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Archive for the ‘actors’ Category

The Golden Rock - August 31, 2011 Edition

Back at the Chinese box office. Not many surprises, but still worth looking at:

- Last week, OVERHEARD 2 failed to beat the SMURFS in the 7-day chart (it opened on a Thursday), but now it gets its revenge as it held strong in the second week and overtook those pesky blue creatures on the chart. After 11 days, the white-collar crime thriller has already made 161 million yuan. With 82 million yuan made over its first full week, it looks it will break through the 200 million mark, and it’s probably aiming straight at beating SHAOLIN’s 212 million yuan gross to become the second highest-grossing Chinese-language film of the year, if not the 250 million mark.

Excluding ensemble guest star roles in films like BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL, OVERHEARD 2 will also likely be the highest-grossing film for all three stars in Mainland China - Louis Koo (beating ALL’S WELL ENDS WELL 2011’s 167 million), Daniel Wu (beating HOT SUMMER DAYS’ 131 million yuan), and Lau Ching Wan (beating, well, OVERHEARD 1). This is excellent news for Polybona, who served as sole distributor of the film and now has the biggest hit of the company’s history. This is also another victory for producer Derek Yee, who has been adjusting his crime film formula for the Mainland as director/producer since PROTEGE, to increasingly higher box office gross on each outing. Guess who lost? Those who had to sit through TRIPLE TAP.

OVERHEARD 2 has also done extremely well in Hong Kong, passing the HK$15 million mark in two weekends, and it should have no problem hitting the HK$20 million mark.

However, one should look closer at OVERHEARD 2’s numbers in China. Even in its opening weekend, the film averaged only about 45 admissions per show from a total of 50000+ showings. In its first full week, it only scored an average of 33 admissions per show. This suggests that the only reason OVERHEARD 2 is doing so well is that it’s taking up all the screens, which is in turn caused by a lack of major competition for male audiences after MY KINGDOM moved out of the way to September 9th. With the weibo buzz on SOURCE CODE pointing to it having a chance at scoring moderate numbers this coming weekend, we’ll see how OVERHEARD 2 does in its second full week.  Either way, it won’t have any major competition for another week, so that 200 million mark won’t be so hard to reach.

I had to add a disclaimer that OVERHEARD 2 had no major competition for male audiences because CARS 2 was actually supposed to be its major competition this past weekend. However, the Disney 3D film made only 42.95 million yuan over 5 days (WITH 3D premium prices) for a 27.37 admissions per show average. This is very much a flop-like gross for a Pixar film in China.

Speaking of flops, congratulations to the production company of Wong Jing’s TREASURE HUNT, who probably still hasn’t been able to cover Cecilia Cheung and probably Ronald Cheng’s salaries with its 10-day gross of 18.25 million yuan (remember, half goes to the cinemas). PERFECT BABY, starring Deng Chao, Jane March (Yes, THAT Jane March), and some cute French baby, made a nice, round 10 million yuan over its first 4 days, which is not bad until you see its average admissions per show: 17.95.

Holdovers: SMURFS now at 225.1 million yuan after 19 days, HARRY POTTER 7.2 now at 396 million yuan after 25 days,and TRANSFORMERS 3 now at 1.08 billion yuan.

Oh, remember those “excellent, recommended films” dictated by the SARFT? YANG SHAN ZHOU has now grossed a total of 65.55 million yuan (that’s higher than Andy Lau’s WHAT WOMEN WANT), while WENTIAN is now at 55.1 million yuan. Sorry, POTTER, SMURFS, TRANSFORMERS, and probably even OVERHEARD 2.

Trailer park time:

- Today we have three new trailers: First up, it’s the latest 1-minute trailer for Gordon Chan’s fantasy romance MURAL (to open in China for National Day, but no HK release date planned), the 5-minute trailer for SEEDIQ BALE, and a trailer for the “Main Melody Film” 72 HEROES, starring Eric Tsang, Alan Tam, Tse Kwan Ho, and Liu Kai Chi. I know.  72 HEROES opens in China in mid-September. Don’t even try and shove that stuff down here to Hong Kong, kthx.

- Speaking of SEEDIQ BALE, actress Chie Tanaka revealed that her role in teh film is actually quite small. More importantly, she revealed that SPEED ANGEL, which she co-stars in with Rene Liu, Tang Wei, and Cecilia Cheung, will be released in December.

- And speaking of Japanese cinema, the Montreal World Film Film Festival has once again given two major prizes to Japanese films - Masato Harada’s CHRONICLE OF MY MOTHER for Grand Prix and Takahisa Zeze’s LIFE BACK THEN for the “Innovation Prize”. This is such an important award because the winners at the Montreal World Film Festival usually return to Japan and gain major critical acclaim. DEPARTURES was one of those films.

- Then, we move our focus to Korean cinema. CHRISTMAS IN AUGUST director Hur Jin-Ho is in currently prepping for the China-invested remake of DANGEROUS LIAISONS, and now there’s word that Korean superstar Jang Dong Gun is in talks to join the cast. Nothing’s set in stone yet, but this might signal at a pretty major Panasian cast for Hur’s film.

And on a short version of I read Weibo so you don’t have to:

- Vicki Zhao wrote on her Weibo that the shoot for PAINTED SKIN 2 has finished, and she posted this picture:

zwpaintedskin.jpg]

This is obviously supposed to be an attempt to disprove reports that Zhao and co-star Zhou Xun have been feuding on set, especially the Apple Daily story about the two throwing chairs on the set at one point. I know at least one guy who isn’t convinced by these pictures and think that they need to be more intimate to make their point clear. I am not that person.

Next time: Chinese/Hong Kong directors speak out, and more news!

I put sources down here so you’d know I didn’t invent my own news:

Entgroup
Filmbiz Asia
m1905
Sina
Sina Weibo

The Golden Rock - August 14, 2011 Edition

Today, we’re focusing on a story in China’s Time Weekly about the emergence of the horror genre in Chinese cinema.

First, I will paraphrase the article, then add in my own thoughts in italics

- Between the releases of BEGINNING OF GREAT REVIVAL and TRANSFORMERS was a little horror film called MYSTERIOUS ISLAND. How was this film, which cost only five million yuan to make (compared to REVIVAL’s 70 million yuan and WU XIA’s reported 110 million yuan), managed to make an astonishing 90 million yuan at the box office?

In the last two years, the horror genre has been finding success at the Chinese box office. However, the article also points out that horror films tend to gross only around 10-20 million yuan at the box office. Even the most successful example before ISLAND was MIDNIGHT BEATING, which surprised many by grossing 32 million yuan.

Despite these seemingly low grosses, horror films have actually been very profitable for Chinese investors.  The articles points out several recent examples: THE DESERTED INN cost three million yuan and grossed 23.6 million yuan, LOST IN PANIC ROOM cost 4.5 million yuan and grossed 24.5 million yuan, and the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY-style horror film NO.32, B DISTRICT cost a total of 4 million yuan (including advertising) for a total gross of 17 million yuan. In fact, insiders put the actual production budget of NO. 32 B, B DISTRICT (which takes place almost entirely in one house and shot on digital cameras) at just around 100,000 yuan.

That’s why ISLAND producer Liu Jing said that he would’ve actually been perfectly satisfied with a 40 million yuan gross. Instead, Liu is now seeing a mega hit on his hands, and his efforts here is definitely something that other producers should learn from. Specifically, what set Liu’s film apart from the other recent Chinese horror films is the amount of calculations in put into the film.

Specifically, he examined Hollywood’s low-cost horror model and the elements that made those films so profitable in the United States, particularly its clear target at the teen audience and their low-risk budgets.

For MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, the production company first looked for a Hong Kong director (”they have more experience with horror than China [directors]”) that wasn’t necessarily a big name, but is experienced in genre (that’s where Rico Chung Kai-Cheong came in). Then, the filmmakers and production met and agreed on using several clear selling point for the film: a mid-summer release date, pretty people, girls in bikinis, and an isolated island.

 mysterious.jpg
The horror….the horror…

 

This is where Mini Yang came in. However, Yang wasn’t to be the sole selling point of the film. After all, television drama PALACE, Yang’s breakout success, had not yet been aired, and she was actually cast early on in the process because she was a talent signed under investor Mei Ah. Instead, Yang was just part of the “girls in bikini” selling point that also include Anya, Maggie Lee, and other hotties.

However, in a stroke of incredible luck and good timing, PALACE was released, and Yang’s Weibo popularity shot from 1.2 million followers when she was cast to 7 million at the time of release. In fact, many of those fans actually successfully organized mass ticket buying campaigns on the internet, which likely helped its opening weekend gross by quite a bit.

Even though the beginning of the new Chinese horror trend can be traced back to 2007 with MIDNIGHT TAXI (a 2 million yuan budget for a 13 million yuan gross), the article also pointed out that horror films actually had hit a period of popularity in 1999 with a series of films by Agan (TWO STUPID EGGS, DON QUIXOTE). However, after a string of horror hits, the director left the genre in 2004 and began making comedies instead.

The article explains that Agan left because of the multiple obstacles facing the horror genre right now: Even though they made money, recent horror hits are often lambasted by both critics and audiences. On Douban, MIDNIGHT TAXI is averaging only 3.5 out of 10, DESERTED INN averages a 4.2, MIDNIGHT BEATING has a 3.3, and NO. 32, B DISTRICT is the stinker of the year with just a 2.4 average. Even MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, with its mobilized Mini Yang fans, could only earn a 3.3 average so far.

While the audiences blame the film’s scripts, the article says that the scriptwriters blame the censorship authority. While there is no official law that films in China cannot feature ghosts, it has become an unwritten law that all filmmakers understand. Even though a producer says that this “rule” isn’t the kiss of death for the genre (”You can still tell a good story while following the law for horror films. The problem with many horror film scriptwriters is that they lack imagination,” says the producer), Agan says, “Chinese horror films are all scams. The censorship rules are obvious, so can you actually make a horror that’s suitable for all audiences?”

The article ends with several points about the dangers of the genre. While a producer points out that there are actually cases of financial failures in horror, the genre has become the least risky risk for new film investors that want to dabble in filmmaking. Agan gets the last word in the article, saying “In a time when big films are bad in various spectacular ways, the sudden rise of Chinese horror films is not all that surprising, nor is it much of a miracle.”

And now, my own thoughts:

Like Liu Jing said, the success of MYSTERIOUS ISLAND is from producers having a very clear idea about who its target audience is. With selling points that are clearly aimed at attracting the young audience (especially the summer vacation release date), it got exactly the people it wanted to show up. Meanwhile, other horror films like DEVIL INSIDE ME and LOST IN PANIC ROOM simply used stars with names and no box office appeal (Kelly Lin, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Simon Yam) or advertising campaigns that tried to sell things that audiences who know China’s censorship rules realize they will never see. 

Despite the actual quality of these films, this new genre does help bring more variety into the Chinese film industry. Tentpoles will always stay roughly the same (period epics, period epics, and martial arts period epics), but audiences will quickly abandon Chinese films for better-produced Hollywood counterparts if they’re not offered any variety. Not only do producers get to turn a profit with a low-risk investment, Chinese audiences get a bit of trashy thrills in their local language when Hollywood horror films are not allowed in. This will help the industry to mature, and hence protecting itself from becoming that bursting bubble. 

However, the issue with consistent low quality will hurt the genre in the long run. Soon, audiences will finally learn to avoid these products (especially when those MYSTERIOUS ISLAND copycats start popping up), and the horror bubble will quickly burst.  The only ways this situation will improve is either 1) find better scriptwriters (though they’re not safe from bad producers and investors), 2) Have China loosen their ideological censorship standards AND create a rating system that allows edgier films. But of course, neither of these will happen, so as of right now, we should only chalk MYSTERIOUS ISLAND up as a miracle rather than the beginning of anything.

- YING XIONG DUE XUE (No English title), about the Huang Hua Gang Uprising, is the latest “mainstream” film (nationalistic) from China to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution. The film, directed by Derek Chiu (THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED), stars Eric Tsang as the villain. However, after joining the cast, Tsang decided to sign on a producer because he wants to help make it a commercial “mainstream” film. Yes, Eric Tsang - now in the Chinese propaganda business.

- Mtime presents a collection of the best Chinese movie posters of the new millennium. Check them out and see what you think.

- Toei, one of the three major film companies in Japan (Toho and Shochiku are the other two), is returning to the business of foreign film acquisition for the first time in 30 years. This is especially important news in light of the trouble among smaller independent distributors in recent years. The first film to open under this revival is THE MAN FROM NOWHERE from Korea.

- Toei’s next acquisition will be Jackie Chan’s 1911, the action star’s 100th film. It has been announced that it will also join THE THREE MUSKETEERS as the other opening film in the 2011 Tokyo International Film Festival. These are not particularly odd choices, as TIFF has always premiered high-profile commercial films to attract attention. Attending the Asian premiere of KUNG FU HUSTLE in its 2004 edition (with Stephen Chow in attendance) is likely one of my fondest experiences as a film buff.

A side “I read Weibo so you don’t have to” note: Weibo industry insider says that 1911 has been shred to pieces in the editing room (may or may not be related to the authority’s reported ideological censorship). Jackie Chan’s role has now been relegated to 2nd lead, and the director is furious. Considering the film is a month and a half away from release, not much footage has made its way anywhere (except for the Japanese teaser). What’s going on here?

EDIT:  My bad. The Chinese teaser for 1911 is now up. It’s different from the new Japanese trailer, with more footage, and a completely different structure. It also looks real purty.

- MURDERER director Roy Chow is currently shooting NIGHTFALL, starring Nick Cheung and Simon Yam, and the film now features a cameo by Chinese Fifth Generation director Tian Zhuangzhuang (BLUE KITE). For those who’s wondering what Tian is doing in the film, both NIGHTFALL and Tian’s previous film THE WARRIOR AND THE WOLF are both co-invested by Edko. Of course, considering the media reports quoting Tian talking about the importance of Hong Kong cops and robbers film as a genre that needs to be preserved, it’s obvious that it’s an Edko PR move.

- Jeff Lau has finished his three-month shoot for (unofficial titled)  EAGLE SHOOTING HEROES 2011. Like JUST ANOTHER PANDORA’S BOX, it will have a huge cast of recognizable HK/China actors (Eason Chan, Karen Mok and Ekin Cheng as leads), except that it’s a modern comedy. The film is aiming for a November release.

- Jason Gray write a bit about the upcoming Japanese youth crime flick THE HARD ROMANTICKER, starring Shohei Matsuda.

- A recent Hong Kong newspaper wrote that Daniel Wu and Stephen Fung have been feuding because Wu didn’t want to produce TAI CHI. Daniel Wu has taken to his Alivenotdead blog to deny the comment and even pointed out how the sensationalist Hong Kong press has now gotten him in trouble. I always say that Hong Kong entertainment news is strictly for entertainment, and this is again the case.

Next time: Whatever we can find time for.

Sources:

Film Business Asia 1
Film Business Asia 2
Sina 1
Sina 2
Sina 3
Time Weekly (via Entgroup)

The Golden Rock - August 9, 2011 Edition

I was going to write a little bit about YOU ARE THE APPLE OF MY EYE, but I’ll save it for the next entry. Instead, let’s go straight into Chinese box office:

- Like the gift that keeps on giving, the Chinese weekly box office chart is out.

 

As expected, HARRY POTTER 7.2 topped the box office, with 188.15 million yuan over four days. The film saw 4.66 million admissions from 73,000 shows for an not-bad 63.1 admissions per show. This ends the multiplex dominance of TRANFORMERS 3, which made another 168 million yuan over the past seven days for a 18-day total of 939.5 million yuan and a per-show average of 42.64 admissions. While it is the highest-grossing film of the year so far and expected to pass the billion yuan mark, it’s not likely to beat AVATAR’s record of 1.35 billion yuan.

 

Like the past two weeks, the most interesting part of the chart is seeing how the Communist Party’s “excellent, recommended films” are doing. YANG SHAN ZHOU, about a rural Communist Party committee secretary, saw a 251% jump in box office gross this past weekend, making 17.1 million yuan from 6,700 showings for a 20-day total of 26.3 million yuan. WENTIAN, produced by the People’s Liberation Army’s August 1st Studio, finally saw a decline with 10.5 million yuan for a 38-day total of 31.95 million yuan.

 

If these numbers don’t mean much, look at the admissions per show for these two films: YANG SHAN ZHOU has an 84 admissions per show, and WENTIAN still has a 74.1 admissions per show. Even BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL, now in its 8th week, managed a 286% jump for a 6.3 million yuan gross and a 77.1 admissions per-show average, despite already being on DVD and legal online streaming. GUO MING YI, despite outside the top ten, still managed 73 admissions per show in the past seven days.

 

Know why no local distributor is saying anything about it? Because both Huaxia and China Film Group, both distributors of HARRY POTTER and TRANSFORMERS, happen to be co-distributors of YANG SHAN ZHOU, WEN TIAN, and BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL, which mean whatever these five films make goes to these two companies anyway. “Whether you believe it or not, I believe it” indeed.

 

Elsewhere on the chart: SEER now at 40.1 million yuan after 11 days, MYSTERIOUS ISLAND at 89.35 million yuan after 31 days (and expected to pass 90), Taiwan’s L-O-V-E opens with 7.45 million yuan over three days, and WAGES OF SIN makes 2.25 million yuan over three days.

 

Opening this weekend in China are THE SMURFS, documentary OCEANS, youth action flick NO LIMIT, TVB/Shaw Brothers’s FORTUNE BUDDIES, and the animated flick LEGEND OF THE MOLE - FROZEN HORROR. Guess which ones will stay and which one will go?

Just some small news tidbits before we go:

- Yes, the Venice Film Festival competition has added Johnnie To’s LIFE WITHOUT PRINCIPLE. He finished reshoots a couple weeks ago, and my inside source told me that they were working very hard on post-production for it, so looks like it will make it for the fest after all.

The Hollywood Reporter story says that there will still be one more surprise film in the competition, and now I’m betting that there’s a pretty good chance it’ll be Zheng Yimou’s NANJING HEROES.  It has reportedly passed censorship in Mainland China already, so it’s likely it’ll use Venice as its launching pad for a major international release.

- At a promotional event for OVERHEARD 2 in China, Daniel Wu talked about Clara Law’s LIKE A DREAM, his first effort as a producer/investor. He was quite honest, as he pointed out that he lost money on that film after its disappointing box office run. However, he said that he didn’t mind that it lost money, as it was more an artistic effort than a commercial effort.

He’s currently following the production of TAI CHI, which is the first film of his new production company. He said that his role as producer is to help director Stephen Fung find investments and actor, while Fung will do the same for Daniel when he directs a film. Sounds like a true collaborative effort.

When asked whether he likes being a boss, he said that he likes being an actor, but he doesn’t like being a star. Now, he’s also liking the feeling of being a boss, so look forward to Daniel as he takes on more films behind the scenes.

- Shang Jing, the director of hit comedy MY OWN SWORDSMAN, is working on a new film. The farce, which stars Huang Bo, Fan Wei, and other comedy stars, takes place in a 12-hour period in a group dinner. In China, dinners, especially business-related ones, are more about the social interactions (and drinking) than the food itself. I liked MY OWN SWORDSMAN a lot, so it’ll be interesting to see what Shang Jing does without an established source material like MY OWN SWORDSMAN

- Fox International has announced that it will stop distributing 35mm film prints to cinemas in Hong Kong and Macau starting January 2012. This is an expected step, as most western film distributors (and some local ones) have turned to distributing digital prints rather than film ones. There are not many theaters left in the area (a few in Macau and at least two in Hong Kong) that are not yet equipped with digital projection, so the pressure’s on them to make the change.

- Edit: NEW LINK

Over in Japan, friend Jason Gray started a project that brings free film screenings over to areas devastated by the earthquakes/tsunami earlier in the year. The project has been going well, but he needs help to make these screenings even better by providing more food for the people. If you believe at all in the magic of movies and the joy it brings people, please visit his blog to see how you can help. I know i will.

Next time: Seriously, finally doing the horror in China story. If we can find time.

Sources:

Entgroup
Filmbiz Asia
Hollywood Reporter
Mtime
Sina

 

The Golden Rock - August 6, 2011 Edition

Today is what is known as Chinese Valentine’s Day. So what better way to spend the night than to write a blog entry?

Like many other places in the world, summer is when Hollywood shines in Hong Kong cinemas. With films like TRANSFORMERS and HARRY POTTER dominating literally more than half of the city’s multiplex screens, it’s hard to imagine any big local/Chinese-language films having the guts to compete.

However, there have always been a few tentpoles that is able to attract audiences over the years - INITIAL D, STORM RIDERS, INVISIBLE TARGET, and RED CLIFF. Even in 2010, we saw a good share of Chinese-language (co-production) blockbusters (regardless of their quality) like STOOL PIGEON, TRIPLE TAP, CITY UNDER SIEGE, AFTERSHOCK. Even BREAK-UP CLUB made a nice chunk of change for a film in its genre.

And now, here we are in 2011. Between June 1 and September 1, Hong Kong cinemas only have these Chinese-language films getting wide releases: MICROSEX OFFICE, TREASURE INN, BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL, BEACH SPIKE, LOVE IS THE ONLY ANSWER, WU XIA, FORTUNE BUDDIES, OVERHEARD 2, SUMMER LOVE, and THE WOMAN KNIGHT OF MIRROR LAKE. By this week last year, AFTERSHOCK and BREAK-UP CLUB already managed to break the HK$10 million mark at the box office.

On the other hand, from June 1 to August 6, 2011, none of the Chinese-language films listed above managed to reach that mark yet. Even WU XIA, the most likely candidate, will likely only gross HK$8 million when its theatrical run is over.

So, what the hell happened? Not to undermine GREAT REVIVAL and TREASURE INN, but there has been a clear lack of tentpole this year here in Hong Kong, with audiences all flocking to Hollywood films for their fix of spectacle, dimmed 3D projection, and pretty foreigners. Instead, we get low-budget Hong Kong productions made for audiences under the age of 25. While we saw LA COMEDIE HUMANIE do moderately well last year, the only adult-skewing comedy Hong Kong has to offer this summer is MICROSEX OFFICE.

It’s China’s fault.

Opening mid-June, BEGINNING OF GREAT REVIVAL essentially cleared the path for most Chinese blockbusters in Chinese cinemas, including Hong Kong-China co-productions. Granted, Lunar New Year and December are actually Chinese cinema industries’ strongest periods, but at least we got Benny Chan’s big-budget mutant movie and Derek Yee’s “I’m selling out to China” action films in 2010.

Instead, China opened smaller, local-oriented productions like LOVE FINALLY, THE DEVIL INSIDE ME, PRETENDING LOVERS, and MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, with WU XIA being the big tentpole in July. There was also the big-budget, China-oriented fantasy REST ON YOUR SHOULDER, which flopped due to it being distributed with little promotion and it sucking.

Instead, MYSTERIOUS ISLAND scored big, making 80 million yuan all thanks to young audiences not interested in WU XIA and a young starlet named Mini Yang. Even the PRETENDING LOVERS made a decent amount of change at 31 million yuan, which is not bad for a film starring Huang Bo and a director who got so fired that he was literally just credited as the “pre-production director”.

miniyang.jpg
Yes, this immense talent(s) put more asses in Chinese cinema seats than Jordan Chan and Hiro Hayama combined. Really.

However, what appeal do films like MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, PRETENDING LOVERS, and REST ON YOUR SHOULDERS have for us Hong Kongers? None - as PRETENDING and REST have yet to have any Hong Kong release date, while MYSTERIOUS ISLAND only got a small, seven-screen release (Mei Ah probably wasn’t even interested in booking more cinemas than seven). As a result, cinemas needed low-budget comedies like SUMMER OF LOVE, BEACH SPIKE, LOVE IS THE ONLY ANSWER, and MICROSEX OFFICE to fill the gap. I suspect that the combined budget for these films don’t even pay Donnie Yen’s salary on WU XIA.

It’s Hong Kong’s fault. 

As mentioned earlier, Barbara Wong’s BREAK UP CLUB was the surprise hit in summer 2010, and even MARRIAGE WITH A LIAR managed to turn a profit in  Christmas 2010. What’s a film investor to do but to invest in films that attract vapid, young consumers who have to leave the house, but need an air-conditioned venue to pass the time? That’s where BEACH SPIKE, LOVE IS THE ONLY ANSWER, and even SUMMER LOVE (which ironically opens 6 days before the school year starts) all come in.

However, what the producers didn’t anticipate was that many films avoided the double-whammy of TRANSFORMERS and HARRY POTTER, allowing the two to take up so many screens that it could fit in all the audiences that wanted to flock to them. Also, producers didn’t realize that the demographic they were trying to appeal to was also the most likely demographic that would download these low-budget films on their computer/iphones/MP4 players because, well, they look like they deserve to be played on those platforms. In fact, these films were made at such a low budget that LOVE IS THE ONLY ANSWER is already considered successful at its currently HK$5 million gross.

While people like to blame China and its money for the lack of Hong Kong-oriented productions worth watching, it was also Hong Kong audiences who marginalized themselves with their viewing behaviors and tendency to turn to the cheapest way to get anything. When BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS made 320 million yuan in China, it only made HK$15 million in Hong Kong. When OVERHEARD made 86 million yuan in China, it also made just HK$15 million. Where were Hong Kong audiences for films like ISABELLA, WRITTEN BY, GALLANTS, ONCE A GANGSTERS, and ACCIDENT? When Chinese audiences became so much more receptive to films by Hong Kong filmmakers than audiences of their own home, can you blame these Hong Kong filmmakers for having to look up north? Hong Kong filmmakers are trying to make a living, too, and they will go where they can survive, because seriously, when will Andrew Lau and Gordon Chan ever make a film for its artistic merits?

Before you get ashamed of having Patrick Kong using labels like “support Hong Kong cinema” as a selling point for his next crappy idol-driven romantic comedy, ask yourself, what have you done to prevent that from happening by supporting the good films that ought to be representing Hong Kong cinema?

It’s Hollywood’s fault. 

Comic-book heroes, magical wizards, and fightin’ robots are all that we’ve seen here in Hong Kong this summer, and it’s not only because the audiences asked for them - it’s because the distributors demanded it. Distributors of major Hollywood blockbusters here in Hong Kong, knowing their clout over multiplexes, reportedly force cinema chains to follow terms like not cutting shows in the first week and demanding them to carry 3D versions in order to cash in on the higher ticket prices. Instead of lowering the number of 3D screens for a more balanced ratio between 2D and 3D versions, these films simply took up even more screens to fit in limited showings of 2D versions.

In fact, the reason that WU XIA had to open three weeks late in Hong Kong was because it simply wouldn’t be able to withstand TRANFORMERS and HARRY POTTER, and We Pictures felt it needed a two-week gap to even make a dent. That’s how afraid we are these days.

No matter whose fault it is, I think it’s pretty accurate to say that Hong Kong cinema in the summer of 2011 has sucked. It’s a vicious cycle - you make movies that no one wants to see, then no money comes back to you. You have no money to make the next movie, so you go to another place that’ll have money for you. Perhaps this may also shed some light on why the blog has such a heavy China focus now - While Apple Daily puts up daily reports of scandals from Miss Hong Kong, Chinese reporters are busy going to one press conference after another, actually reporting news about THE FILMS. Regardless of how many shady practices are going on behind the scenes of those press conferences, at least people are actually informing people about the movies, not the gossip.

Of course, there’s also the idea of scheduling to deal with, but that’ll be a focus story some other time.

- Speaking of press conferences, CRAZY RACER/STONE director Ning Hao has finally unveiled his latest film to the press. His most expensive film to date at 50 million yuan, HUANG JIN DA JIE AN is another heist film, this time taking place in 1930s Manchuria. That means expect double-crosses, nice period set designs, and of course, evil Japanese people. While the cast is mostly new actors with little experience, Huang Bo also will have a small role in the film.

As for NO MAN’S LAND, his desert heist film that is still stuck in distribution limbo, Ning Hao only said that production on the film has finished a long time ago, and that the production company is responsible for its distribution. This is why he felt he was free to move on to another film.

Meanwhile, insiders tell me that those who saw it said NO MAN’S ZONE is great, but it’s likely that it’ll be stuck in censorship limbo for a while.

- Here in Hong Kong, director Herman Yau also unveiled his latest film, produced by prolific local producer Ng Kin Hung (GIRL$, HI, FIDELITY). It’s a romantic comedy starring Chapman To, Elanne Kwong, and Tien Niu. Chapman and Elanne will be playing husband and wife, so you already know it’s a comedy. The film just began shooting, and knowing Yau’s efficiency, it’s probably in the editing room already.

Seriously, though, it’ll probably be out by the end of the year.

- Both Zhang Hanyu and John Woo’s representative have pretty much confirmed that John Woo will be shooting a film based on the sinking of the Taiping instead of FLYING TIGERS at the end of the year. In addition to Zhang, Korean actress Song Hye-Kyo will be co-starring as Zhang’s wife. With a real-life ship sinking and a love triangle as its core, it’s no surprise that this is being dubbed as the “Chinese TITANIC”.

- In more production news, I reported earlier about Chen Kaige’s next neorealism project will start shooting in September. More details have emerged, revealing that it’ll be a drama about internet bullying that’s based on an internet novel. The film will be shot while sets are being built for his big-budget fantasy project, and insiders say that the small-scale film will star Ge You and Yao Chen.

- I also reported earlier that director Wang Quan’An’s latest will not be making it to Toronto and Venice. At a retrospective of his films in Beijing, Wang revealed that he has completed editing a rough cut of his latest film WHITE DEER PLAIN. Initially five hours long, Wang managed to cut another hour out of the film after his honeymoon with wife/the film’s star Kitty Zhang, and the current four-hour cut is being submitted to censors. After it’s approved, Wang will likely take another crack at cutting it to a manageable length. The film will be released in October at the earliest.

Meanwhile, Wang’s award-winning APART TOGETHER still hasn’t been distributed in China in cinemas nor video (though it was screened at the retrospective). What’s the hold up??!!

- Those who still care about box office: HARRY POTTER 7.2 finally opened in China, and unofficial figures put it at a 48 million yuan opening day. That means it’ll beat 7.1’s first weekend gross of 81 million yuan in two days. It won’t beat TRANSFORMERS at this rate, but it’ll probably make around 400 million yuan, which means it will also beat BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL at the box office. Meanwhile, a Weibo insider also noticed a huge surge in the box office for YANG SHAN ZHOU (one of the propaganda films) on the day of HARRY POTTER’s opening. Make what you will out of that on your own.

- The head of Xiangtan City’s Bureau of Radio, Film, and Television in Hunan Province wants to make a big-budget outdoor production of a Mao Zedong biopic, and he wants some western production values for his play. To achieve his goal, he took to his Weibo (he has a verified account), and literally wrote this:

“Can anyone help provide the contact information for Canadian director James Cameron? His films TITANIC and AVATAR set new records at the box office records. The recently-established Shaoshan Red Culture Tourism Group is currently looking for collaborators to produce a big-budget outdoor production of ZHONG GUO CHU LE GE MAO ZEDONG (Literally “China Made a Mao Zedong”), and I want to hire him as a creative consultant. Please provide, please repost. Thanks!”

Within a day, the message was reposted 37,000 times, with 15,000 comments, most of those ridiculing the poor government official of trying to be funny.  Finally, a netizen posted a phone number for what he claims to be James Cameron’s production company.  However, Lightstorm Entertainment said they haven’t heard anything about this possible collaboration.

In case you don’t know, Xiangtan is the hometown of several Chinese Communist Party founders, including Mao himself.

Next time: THE HORROR, oh, THE HORROR in China, and more.

Sources:

M1905 1
M1905 2
Mtime
Sina 1
Sina 2
Sina 3
Sina 4

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:

img_0091.JPG

 

- 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:

 

img_0088.JPG

 

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 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 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 - February 12th, 2009 Edition

- Again, I’m using the Hong Kong Filmart website numbers for this week’s Hong Kong box office. Thanks to excellent word-of-mouth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button took the top spot for the week, beating All’s Well Ends Well 2009 for a total of HK$19.6 million after 18 days. Meanwhile, Bride Wars led the newcomers, making HK$2.2 million from 33 days over the first 4 days. Will Smith’s Seven Pounds is all the way down at 9th place with just HK$1.72 million from just 19 screens after 4 days.

The rest of the numbers seem faulty (All’s Well Ends Well should be well past the HK$20 million mark now), so I’ll save the reporting for next week when better numbers come out.

-In Japanese box office, 20th Century Boys II managed to hold on to the top spot, despite losing 43.8% of business and Benjamin Button opening. Running 20 minutes longer (but on 53 more screens), Benjamin Button could only muster a 2nd place opening with a lower per-screen average than 20th Century Boys. According to Mr. Texas at Eiga Consultant, its opening was 110% of The Departed (another major Oscar nominee), which means it’ll make just under 2 billion yen. Then again, it may end up going to Hong Kong route and end up being a long-term hit. Weeks 2 and 3 will answer that.

In a relatively moderate release, High School Musical only scored a 5th place opening in terms of gross (it got bumped to 6th by Penguins in the Sky - Asahiyama Zoo on the attendence chart), it earned a respectable per-screen average.

- In Chinese box office, Look For A Star continues its reign at the top with 68 million yuan and counting, despite it not doing so well in Hong Kong.I’m surprised All’s Well Ends Well was the only film with an increase in gross, now with 31 million yuan and counting. And what the hell is Black Book doing there (unless it’s heavily censored)?

- In Taiwan box office, Foreign films continue to reign, with Yes Man and Seven Pounds taking the top spots. Red Cliff II still doing very well too, with 136 million New Taiwan Dollars in the bank. However, it’s also far from what part 1 had after its 4th weekend, which is the general pattern it’s following throughout Asia, except in China and Korea.

- In Korea, Red Cliff II has surpassed part 1, and still in second place this past weekend. The good news is that Korean films has taken 45.9% of total box office so far this year. Hopefully, that’s pointing towards an upward trend from the slump last year.

More at Korea Pop Wars

- The Hong Kong Film blog has posted the list of the nominess for the Hong Kong Film Awards. Red Cliff has 15 nominations, Ip Man and Painted Skin have 12 nominations,and even though The Way We Are only has 6 nominations, it was nominated in all themajor categories except Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor. Here are the major nominations:

BEST PICTURE

Red Cliff
Ip Man
Painted Skin
The Way We Are
CJ7

BEST DIRECTOR

Ann Hui - The Way We Are
Johnnie To - Sparrow
John Woo - Red Cliff
Wilson Yip - Ip Man
Benny Chan - Connected

BEST ACTOR

Louis Koo - Run, Papa Run
Simon Yam - Sparrow
Donnie Yen - Ip Man
Nick Cheung - Beast Stalker
Tony Leung - Red Cliff

BEST ACTRESS

Bau Hei-Jing - The Way We Are
Prudence Lau - True Women For Sale
Zhou Xun - Painted Skin
Karena Lam - Claustrophobia
Barbie Hsu - Connected

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Zhang Fenyi - Red Cliff
Stephen Chow - CJ7
Liu Kai-Chi - Beast Stalker
Lam Ka-Tung - Ip Man
Louis Fan - Ip Man

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Race Wong - True Women For Sale
Vicky Zhao - Red Cliff
Chan Lai-Wun - The Way We Are
Betty Sun Li - Painted Skin
Nora Miao - Run, Papa Run

BEST SCREENPLAY

Run, Papa Run
Claustrophobia
Painted Skin
Beast Stalker
The Way We Are

Some real atrocious choices (Painted Skin?! CJ7?! No Beast Stalker for Best Film?!), but I hope the voters will have some common sense left and let The Way We Are gets its day in the spotlight.

If anyone wonders how Claustrophobia got nominated, they had 5 night showings that were not opened to the public, but counted as having a week of release in 2008.

- Some Ip Man-related news today on Apple Daily: Wilson Yip and co. will start shooting the sequel this summer with a target release date of February 2010 (probably the next Lunar New Year slot), and Mandarin Films has already greenlit a second sequel as well. Right now, the filmmakers are looking for Jay Chou or Shaolin Soccer’s Chan Kwok-Kwan (aho already played Bruce Lee in the CCTV drama) to play Bruce Lee.

Meanwhile, Tony Leung said that Wong Kar-Wai plans to begin shooting his version of the Ip Man story in June, but he also says WKW may not even be done with shooting the film until the third Ip Man movie has been released, and that he expects that version to take a path that strays from Wilson Yip’s action film.

-  From Youtube is the trailer for Gegege no Kitaro and 10 Promises with My Dog director Katsuhide Motoki’s crazy looking Kamogawa Horumo (info from Nippon Cinema). It looks crazy, but I have little faith in Motoki’s work in general.

-  It’s reviews time! Both reviews are from Hollywood Reporter Asia today - one for Ivy Ho’s Claustrophobia from Peter Brunette, and by Neil Young is the review for Funahashi Atsushi’s Deep In the Valley, which was shown at the Forum section of the Berlin Film Festival.

- It already went through the TELA’s rating system in December, and now Sex and Chopsticks II has a poster which reveals a release date of March in Hong Kong. See you at the Dynasty.

- In other release news, despite a generally weak European Film Market at Berlin, America’s Magnolia Pictures, who brought the cut version of Ong Bak 1 and the uncut version of Chocolate to the United States, has picked up the American rights to Ong Bak 2.

- Under “Japanese TV drama” news , the moderate hit drama Zettai Kareshi is coming back for a one-episode drama special this spring.

Meanwhile, actor Jo Odagiri is returning to TV after Jikou Keisatsu for a TBS drama next season, co-starring Masami Nagasawa as his sister.

Lastly, the weekly variety show Goro’s Bar, hosted by SMAP member Goro Inagaki, will be turned into a drama special that will feature Inagaki playing the owner of a bar instead of him pretending to be a pop star pretending to be the owner of a bar.

- Chen Kaige talks about making Forever Enthralled at the Berlin Film Festival, where the film is the only Chinese-language film in competition. He talks about the pressure of having opera star Mei Lanfang’s son as a consultant and how important liberty is. Surely, he’s only able to say that outside of China.

- Lastly, further proof why Naoto Takenaka is the most awesome actor working in Japan.

The Golden Rock - January 20th, 2009 Edition

Yesterday was a slow news day, and with no box office numbers, there was nothing to write. But that all changes today:

- Even though Red Cliff II won the Hong Kong overall weekend box office with HK$9.1 million over the first 4 days from 73 screens, Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea could’ve probably won the weekend had it opened on the same day. Opening late on Saturday the 17th, the Studio Ghibli film made HK$5.2 million over two days from 58 screens (only 10 or so of those playing the Japanese version) for an average of HK$2.6 million a day (versus Red Cliff’s HK$2.27 million per day). Overall, Red Cliff II is performing not as well as part 1, which made HK$10.69 million in its first 4 days back in July. However, its upcoming Lunar New Year competition (Look For a Star, All’s Well Ends Well 2009, Benjamin Button, Marley and Me, Bolt) don’t overlap in terms of genre, so it may perform well enough through the extended Lunar New Year holiday to outperform the first film in the long run.

In its 5th week, Ip Man has broken through the HK$25 million mark, though its momentum has been stopped greatly by the two opening films taking up screens. The same goes for the second weekend of Australia (HK$3.89 million after two weekends) and Tactical Unit - The Code (HK$3.64 million after two weekends). Sadly, with now.com doing “maintenance” on their box office stats, and my refusal to take source-less numbers from the Hong Kong Film Blog, this is the best stats we can get for now.

- On the Japanese audience attendence chart, the disaster film Pandemic took the top spot in its opening weekend, finally knocking Wall-E off after 6 weeks at the top. The only other newcomer is Zen, which finally made its way up to the top 10 after being in 7th place last week.

According to Variety, Pandemic made US$3.35 million. According to the current rate on xe.com, that’s roughly 301 million yen. Meanwhile, Quantum of Solace ran sneak preview showings this weekend and earned 270 million yen, according to Eiga Consultant. More when the numbers from Box Office Mojo come out.

- Looks like it’s time to brace for another disappointing season in Japanese drama. The Winter 2008 season had Bara no nai Hanaya in the Monday 9pm Fuji TV slot and had a 22.4% premiere. This year, that time slot also has the highest-rated premiere of the season so far with Voice, but it only earned a 17.7% rating. Other dramas are definitely underperforming, namely Love Shuffle with Hiroshi Tamaki (looking like a skeleton), which saw only a 10% rating for its premiere episode.

Meanwhile, Triangle drops to a 11.1% in its second week, Arifureta Kiseki drops to a 10.9%, Tokumei Kakarichou Tadano Hitoshi is also underperforming in its primetime slot with just 10.9% (some reasoning passed around online points out that its target male audience arrive home in time for its old late night slot, but would not rush home to catch it on prime time), the Kenichi Matsuyama-starring drama Zeni Geba premires with only 12%, and Honjitsu mo Hare, Ijou Nashi premieres with only a 12.4%.

Some dramas are doing well enough so far. Aibou Season 7 kicks off 2009 with a 20.5% rating, Mei-chan no Shitsuji has the second-highest rated premiere of the season with 14.9%, Akai Ito continues to see its boost from the film version with a 10.8% this week, and Wataru Sekan wa Oni Bakari stays consistent with 15.1% this week.

All Japanese drama sypnosis can be found on Tokyograph

- In related drama news, the Nikkan Sports Drama Grand Priz survey has announced its results for the Fall 2008 season. It seems like the Arashi fans showed up and voted Ryusei no Kizuna to win in a landslide for Best Drama, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress.

- In India, the Warner Bros-produced comedy Chandni Chowk to China made US$6.8 million in the widest release for an Indian film ever in both India (1,319 screens) and North America (130 screens). It may pass the US$20 million mark, which is apparently the sign of a Bollywood blockbuster.

-  Jero is not the only African-American making it big in Japan. One of the most popular actors in Japanese advertising now is Dante Carver, who saw his rise to fame as Aya Ueto’s older brother and the son of a talking white dog in the popular Softbank commercials (see them here) and is in Japanese theaters this week in Pandemic (he even has a line in the trailer). Now, he will be acting in his first drama in a miniseries for NHK.

-Under “Film Festival” news today, Japanese Oscar contender Departures won the audience award at the Palm Springs Film Festival.

Meanwhile, Variety reveals the Asian contenders at the Berlin Film Festival’s Forums section, which will include Dante Lam’s Beast Stalker being included for a special screening at the Forums section.  The opening screen of Forever Enthralled also reveals that it will be joining the competition section, even though the full program has yet to be announced.

- In the midst of a serious recession, Japanese people are staying home to watch TV, which has proven to be quite beneficial for satellite and cable television operators who rely on suscribers’ fees instead of advertising as a major source of revenue.

- The Hong Kong Film blog has a trailer to Oxide Pang’s latest film Basic Love, which hopefully has no ghost and is just a teen love story with bad dialogue. Here’s a sample:

Girl: “Why do you treat me so well? You’re in love with me?”
Boy: “Yeah, I’m in love with you. I’m not gay. I’ve been in love with you since we were students!”

It opens on February 26th.

- In 2008, things were a little bit different in Asian box office. While large Hollywood blockbusters did well in the region as usual, local films have been extremely successful througout the region, with Japan being responsible for six of the ten highest-grossing films in Asia. China didn’t do so badly, either, with Painted Skin becoming a surprise hit and local romantic comedy If You Are the One heading towards breaking Titanic’s record.

- Lastly, Variety’s Derek Elley chimes in with a brief review of Lady Cop and Papa Crook.

The Golden Rock - January 12th, 2009 Edition

Happy new year again, all! Back from a trip over break, and now back in Hong Kong ready for a new year of Golden Rock blogging. News will be a bit light, as I’m trying to ease back into the blogging routine. Good thing today was a holiday in Japan, so box office and drama ratings stats will be coming in slowly.

- Ip Man leads an amazing 4th weekend at the Hong Kong box office. On Sunday, Wilson Yip’s action/biopic took in another HK$619,000 from 38 screens for a 25-day total of HK$23.91 million. HK$25 million should be no problem, though I think Red Cliff should take away momentum that 30 million is not going to be possible. In a bit of a surprise, Milkyway’s PTU spin-off film Tactical Unit - Comrade in Arms nearly won the weekend with HK$614,900 from 32 screens for a 4-day weekend total of HK$2.28 million, and it may end up wrapping up with about HK$5 million, which would exceed PTU’s original theatrical gross.

The weekend’s other wide opener, Australia, couldn’t score any blockbuster number due to a limited amount of showings and multiplex putting it on their smaller screens. With a ticket price inflation due to length, the epic romance made HK$584,000 from 32 screens for a total of HK$2.49 million from 4 days of wide release and several preview showings over the holidays.

Meanwhile, most of the New Year day openers have suffered steep drops. Alan Mak/Felix Chong’s Lady Cop and Papa Crook, which is one of the most blatant example of Chinese censorship interference of Hong Kong cinema, made only HK$387,000 from 39 screens and has made HK$6.51 million after 11 days. Tony Jaa’s Ong Bak 2 suffered an even worse fate, making only HK$159,000 from 35 screens (many of those playing a reduced number of showings) and has made only HK$4.93 million after 11 days, certainly a bit underwhelming considering Tom Yom Goong made distributor Edko over HK$10 million.

The only film from New Year’s day that’s still doing well is Forever Enthralled. Despite the Hong Kong press making up stories about underwhelming box office, it’s actually doing fairly decent business for a film that was released only on 11 screens with limited showings. On Sunday, the Chen Kaige film made HK$171,000 from 11 screens for a 11-day total of HK$2.26 million. That’s an average of HK$205,000 per day from 11 screens, and anything that can still average a HK$15,000+ per-screen daily is definitely not flopping.

Other box office totals: Madagascar 2 - HK$17.92 million after 24 days. Twilight - HK$16.41 million after 24 day. Suspect X - 11.94 million after 19 days. Bedtime Stories - HK$8.97 million after 18 days.

- Variety’s Derek Elley sends in a fairly positive review of John Woo’s Red Cliff, Part II. He calls the two movies combined “one of the great Chinese costume epics of all time”. Part II better be damn good enough to earn that title in my book.

-  Who didn’t expect this to happen? The Japanese comedy-drama Departures was the big winner at another Japanese film awards, this time the Kinema  Junpo Awards. The complete list of winners, including their top 10 domestic and foreign films, can be found here.

- They keep trying, but it won’t stop - major Chinese film producer Huayi Brothers is suing China’s top web portals for spreading illegal copies of their biggest films. Forget it, these days I’m being ridiculed for being a consumer of legit DVDs.

- Even though it’s not doing great business in Japan (roughly 650 million yen as of the weekend before last), Shochiku and Fuji TV are planning an Asia-wide release of their film-TV project Threads of Destiny. I don’t know how just releasing the film will work if the story is meant to be connected with the TV drama, which hasn’t been shown legally outside of Japan.

-Bless the good folks at Tokyograph for putting up their guide to the Winter 2009 Japanese dramas.

- Hong Kong director Derek Yee is now officially in the running for the Golden Rock of the Year after he admits that his latest film The Shinjuku Incident will give up the Mainland China market and go straight to Japan in March and Hong Kong in April because cutting the violence for a Mainland-approved “harmonious” version will just lead to disgruntled audience screaming “fraud!”. Good call, Mr. Yee and Emperor Films.

For those that don’t know, The Shinjuku Incident is the long-awaited Derek Yee film that features Jackie Chan in his first dramatic/non-action role.

- Danny Boyle, who just picked up a Golden Globe for Best Director, reveals that he’s been asked to direct a remake of Park Chan-wook’s Lady Vengeance. No word whether he said yes or no.

- Japanese actor Jo Odagiri’s first feature film as a director has been invited to the International Film Festival Rotterdam. The actor has been working on the film since it started shooting in the summer of 2006, and he finally completed the film two months ago.

 
 
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