heard Sandy Lam belt out movie songs, do we really need another of Jam Hsiao doing it? He’s not as good anyway.

10:24pm: Thanks go Jam Hsiao, I had a chance to check. This is Ann Hui’s second Best Director award at the Golden Horse. Her first was for ORDINARY HEROES. Can Distribution Workshop move up the release date for SIMPLE LIFE already? This is getting annoying

10:21pm: And now, Jam Hsiao performs. Er, what for? Get on with it so we can all go home!

10:18pm: SEEDIQ BALE won the Audience Award of the Golden Horse Film Festival. Does it count as a disappointment for the film if it doesn’t walk away with Best Picture tonight?

10:17pm: Ann Hui credits Andy Lau with getting the money needed for A SIMPLE LIFE. 

10:16pm: “I feel like I’m about to get a stroke!”—-Ann Hui. Wang Yu doesn’t think it’s funny.

10:15pm: And the Best Director winner is……………..ANN HUI for A SIMPLE LIFE!!!!!

10:14pm: Time for Best Director. Will it be Wei Te-Sheng? Jiang Wen? Ann Hui? Oh, there’s that young guy, too.

10:11pm: And starting off the fourth freaking hour of this show: 20-30-40 stars Rene Liu, Sylvia Chang, and Angelica Lee present Best Director 

10:06pm: Getting into the big major awards after this commercial break 

10:03pm: Now time for Best Original Song. And the winner is…………JUMP! ASHIN. I guess the jury got sick of the YOU ARE THE APPLE OF MY EYE song, too.

10:00pm: The winner for Best Original Film Score: Ricky Ho for SEEDIQ BALE. Third award of the night

9:59pm: Sandy Lam sticks around to present the music awards. First, Best Original Film Score.

9:57pm: I don’t care who sings the original versions of these songs. I think Sandy Lam just blew them all out of the water.

9:53pm: Taiwan Yahoo gives Michelle Chen’s dress the worst-dressed Award.  Can’t say I disagree from that picture.

9:49pm: Now, Sandy Lam performs a medley of movie songs.

9:43pm: Wong essentially won for his work on SEEDIQ BALE, which looks like a truly grueling shoot

9:40pm: The winner for Outstanding Taiwanese Filmmaker of the Year is…….legendary production manager Wong Wei-Liu. Apparently, all the jury members cried when they decided on the award

9:38pm: Presenters devote a minute or two to each nominee

9:34pm: Yang Gui-Mei and someone I don’t know present Outstanding Taiwanese Filmmaker of the Year award

9:32pm: Qin Hailu: “Please keep asking me to act! I still act!”

9:30pm: Qin is also in two of the other two nominees. The winner is……..RETURN TICKET! Qin Hailu jumps for joy onstage

9:29pm: And now, Best Original Screenplay. Qin Hailu is actually one of the nominees for RETURN TICKET

9:27pm: By the way, Jiang Wen isn’t here tonight.

9:26pm: As Fruit Chan reads all the names out, he had to add in, “Wow! Six writers!”

9:24pm: First up, it’s Best Adapted Screenplay. The winner is……….LET THE BULLETS FLY, by Jiang Wen and co.

9:23pm: Fruit Chan and Qin Hailu present Best Screenplay. She exposes the Fruit Chan won Best Screenplay at the Golden Horse for a film without a script

9:22pm: If there’s a long gap between updates, it’s because of commercial breaks, not because I’m lazy. Well, I am lazy, but that’s not the reason.

9:15pm: Tang and Peng are presenting the Best New Actor category. The winner is…Ko Chen-Tung for YOU ARE THE APPLE OF MY EYE. Finally, an award win that everyone expected.

9:13pm: Gidden writes on Weibo that Andy Lau gave him a pat on the shoulder for encouragement in the toilet after he lost the Best New Director award. He was excited.

9:11pm: Tang Wei and Eddie Peng on stage to present. “Next year, I’ll work hard to compete with you in the Best Actor category!”

9:06pm: JUMP ASHIN director Lin Yu-Xian introduces performance of song from JUMP! ASHIN. Wait, the movie had a song?

9:05pm: Two hours down, two hours to go!

9:00pm: Oh, they’re doing a third award: Best Cinematography. Winner is…….LET THE BULLETS FLY

8:59pm: Now time for Best Visual Effects. The winner is……..WU XIA. Now WU XIA also has as many awards as SEEDIQ BALE.

8:58pm: Kara Hui accepts the award on Donnie’s behalf. Even better, I say.

8:57pm: Best Actio Design goes to DONNNNNIEEEEEE Yen for WU XIA

8:52pm: Have I been here for two hours already? That was fast. Anyway, time for Huang Bo for Best Action design now.

8:48pm: HUANG BO will be one of the two presenters for Best Action Design. Hahahaha

8:43pm: Wait, she’s singing the Leslie Cheung song in CANTONESE.

8:42pm: A-lin sings the In Memoriam sequence song

8:38pm: Ting has made 70+ films and written countless episodes of television.  A true legend. No pun intended. His wife says the industry can remake his films for modern audiences. Yo, fo real? Oh, she also says Hollywood made 300, but he made 800 WARRIORS 30 years before that.

8:37pm: Ting’s wife accepts the award on behalf since he’s, um, passed away already.

8:35pm: To recap, THE BUTCHER, THE CHEF, AND THE SWORDSMAN now has as many awards as SEEDIQ BALE

8:33pm: Wang Yu doing a stand-up routine on stage. He’s presenting the Lifetime Achievement award for Ting Shan-Si

8:30pm: Jimmy Wang Yu, looking like a priest, on stage now. “I couldn’t get an award, but I got a stroke instead.”

8:29pm: Eric Tsang and Bowie Tsang immediately tease Giddens, then console him a bit. Ouch!

8:27pm: The winner is………..Wuershan for BUTCHER, CHEF, SWORDSMAN. What, FO REALS!

8:26pm: They’re presenting Best New Director. Giddens, come get your award

8:24pm: Li Lie(?) and Doze Niu now the presenters. Of course, Doze puts in a plug for his new film. “I’ve been making LOVE”.

8:17pm: Time for Best Supporting Actress. The winner is…….Tang Qun for RETURN TICKET 

8:15pm: Simon Yam keeps holding Michelle Chen’s hand. HEY, HANDS OFF!

8:12pm: The two first present Best Documentary. The winner is…….HOMETOWN BOY

8:09pm: Michelle Chen says she would like to work with Andy Lau. Simon Yam tells Andy Lau to stick to investing in the movies…for Yam and her together.

8:07pm: Simon Yam and THE GODDESS herself Michelle Chen now on stage

8:05pm: Even the original performer of the theme song can’t sing it in its original key. That makes sense.

8:03pm: Real-life version of characters from YOU ARE THE APPLE OF MY EYE introduce the performance of the theme song.  

7:59pm: SEEDIQ BALE award is actually for three people. Thank god, now we know Tu Du-Chih isn’t the only sound person in Taiwan.

7:57pm: And the winner of Best Sound Effects is……..SEEDIQ BALE. First technical award of the night for the most expensive Taiwanese film ever. Also second award for the film tonight

7:56pm: Now for Best Sound Effects. If SEEDIQ doesn’t win this one, that’s saying, er, something

7:54pm: I hate to be mean, but the editor of THE MAN BEHIND THE BOOK can learn a lesson from the Art director of BUTCHER, CHEF, SWORDSMAN, as in cut it short

7:52pm: They’re presenting Best Editing. And the winner is…..THE MAN BEHIND THE BOOK. HK films lost!

7:50pm: Chen has to translate his own remarks to Japanese. Then he has to translates Miyazaki’s back to Mandarin

7:48pm: Japanese actress Aoi Miyazaki present the next award. Wait, what the hell is Chen Bo-lin doing on stage next to her?

7:47pm: Jay Chou, one of the two performers of the song, isn’t here tnight. Hence, the picture isn’t worth taking. Sorry.

7:45pm: Time for second song performance after second commercial: A BA, from, er, ABBA

7:42pm: That’s two technical awards SEEDIQ BALE lost

7:41pm: Best Art Direction goes to….WU XIA. Wow, surprised. So surprised that even the co-winner is surprised

7:40pm: The two remain to present Best Art Direction. Will BUTCHER pick up this one too?

7:39pm: Sorry, it’s best Make-up and Costume Design. Anyway, the winner is…..THE BUTCHER, THE CHEF, and THE SWORDSMAN 

7:37pm: OK, looks like they’re presenting Best Costume Design. Who wants to guess SEEDIQ BALE is picking this one up?

7:36pm: Vic Zhou and S.H.E’s Ella present….er, I’ll let you know after the witty bantering

7::35pm: I wonder if people in Taiwan can understand what the hell Eric Tsang is saying in Mandarin

7:32pm: Remember to check out my Twitter for pictures from the awards throughout the night.

7:29pm: Back from commercial. First performance of nominated song, introduced by SEEDIQ BALE historical consultant in Seediq

7:27pm: Haha, Star Movies ad for HEAR ME says it stars Michelle Chen (of YOU ARE THE APPLE OF MY EYE). Sorry, she’s just a supporting character

7:26pm: Time for first commercial. Vic Zhou coming up next.

7:24pm: And the winner is: THIEF from Taiwan. Of course, starts off with “We’re so happy Taiwanese cinema is having such a big year!”

7:22pm: Presenters remain for Best Short Film. There’s a Hong Kong nominee, by the way.

 7:19pm: And Best Supporting Actor goes to: Bokeh Kosang for first award for SEEDIQ BALE. He is also nominated for Best New Actor

7:18pm: By the way, look at the LoveHKFilm home page for a link to the nominees

7:16pm: WUXIA Best Supporting Actor nominee Wang Yu gets his bit of time in the spotllight during introduction. This is the ass-kissing section, I see 

7:15pm: I’m not sure who everybody is, so I apologize in advance. Anyway, first award being presented now: Best Supporting Actor

7:13pm: “We have the most numbers of Best Actor/Best Actress winners this year!” - yes, Eric Tsang is one of them

7:11pm: Bowie Tsang takes off her Seediq getup to reveal YOU ARE THE APPLE OF MY EYE school unifrom. Eric Tsang takes off his to become Ashin of JUMP ASHIN. I’m sure they’re happy there are so many successful Taiwanese films to make fun of this year.

7:09: Hosts Eric Tsang and Bowie Tsang (his daughter) show up singing a song in Seediq.  

7:07pm: And we’re officially underway!  

7:05pm: OK, Star Movies just decided to go to commercial. Keep standing by.  

7:03pm: Sitting in front of my TV, ready to go. The live feed hasn’t begun yet, though. By the way, the entries will go from bottom to up for easier reading for those following live.

The Golden Rock - November 23, 2011 Edition

 

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Zhang Yimou’s FLOWERS OF WAR is not just another World War II film. Budgeted at US$90 million (or roughly 600 million yuan), it is the most expensive film ever produced in China. From its casting of Hollywood star Christian Bale to the grueling 165-day shoot, THE FLOWERS OF WAR is an important film for the Chinese film industry as major commercial industry on the world stage.

Considering that the highest-grossing Chinese-language film in China grossed 700 million yuan, producer Zhang Weiping and New Pictures will have to figure a way to make as much money as possible to earn its investment back. As I have written before, since the cinemas take over half of a film’s theatrical gross, a typical Chinese film will have to take in over double its budget to make its money back. That means if FLOWERS OF WAR were to rely on domestic box office to make its entire production budget back (excluding marketing), it’ll have to make at least 1.2 billion yuan. So you can see what kind of pressure Zhang Weiping is under.

To ensure that Zhang makes his money back, he has requested two things of Chinese cinemas: Raise the minimum ticket price of the film to 40 yuan in first-tier cities (35 in second-tier, and 30 in third-tier), and change the distributor-cinema revenue share ratio from 43%-57% to 45%-55%. While the second condition is pretty easy to understand, the first one might need some explaining:

Distributors in China always set a minimum ticket price for their films to ensure that cinemas at least share a certain revenue with the distributor per ticket sold. The highest minimum ticket price ever mandated by a distributor before FLOWERS was Feng Xiaogang’s AFTERSHOCK, which had a minimum ticket price of 35 yuan.

When Zhang unilaterally decides to raise the minimum ticket price, it creates several problems for Chinese cinemas: 1) Cinemas have already started selling group screenings for the film, and they had set each ticket at 35 yuan, which is what they had expected the minimum ticket price to be. With Zhang raising the price by 5 yuan a month ahead of the film’s release, cinemas will have to go back and get those five yuan per ticket back. 2) Many cinemas offer premium discounts for members, and they’re often up to 60% off the normal ticket price. At 40 yuan minimum, theaters will have to set full-price tickets at a significantly higher price than usual, which will obviously drive away everyday movie-goers who simply cannot afford to watch the film. Also, smaller multiplexes who can’t fit in many screenings may be forced to drive the price even higher, with price figures like 100 yuan being thrown around the rumor mill. That figure is unheard of for a 2D film.

In response to concerns about the price inflation, this is what Zhang Weiping told Sina:

“首先,我们只是将影片的最低票价提高了5元,哪来百元天价?其次,在票房分成比例上,去除税金,片方分45%,影院分55%,利润他们占大头,投资风险都 在我这儿,不明白影院有什么不满。另外,电影的最高票价是影院各自按照自己的实际情况制定的,到底是70还是80,这和片方没有关系。《十 三钗》是有史以来投资最大的国产片,片长达2小时25分钟,比一般国产片长出4、50分钟,等于是加料的产品,加料产品,当然加价。”

“First of all, we only raised the minimum ticket price by five yuan, so where is the 100-yuan price coming from? Second, in terms of revenue sharing ratio, the distributor is taking 45% and the cinemas are taking 55% after taxes. They’re taking the majority, and the risk lies with me, so I don’t understand what the cinemas are so dissatisfied about. Also, the film’s maximum ticket price is determined by the cinemas based on their circumstance, so the distributor has nothing to do with whether the ticket price is 70 or 80 yuan. THE FLOWERS OF WAR is the most expensive film in Chinese history. It’s 145 minutes long, 40, 50 minutes longer than a typical local film. That means this is an enhanced product. An enhanced product naturally means a higher ticket price.”

It’s true that ticket prices are entirely decided by cinemas based on a distributor’s ticket price. For example, I had to pay 70 yuan for a ticket to LOVE IS NOT BLIND, but my ticket for KORA - also for a showing on a Sunday afternoon - was only 60 yuan. This means that Chinese audiences actually can pay a lower ticket price for a so-called “cheaper” product.

On the other hand, Zhang is a little arrogant in pretending to not know anything about cinema’s ticket pricing strategies and assuming that the consumers must bear the cost of his inflated budget. Film is not a public utilities project.

With FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE setting their minimum ticket price at 35 yuan (even with 3D) and opening on the same day, it’ll be interesting to see whether there’s any audience backlash and what cinemas will do to make sure they can earn back the 2% they lost.

Then came the big twist yesterday:  A media professional in Beijing reported on Weibo that representatives of China’s top eight cinema chains were holding negotiations with Zhang and New Pictures, threatening that if Zhang does not lower the minimum ticket price (and I assume change the ratio back to 43-57), the eight cinema chains will boycott the film. While one report said New Pictures caved into the cinemas’ demands, there hasn’t been any additional reports indicating that Zhang and the cinemas have come to an agreement.

If Zhang indeed did cave, then it reinforces the power of cinemas in the commercial Chinese film industry. China Film Group, in an effort to boost box office revenue for BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL, eventually had to convince cinemas to keep the film playing by allowing cinemas to keep 100% of box office revenue in its final month of release. The cinemas also had a large role during the Great Box Office Gouging of 2011, offering “group tickets” to boost box office revenue of certain propaganda films. Major cinema chains, with their polished multiplexes, also played a huge role in the emergence of Chinese commercial cinema because their state-of-the-art features helped attract audiences to the movies. As defiant Zhang seemed to be, he likely knows that he will have to please cinema owners because of the role they play in exhibiting his film.

On the other hand, if the cinemas can’t beat Zhang, I doubt they would really boycott what is likely to be one of the highest-grossing films in Chinese cinema history. However, they will likely change the way they work in the future to ensure that they will not face this situation again. I have no idea what that will be, but I will surely be keeping an eye on all the gossip happening.

Either way, it looks like the tug-of-war between distributors and cinemas in China will be continuing for a while. It’s just a little sad that no one seems to be caring about the rights of consumers at all. Such is capitalism.

UPDATE: After Cinema manager Zhao Jun confirmed that negotiations were indeed going on and that most cinema chains are behind the top eight chains, Sina news reported that an agreement has been reached. The terms are as follows:

1) The 43-57 ratio will be the subject of further negotiations, but between New Pictures and individual cinema chains. “Mild adjustments” can be made according to the circumstance of each chain. That part has apparently not been discussed in detail, nor has “circumstances” or “mild adjustments” been clearly defined yet.

2) The 40/35/30 minimum ticket price will remain the same. However, cinemas can apply for a lower minimum ticket price in certain circumstances (group sales, discount day, etc.).

This means we will still likely see 100 yuan tickets for FLOWERS OF WAR, which means now FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE - whose minimum ticket price remains at 35/30/25 - may have a slight advantage.

For your information, as I reported back in August, the minimum ticket price for TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON was 20 yuan. It ended up making 1.1 billion yuan (even after its grosses were gouged). However, its first-week average ticket price was 42 yuan due to the 3D.

Sources

Sina News 1
Sina News 2

The Golden Rock - Crossing the Border, part 3

I guess since I’ve done a couple of entries about movie going in China already, I might as well turn my movie-going journeys outside of Hong Kong and the United States into a series (my next stop is Japan, by the way).

You can see previous China movie-going exploits here:

Part 1 - Urumqi

Part 2 - Shenzhen: UA KKMall

Part 3 is still Shenzhen (It’s the most accessible Mainland Chinese city from Hong Kong), except this time, I paid a visit to Orange Sky Golden Harvest Shenzhen, in MixC mall:

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Opened in 2005, the 7-screen multiplex took on a major expansion in 2009, adding five additional screens with digital projection (there’s also a premium auditorium for 230 yuan a ticket). I didn’t just pick this cinema because of its vicinity to KKMall (same subway station, different sides), but also because this 12-screen multiplex is consistently one of the top ten highest-grossing cinemas in China. And let me remind you, China is a BIG place.

I watched two films here today, both on screens at the expansion side: the real-life mountain biking adventure KORA and the mega-hit romantic comedy LOVE IS NOT BLIND.

While the cinema boasts state-of-the-art projection and top-level comfort (for 65 and 75 yuan tickets, they better be right), I actually found OSGH a bit of a disappointment.  My biggest problem was the seating, which is not only less comfortable than those of most Hong Kong multiplexes, my bottom began to hurt about an hour into both films, which is inexcusable for auditoriums that were built in 2009. Also, while KORA’s digital print looked fine, the digital print for LOVE IS NOT BLIND - playing in the biggest house with the supposed Sony 4k projector - was a bit too dark for comfort. I can’t say anything about sound, since neither film is exactly an audio powerhouse.

However, OSGH Shenzhen does beat KKMall in terms of location. Not only is MixC connected directly to the Grand Theater Station via an underground tunnel, MixC has both a Starbucks AND a Pacific Coffee, especially important when tickets have to be picked up an hour ahead of time at the latest. MixC is also a lot bigger (it houses a small skating rink) with more food choices. Despite being an early Sunday afternoon, the Pacific Coffee one floor above the cinema (at the Northwest corner) is practically empty and has free wi-fi without any China Telecom hassle (more on why this is important in a bit).

Nevertheless, it’s the quality of the cinema that counts, and that may be why I won’t be returning to Golden Harvest unless I have to.

Meanwhile, some updates from part two about China movie-going that you should watch out for:

Groupon deals: Cinemas have been selling groupon deals, and bargain-hunting Chinese audiences have been eating it up in bulk. Since such deals cannot be redeemed via online ticketing, they’re causing large lines at cinema box offices. Golden Harvest has been wise enough to set separate box office counters for groupon deals, but UA KK Mall was not as wise. If you’re not planning to order your ticket ahead of time, get to the box office early.

Picking up your ticket: If you do book your seats online ahead of time like I do (look at part 2 for more details), know that the cinemas are serious about canceling your booking 60 minutes before the film starts. I arrived at UA KK Mall at 10 am to pick up my 10:30 TIN TIN tickets (the mall doesn’t open til 10 am), and after spending 15 minutes in line (thanks to the groupon people), my seat was canceled and sold already. Luckily, I was able to pick another seat because the showing wasn’t full.

Wi-fi: If you do have to arrive at the cinema to pick up your ticket, you’re going to have at least an hour to spare. I like to go get  a cup of coffee (it’s a long trip up to Shenzhen), which means I usually go to Starbucks. Back in July, I was able to access the free wi-fi in the store and get to Twitter and Facebook via the VPN connection I had already set up on my phone. However, China Telecom now require users to register their cell phone numbers before using the wi-fi, so my Hong Kong number didn’t work.

However, Pacific Coffee’s free wi-fi simply requires you to put in a password that is displayed prominently on the store counter, which means I had no problem getting wi-fi at Pacific Coffee. So if the place you’re going to only has a Starbucks, bring a good book.

Audiences: Watching KORA in China felt like I was in someone’s living room watching TV. Everyone has something to say about the film, and there’s no way you can shut everyone up. Talking, texting, phone calling at the movies in China is a commonplace, and while it shouldn’t happen, you will have to accept it as part of the movie-going experience in China. Of course, I can’t do it since I went to the movies alone, but as the old saying goes: If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

English subtitles: Last time I was in China, neither REST OF YOUR SHOULDER nor WU XIA had English subtitles. This time, both KORA and LOVE IS NOT BLIND had English subtitles (though LOVE’s English subtitles were so bad that it’s not worth the visa to go to China to catch it if you’re relying on it). There’s no set rules, so you’ll have to rely on luck on this issue.

There are plenty of big blockbusters opening in December and Lunar New Year in China, so I hope this guide will be of use to those planning to visit a Mainland Chinese cinema during the holidays. Next time, I hope to go to the cinema in the Shenzhen Music Hall, and that’ll likely happen in December.

The Golden Rock at the 2011 Hong Kong Asian Film Festival - Day 14+15+16

This will be the last of the intense daily postings as the festival is beginning to come to a close. I will cover the films I have left (At least two Nikkatsu movies, and when I finish RED EAGLE on DVD and LET’S GO theatrically), but they will not come as often. Hopefully, I will go back to covering news, because well, someone should do it right.

Green Days (2011, Korea, Dir: Ahn Jae-hoon, Han Hye-jin)

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One thing that Japanese animation has always done superior American animation is how accurate they portray reality in animated form. After LIFE IS COOL (the rotoscope animated film) and GREEN DAYS, we can group South Korea into that list. While watching this simple coming-of-age animated drama, Studio Ghibli’s WHISPER OF THE HEART and ONLY YESTERDAY immediately came to mind, and that’s a good thing. The story of a teenage girl growing up in a small town during the 1970s, GREEN DAYS has the unassuming charm of those two Ghibli films, and it even finds a good chance to make use of the animation platform.

While it’s a love story on the surface, GREEN DAYS has a deeper message about the importance of having a dream as opposed to just striving to become a winner in life. While this message may appeal to a teen-and-older audience, everything else is family-friendly. Even though those who grew in the 70s will connect with the period in the film better (Ryan O’Neal and LOVE STORY has a surprisingly important presence here), it should connect better with teenagers. After all, that’s whom the film is speaking to.

Love and Bruises (2011, France/China, Dir: Lou Ye)

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As I had tweeted, LOVE AND BRUISES is about the best worst relationship you’ve ever had. The love between Chinese exchange student Hua and blue-collar worker Mathieu is almost entirely physical (they never seem to share more than a few words with each other, at least on screen) , and Mathieu’s hot temper lead to one abuse after another on Hua. And yet, she can’t seem to get herself to leave, as she jumps from one doomed relationship to another.

Anyone experienced in love has had this type of relationship before, even if it isn’t as intense as the one depicted in Lou Ye’s film. This intense romance drama is raw and at times unpleasant, but it also features great performances by Tahar Rahim and Corinne Yam (whom I can tell doesn’t speak fluent Chinese, by the way), top-notch editing, and shaky, but natural cinematography by Yu Lik-Wai. While the story is nothing new (meet, sex, sex, conflict, sex, separation, sex!), it’s a stronger film than I had expected it to be, and that’s a really good compliment when it comes to this year’s festival.

Big Blue Lake (2011, Hong Kong, Dir: Jessey Tsang)

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Full disclosure: I met writer-director Jessey Tsang in 2009 to write a magazine story on her, and I went to the village the film is shot in for the story. However, I was not involved in this film in any way, shape, or form, except for hearing about the title during my interviews.

That said, I always look forward ot Jessey’s work, because her gentle, observational style is a quiet voice the Hong Kong indie world needs. While her fellow indie filmmaker confuse the hell out of the people with their self-indulgent, experimental works, Jessey’s feature films are subtle without alienating her audience.

Her latest film, BIG BLUE LAKE, is once again a work partly based on her own life - shot in her own village and even her own home, as well as featuring non-professional village residents as actors. While the observations on her own home are not as sharp as her Beijing-set feature film debut LOVERS ON THE ROAD, it’s a very intimate indie film with issues audiences can actually relate to. On the other hand, Tsang’s direction does get a little awkward at times, as her handling of the dramatic material sometimes feel at odds with the brief detour into documentary territory. This isn’t helped by Leila Kong overdoing her dramatic scenes at times, but Lawrence Chou is excellent as the old classmate that comes into the heroine’s life.

BIG BLUE LAKE is far from a successful film, but as far as Hong Kong indies go, it’s not a bad piece of work. At least I understand it. Most of it, anyway.

Next time: Who knows?

The Golden Rock at the 2011 Hong Kong Asian Film Festival - Day 12+13

Can finally cover two days of the festival and become officially caught up once again:

Starry, Starry Night (2011, Taiwan-China, Dir: Tom Lin)

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If there’s only one good thing about Mainland China’s Huayi Brothers bankrolling this coming-of-age drama by Taiwanese filmmakers based on a Taiwanese graphic novel (Yes, if you can call comics graphic novels, we can call picture books graphic novels too), it’s that Huayi was able to pour the extra money in to make this film look good. Every yuan of the rumored 80 million yuan budget for this enchanting youth romance from WINDS OF SEPTEMBER’s Tom Lin is on the screen, from special effects that enhances rather than overwhelm to the beautiful art direction, and to top it all off - It’s actually a good film.

Lin, who said that he stayed as faithful to the source material as possible, tells a very simple story about a troubled teen girl (Xu Jiao, getting better and better), her relationship (or lack thereof) with her feuding parents, and her quiet romance with the new male classmate (new actor Lin Hui-Min, also good). All this essentially leads to the end of adolescence and the bittersweet memories one carries away when leaving it behind. The film’s emotions may be too subtle for a commercial audience, but Lin makes up for that with a splendid imagination and equally dazzling camerawork by cinematographer Jake Pollock. It probably won’t make its budget back, but it certainly deserves to, for Lin, Huayi, and everyone who has any investment in this film deserved to be rewarded for their work here.

Branded to Kill (1967, Japan, Dir: Seijun Suzuki)

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Too many scholars have already said what needs to be said about this crazy masterpiece from cinematic rebel Seijun Suzuki. It defiantly breaks cinematic conventions along the way for a dizzying cinematic experience. It’s not a film for everyone (what film about a rice-sniffing assassin is?), so you’ll have to tune your expectations if you’re watching it the first time. It looks like it’s supposed to be taken seriously, but it’s really a barrel of laughs that may be funnier than it was intended to be. Essentially, I’d say it’s a watchable experimental film, which is something you don’t see anymore.

Tomorrow: Korea does shojo animation.

The Golden Rock at the 2011 Hong Kong Asian Film Festival - Day 11

Three films from two days to cover. Not writing about RA.ONE (Which I dropped THE SWORD IDENTITY for) because it’s not part of the festival.

Seediq Bale I (2011, Taiwan, Dir: Wei Te-Sheng)

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I’m counting the two SEEDIQ BALE films as two films because 1) They both run way over minimum feature film length, and 2) I’m watching them on different days. CAPE NO.7 director Wei Te-Sheng tells the epic story of the Seediq aboriginal tribe’s bloody fight with their Japanese colonial master, and the result is just about the most ambitious Taiwanese film yet. In fact, it’s so ambitious that Wei casts his net a little too wide in the first installment, spending 40 minutes to set up his main character, the inter-tribal rivalry, and the arrival of the Japanese before jumping 30 years to when most of the story takes place.

With characters from different tribes AND the evil Japanese soldiers, it’s easy to get lost in the first hour trying to figure out who’s who. However, once Wei sets up the beginning of the Wushe Incident, SEEDIQ is a compelling war drama that’s more than just a nationalistic war film about how evil the Japanese army was. Instead, it’s a film that sympathizes with all cultures that have been invaded by imperialism, and there actually are real discussion about whether it’s better to sacrifice lives to fight back, or simply live on to preserve the culture.

However, Wei also doesn’t seem to be excusing the brutal murders the Seediq commit in the name of the freedom. The climax of the first part involves not just the deaths of Japanese characters that we don’t like, but also the brutal murders of innocent women and children. If anything, Wei approaches the incident as something sad, but inevitable, like a good anti-war film.

Even though there’s some battles in part one, this installment is better at laying out the human elements before unleashing the death and destruction in part two, which I’ll be seeing in two weeks.

The Raid (2011, Indonesia, Dir: Gareth Evans)

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This mean little Indonesian action spectacular offers plenty of stabbings, slicings, shootings, and even more kicking, which means people looking for this sort of thing will come out happy like a schoolboy in a candy store. It doesn’t reinvent the genre (Johnnie To’s BREAKING NEWS has a similar concept, but with more humor, social commentary, and restraint), but rather more of an exhilarating exercise in it. There’s no doubt that plenty of thought went into designing the numerous action sequences, which had audiences in Hong Kong laughing in amazement over its sheer over-the-top ridiculousness, and that’s pretty much all you’ll get with THE RAID.

Of course, those who aren’t into the genre will find it mean and sometimes downright vicious. It is a very cruel, sadistic film that finds joy in violence and death, and it barely spares any time for humor with its repetitive, video game-like structure (hallway, fight, fight, death, hey where did all the people go?). Of course, the counter-argument is that one should just enjoy it as a work of pure action fantasy. As long as one can stomach the violence, a fine fantasy it is.

Tomorrow: A fantasy about divorce, and a Nikkatsu classic

The Golden Rock at the 2011 Hong Kong Asian Film Festival - Day 10

Sorry, just one day at a time until I find the time and energy to write more:

Whores’ Glory (Austria-Germany, 2011, Dir: Michael Glawogger)

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Aren’t there prostitutes in first world countries, too? Apparently, they just weren’t exotic enough for Austrian director Michael Glawogger, who has to go slumming in Thailand, Bangladesh, and Mexico to realize that prostitutes have dignity, too. His three-part film reveals some interesting things about the prostitution industry in the three countries, but the endless use of euro minimalist music and his choice of locations just spell cultural tourism for me. The footage he gets is interesting and sometimes even revealing (especially the reveal about the characters’ respective link to religion), but parts of it (including the money shot, so to speak, showing real sex) seems a little staged for a documentary. Hey, for the sequel, maybe Mr. Glawogger can look at prostitutes from countries that aren’t, you know, poor and exotic.

Aarakshan (India, 2011, Dir: Prakash Jha)

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About the Indian equivalent of affirmative action (Americans will more likely get this term), the first hour of AARAKSHAN  sets up an interesting debate about whether the disadvantaged should get a leg up by the government in education and employment. However, with the presence of superstar Amitabh Bachchan, director Prakash Jha (also known for his socially conscious films) might’ve had to keep things engaging for commercial reasons. Not only are there two very unnecessary song-and-dance sequences, Jha also shifts the focus an hour in from the reservation system debate to the struggle of an idealistic principal who loses everything due to his pride. In other words, it asks the important questions, but ends up providing answers to something else.

Nevertheless, Bachchan has a commanding presence as the respected teacher, and the film still raises a few very relevant issues that it actually does take a stance on (Hong Kong parents may identify with how education has become a business in Hong Kong). The usual bombastic sound mix will keep people awake, especially when Jha directs parts of it literally like a Hollywood action film. Even if it’s not totally effective, it’s always interesting to see a Bollywood film that’s not about being escapist entertainment.

The Killer Who Never Kills (2011, Taiwan/Hong Kong, Dir: @pple/Jimmy Wan)

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This dark comedy about a rookie killer who ends up faking the deaths of all his targets is played like a light heist comedy and certainly amusing enough for the most part.  However, it’s so light that no one should be expected to remember much of it after a week. Idol contest contestant-turned-pop star Jam Hsiao is in his first starring role and ends up faring better in his debut than Jay Chou, who took stoic acting a new level in INITIAL D. Supporting cast, especially Jeff Huang as an Americanized Taiwanese gangster, really elevates the film in terms of being an effective comedy, but KILLER WHO NEVER KILLS is first and foremost pop cinema for its home audience and taiwan-philes.

Tomorrow: Some more reviews.

 

 
 
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