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Archive for the ‘box office’ Category

The Golden Rock - April 20, 2012 Edition

 

 

titanic3d.jpg

 

According to Entgroup figures, TITANIC 3D made RMB 467 million in its first six days in Mainland Chinese cinemas (another chart puts it at 468, but let’s not nitpick, alright?).  If the other box office chart I’ve read is accurate, that means it’ll overtake MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - GHOST PROTOCOL’s RMB 678.9 million take to become the highest-grossing film of 2012. Considering that it also beat the 438 million record set by TRANSFORMERS 3 (which ended up making RMB 1.11 billion), we’d looking at it breaking AVATAR’s RMB 1.39 billion record if Fox didn’t already announce that they’re pulling the film by May 20th.

And Hollywood’s not done yet. BATTLESHIP and the second GHOST RIDER movie are opening this weekend, and THE AVENGERS will replace those screens on May 5th. With the May Golden Week holiday, it’s guaranteed that these three films (plus TITANIC) will be rolling in the dough.

Considering that last year’s Golden Week brought THE LOST BLADESMAN and CHINESE GHOST STORY - both of which made over RMB 100 million - The Chinese film industry must have something powerful to counter the Hollywood invasion, right?

Not really.

(more…)

The Golden Rock - December 14, 2011 Edition

On December 15th, the biggest box office battle of 2011 in China begins with Tsui Hark’s FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE and Zhang Yimou’s FLOWERS OF WAR opening in Chinese cinemas (Derek Yee’s THE GREAT MAGICIAN was slated to join the battle, but has since backed off to January 12th). It’s the climax of what will be another intensely competitive year-end period in Chinese cinema (last year saw year-end king Feng Xiaogang surprisingly beaten by Jiang Wen). This entry will look at each of the major contenders, and why they will and won’t be hits:

THE FLOWERS OF WAR

Release Date: December 15, 2011

flowersofwar.jpg

Why it’ll be a hit: Zhang Yimou, one of the most acclaimed directors in the history of Chinese cinema, making the most expensive film in the history of Chinese cinema. Set in the Nanjing Massacre (or Incident, if you’re in Japan), the film, which is also based on a popular novel is promising plenty of large battle scenes. It’s also one of the first Chinese films to feature a major Hollywood star (Christian Bale) as the lead, and it’s representing China at this year Best Foreign Film race at the Oscars.

Why it’ll not be a hit: Its US$90 million price tag already pretty much guarantee that it will not be making its budget back in China (It’ll have to gross at least US$180 million in China alone to break even - government takes roughly 8% as tax, and cinemas take about 55% of the after-tax gross - and that’s not even counting advertising).

Zhang Yimou has also been battling a less-than-great reputation among Chinese film fans after CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER and A SIMPLE NOODLE STORY (among other various gossip), and the way the film has been sold - with emphasis on sex scenes, Christian Bale, and spectacle - being called insensitive by some won’t help his cause. Also, the very public fight between Zhang’s producer Zhang Weiping and cinema owners in China (and the high ticket price that will result from it) may turn some away as well.

Meanwhile, Christian Bale might have been a good name to sell to potential investors and overseas distributors, he isn’t exactly a household name in China, with neither of his BATMAN films having been shown theatrically in China (though I’d assume that many people have seen them anyway).

Lastly, the film isn’t in 3D, unlike….

FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE

Release Date: December 15, 2011

flyingdragongate.jpg

Why it’ll be a hit: Tsui Hark managed to make the highest-grossing film of his career with DETECTIVE DEE (correct me if I’m wrong here), and now he’s making one of the most expensive films of his career with his first 3D Wuxia epic (US$35 million price tag). It’s been well publicized that Tsui is so devoted to making the 3D technology work that he made a feature film as a test film. His producers also made a wise move by striking a deal with IMAX to make it the first ever Chinese IMAX 3D film. Polybona has also moved GREAT MAGICIAN out of the way to make sure it’s one of the only two games in town on its opening weekend (MAGICIAN will go against Huayi’s VIRAL FACTOR instead).

When judged against FLOWERS OF WAR, the action and 3D make it an easier sell overseas than a film about the Nanjing Massacre. Of course, it also has a bigger cast than FLOWERS OF WAR, with Jet Li, Aloys Chen, Zhou Xun, and pop star Li Yunchun.

Why it’ll not be a hit: Not everyone can afford to pay 3D ticket prices, especially when IMAX prices will be up to 120 yuan. Also, there has been a decrease in the popularity of period action films, as evident in the disappointing grosses for LOST BLADESMAN and WU XIA this year.

And now, the dark horses:

DEAR ENEMY

Release Date: December 23, 2011

dearenemy.jpg

Why it’ll be a hit: Actress-filmmaker Xu Jinglei made history when her GO LALA GO became the first Chinese urban romantic comedy to pass the 100 million yuan mark at the Chinese box office. Her and LALA co-star Stanley Huang are back in another romance (is there even any comedy in this) about the dog-eat-dog business world, which will likely bring in urbanite women and their boyfriends. In addition to shooting on location in Hong Kong and London, Xu has also gotten a bigger cast this time around, adding Hong Kong stars Gigi Leung, Aarif Lee, Christy Chung, and the legendary Michael Fitzgerald Wong.

Why it won’t be a hit: It opens a week after FLOWERS OF WAR and FLYING SWORDS, which means cinemas are not likely to give it much screenings if both films continue to pack houses. GO LALA GO was also not particularly well received by some, who criticized Xu for putting in too much product placements and straying too far from the source material (Xu, however, has guaranteed that DEAR ENEMY will have fewer product placements).

THE ALLURE OF TEARS

Release Date: December 22, 2011

allureoftears.jpg

Why it’ll be a hit: The ensemble cast skews towards a slightly younger audience than DEAR ENEMY. Tearjerkers actually do attract audiences in China (Look at AFTERSHOCK and IF YOU ARE THE ONE II), though the actors here are not exactly known for their impeccable acting skills. Christmas is considered more of a romantic holiday than in the west (like in Japan. Ah-ha, China!), which means this will also bring in lots of couples.

Why it won’t be a hit: Like DEAR ENEMY, it may have problem getting enough screenings in certain cities. No one in the cast can be considered a box office dra, and the same goes for the Barbara Wong/Lawrence Cheng team. Some people may get turned off by the “You will definitely cry” promotional campaign, as well as how closely the poster resembles the poster for the Korean film SAD MOVIE.

SPEED ANGELS

Release Date: December 28, 2011

speedangels.jpg

Why it’ll be a hit: It features a very strong female cast (Rene Liu, Tang Wei, and Cecilia Cheung), and its topic of car racing can be considered fresh in the Chinese commercial film industry. Also, its December 28th release date sets enough distance from the big films that it may be the only big game left in town people haven’t seen.

Why it won’t be a hit: If all four films above turn out to be hits, it’ll be tough to secure enough screens for a big opening weekend, especially since a wave of Lunar New Year films will start in less than two weeks. Jingle Ma isn’t exactly a guarantee of quality for film fans anywhere, especially since everyone’s dressed in purple uniforms and the trailer is promising more melodrama than real racing. Plus, three words for Cecilia Cheung: Box office poison.

There are other smaller films released during the period, but these are essentially the big contenders for December. Of course, it would be great for the industry if all of these films do well, but you know the thing about free market is that people actually will watch what they want to watch and download what they don’t want to watch. Either way, I’ll be keeping a close eye on this box office battle and provide updates and analysis later on.

The Golden Rock - September 2, 2011 Edition

(Note: This entry was edited on September 4th to fix a link. Also added one small paragraph about SEEDIQ BALE and an additional line about Zhao Baohua and the rating system)

- In the entertainment industry, you should always watch what you say publicly, especially when it might offend the powers that be. Of course, when you become one of those people, you can say whatever the hell you want, as long as it doesn’t offend the people above you.

Feng Xiaogang is one of those people. China’s most commercially successful director and a Huayi Brothers shareholder, Feng Xiaogang has always been an outspoken man, and this time, he is taking on China’s State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television

(Note: The following report is sourced and translated from multiple articles, which you will be able to find at the bottom of the entry. Yes, you will have to read Chinese to know which is which)

Remember when I blogged before about how many people get a share of total box office gross in China? I wrote that it is split (never evenly) amongst cinemas, distributors, and investors. However, what I didn’t know was that the SARFT takes 5% from the theatrical gross of any film that is publicly exhibited in China, in addition to the 3.3% revenue tax. The 5%, which goes to a government film fund that aims to help build film screening infrastructure in rural areas, fund children’s films, and fund “Main Melody Films” (I’m gonna have to start a glossary for these terms soon).

At least that’s what they say the fund does. Anyway, Feng, who is a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, recently attended a conference on the Chinese cultural industry and spoke about problems in the Chinese film industry. One of the problems, he said, is the way the film fund makes money.

He used the example of Huayi Brothers. The box office revenue for their films in 2010 was 1.7 billion yuan. After taking away the cinema’s share, money spent on promotion, production, taxes and various fees, the company made a profit of 80 million yuan. On the other hand, the film fund collected 40 million yuan from Huayi, which is already half their profit. Huayi is one of the most profitable film companies in China, so imagine how much this 5% hurts the smaller companies.

To help production companies and investors find an easier way to profitability, Feng suggests that the government should be paying for the work of the film fund, and SARFT should abolish the 5% tax. Yes, he went there.

And he didn’t just stop there, either.

Feng then went on to criticize the SARFT’s censorship process.  Essentially, what he says is that the censroship process has come under heavy scrutiny by the audience, to the point where “SARFT examines films, while the people examines SARFT”. He also points out that the pressure from SARFT’s censorship ends up on the filmmakers, as the suggestions for cuts have reached the point of becoming laughable. Also, the audiences ends up blaming the flaws caused by these censorship cuts on the filmmakers.

Feng said even his AFTERSHOCK, which underwent changes from censorship, was heavily criticized for things that were ordered to be there due to SARFT censorship. In such an environment, directors have all flocked to historical films in order to avoid censorship troubles. As a result, Feng noted that there has only been a few “game changer” films in the Chinese film industry. As a result, he requested that the SARFT examines the negative effects of film censorship.

And then came the responses.

A representative for the film fund defends its tax, saying that 1) The film fund is designed to improve the Chinese film industry, and 2) This is a practice that has been done around the world, including France and Korea. In fact, according to the rep, some countries take even more than 5%! In other words,we do what we’re supposed to do, and it’s OK for us to do it because foreigners do it, too!

Still, the most useful thing this spokesman said was the five main functions of the film fund: 1) To renovate old cinemas, 2) Assist in the construction of cinemas, 3) Install digital projection in cinemas across the country, 4) Screen films in rural areas, and 5) “prepare for new technology in cinemas”.

Meanwhile, industry people like Huayi’s head Wang Zhonglei and Starlight’s Song Guangchang are naturally for abolishing the tax. Meanwhile, others have included alternatives like waiving the tax for films that cost less than 10 million yuan, or waiving the tax for Chinese made films and collect only from imported films. Good luck making that latter one work for co-productions.

As for the censorship comment, the head of LeTV suggests being more lenient on cuts for mid-to-low-budget films to “encourage creativity and explore unique topics”. On the other hand, director Fei Xing (of THE MAN BEHIND THE COURTYARD HOUSE) recounted the four months he dealt with censorship and ended up hearing audience criticized him for awkward SARFT cuts. He suggests that the censors should skew younger and take part in more communication with filmmakers.

Film critic/scriptwriter/SARFT censor Zhao Baohua defended SARFT’s work (though he insisted he does not speak for SARFT, but only for himself), saying that films are only undergoing “bottom-line examination”, meaning that as long as the film’s content don’t violate any laws, it will pass. As for films with sensitive topics and violence, SARFT will give their “suggestions” as a responsibility to film fans and the Chinese film industry.

Zhao said that the media is currently demonizing SARFT and the censorship committee for their work, because the films SARFT has halted productions on are bad films anyway. “When a film deviates from mainstream societal values and the market, the fault should not go to the censorship process. Instead, they [the filmmakers] should examine what went wrong with the film,” said the censor. He also felt that China is not ready for a rating system because it would mean that deviant category III films filled with violence and sex would make its way into Chinese cinemas. He even compared category III films to opium, saying “How can opium enter the market? That is absolutely unacceptable.”

Of course, being the SARFT, that fund is not likely to go anywhere, and censorship will be just as heavy, even if there’s a rating system. The government is intent of maintaining its authority over people, and it’s not about to lose the film industry’s influence over people for petty things like artistic integrity. Then again, maybe I’m just pessimistic like that.

-  In other news of directors speaking out, Gordon Chan recently expressed his own concerns about the Chinese film industry at a recent event for his latest film MURAL. Chan was asked whether his film is truly worth watching, or is it just another bad film trying to force its way into cinemas to cash in on the emerging industry. He admits that there are many films with a higher budget for promotion than production to hype the film to death, only to disappoint audiences in the end. This is why he vows not to play that kind of game for MURAL. Yes, it’s quite obvious that Chan never played that game, especially since the production budget for KING OF FIGHTERS couldn’t possibly go any lower.

Anyway, the rest of is promotional fodder, so we’ll just skip all that.

- The 150-minute international version of Wei Te-Sheng’s SEEDIQ BALE (referred to as a “Chinese language film” in most mainstream Mainland Chinese media, by the way, without any regional label, despite what some western media say) had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, and review has been fairly mixed. Two Chinese-language review pretty agree that while its budget is clearly on the screen, the film in its current form lacks something to earn its “epic” label. One review even call it a live-action attempt at AVATAR (though Wei began developing the project long before anyone knew what AVATAR was).

Meanwhile, reviews on Variety, Hollywood Reporter, and Film Business Asia are also mixed, pointing the film’s violent and bombastic nature.

So SEEDIQ BALE may not be very good, at least in the form of a 150-minute film. But how is the media in Taiwan, where the film may become a game changer for its commercial film industry, reacting to all of this?

The Liberty Times and Yahoo News are focusing on the positive, reporting that the film was well-received at the festival screening with a 10-minute standing ovation, and that the producer proclaimed the price for North American rights immediately went up after the screening. They also reported the full, 4.5 hour version has been screened for the Taiwanese media, and that version was also very well-received, with applause heard at the very end of part two.

Meanwhile, Christian alternative media Awakening News Network and NOWNews reported that the film wasn’t well-received at the festival screening, and that applause was very scattered, as opposed to the 10-minute standing ovation many Taiwanese media reported.

It would appear that SEEDIQ BALE is being used as Taiwan’s own propaganda tool, promoted as the pride of the nation with a film industry trying to pick itself up from its previous failures. Is it great that SEEDIQ BALE can revive the Taiwanese film industry? Of course. It’d just be great if those news were true.

While one news report point out that 140,000 pre-sale tickets (amounting to a NT$40 million gross) has already been sold, film producer Lorna Tee told me on Twitter that the film is being opened on less screens than YOU ARE THE APPLE OF MY EYE and MONGA opened with. Meanwhile, a blog of someone who works in the Taiwanese film industry reports that the women seem to have no interest in the film. Considering Taiwanese blockbusters in recent years (APPLE, CAPE NO. 7, NIGHT MARKET HERO, and even the pretty boys-filled MONGA) all had to appeal to mainstream Taiwanese culture, and in a way, the female audience, a film about aborigines in what is essentially a foreign language filled with war, death, and destruction may not have the wide appeal it needs to become a hit.

Of course, with somewhat lowered expectations, the positive (and possibly inaccurate) news reports can simply be a last-ditch effort by producers to drum up hype for the film ahead of its opening. China does this all the time, to the point of planting stories in the media via underpaid journalists.

Part one of SEEDIQ BALE opens in Taiwan on September 9th. We’ll know what happens then.

- The excellent Hong Kong Film blog paid a set visit to the Patrick Kong-Wong Jing horror double feature HONG KONG GHOST STORIES recently, and the report revealed that the film will feature Chrissie Chau, Him Law, Bau Hei Jing, Juno Leung, and pretty much everyone else who was in Kong’s MARRIAGE WITH A LIAR. The film will feature two 45-minute horror films - one by Wong Jing and one by Kong - and it’ll be opening in Hong Kong around Halloween. I don’t imagine it’ll play in China, though. And if it does…well, we know what films about ghosts made for China are like.

-  It’s not over yet. China is still rolling out some more propaganda films to celebrate the Chinese Communist Party’s 90th anniversary, and the latest one is TONG DAO ZHUAN BING. This one has attracted some attention because there have been reports that pointed out part of the cast is made of real-life government officials, which means the attention on the internet is mostly negative.

The film finally opened on August 30th, and a report on Sina Entertainment found that no one is watching the film. The reporter found that the film is being placed in early morning or late night shows in cinemas, and that some shows are even being cancelled due to low admissions. This means it’ll probably beat THE SMURFS this weekend at the box office.

When asked about how the film will make its 8 million yuan budget back, director Zhao Qi insisted that the film will ultimately succeed on word-of-mouth, and that the film essentially needs only 1000-2000 admissions per city to break even. He has also denied that the film features any government officials as actors, insisting that everyone in the film are professional actors.

- Under I read Weibo so you don’t have to news, legendary actress Brigitte Lin has joined both Tencent and Sina Weibo (I only use Sina). In one day, Lin has already attracted over 320,000 followers on her Sina Weibo. You can follow her here

Next time: The Golden Rock at the 2011 Hong Kong Summer International Film Festival.

Sources

Awakening News Network
Cinephilia 1
Cinephilia 2
Hong Kong Film blog
The Liberty Times
Mtime 1
Mtime 2
Mtime 3
Mtime 4
Mtime 5
Mtime 6
Now News
Radio Taiwan International
Sina 1
Sina 2
Yahoo Taiwan

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 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 26, 2011 Edition

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

Well, it doesn’t.

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

And for some reason, that’s OK.

And now, onto the news:

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what can we learn from this mess?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

Entgroup
Entgroup 2
Film Business Asia
Mtime
Sohu
Sina

The Golden Rock - July 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:

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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.

 

 
 
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