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Archive for the ‘Hong Kong’ Category

The Golden Rock - 2011 Year in Review Edition

Representing everyone here at The Golden Rock (i.e. me), we wish everyone a happy new year and an excellent 2012. 2011 has been an eventful year in the film industries of China and Hong Kong, and it’s about time to look back at everything that’s happened over the last 365 days.

My Hongmen Banquet can kick your Hongmen Banquet’s ass

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This year started off with a literal clash of idea, as two films about the same topic went into production. After Lu Chuan was removed from his own planned Hongmen project, his original investors then brought on Daniel Lee (DRAGON SQUAD! 14 BLADES!), as well as a cast that includes Leon Lai, Jordan Chan, Zhang Hanyu, and Anthony Wong for what became WHITE VENGEANCE.

However, Lu Chuan went on to find the funding he needed to make his own Hongmen Banquet movie starring Daniel Wu, Liu Ye, and Chang Chen. While WHITE VENGEANCE was released in late November and became Lee’s highest-grossing film at 152 million yuan (more later on whether this is a success or not), Lu’s film reportedly ran over budget and over schedule. We’ll likely see it this year.

Box office surprises - TV owns Lunar New Year box office

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Lunar New Year is undoubtedly one of the biggest times for movies here in Asia. While no one’s surprised that Benny Chan’s mega-budget SHAOLIN won the Lunar New Year battle in China with 216 million yuan, not many expected that the other two 100 million yuan-grossers in China would be based on TV series.

In the spirit of Hong Kong’s own nonsensical comedic style, hit sitcom MY OWN SWORDSMAN left its single-stage setting and leapt to the big screen, packing cinemas across China to gross an astounding 196 million yuan. Director Shang Jing is already set to make another Lunar New Year comedy hit in 2012 with DINNER PARTY.

Not far behind the success of SWORDSMAN was another TV-based film. Coming at the end of the Lunar New Year holidays, Zhang Yibai’s ETERNAL MOMENT was mainly aimed at Valentine’s Day audiences in urban areas. The continuation of his 1998 television series CHERISH OUR LOVE FOREVER - dubbed China’s first idol drama - ETERNAL MOMENT gave CHERISH’s fans a chance to look back on their own youth and love with a choose-your-own-adventure-ish reunion of the show’s two lovers. While feedback on the film is mixed, it captured enough lovers to make 207 million yuan.

While these two films grossed a little less than SHAOLIN, remember that these two films each cost only a third of SHAOLIN’s budget.

In Hong Kong, the situation was similar, as local broadcaster TVB’s second Lunar New Year film I LOVE HONG KONG even beat the likes of Donnie Yen, Louis Koo, and Andy Lau to become the local winner of the Lunar New Year box office. The Raymond Wong-TVB competition is back again this year, but with TVB unable to get a solid pop star cast due to its contractual conflict with Hong Kong’s major record companies, Wong may have a chance to finally beat the television monopoly.

I gouges your money, American robots! I gouges it!

It’s expected that the government would be ordering treating its employees to watch Communist Party celebratory film BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL, which limped to a 412 million yuan gross this summer (below FOUNDING OF A REPUBLIC’s 420 million yuan total). However, what we didn’t expect is what the film industry’s way to support other propaganda films.

To paraphrase my posts from earlier this year (This one and this one), at least one cinema chain passed around a memo looking for new ways to promote “excellent recommended films” that commemorated the 90th anniversary of the China Communist Party - YAN SHAN ZHOU, SPACE DREAM (or WENTIAN), and GUO MING YI. One of the tactics they used were double feature tickets. Taking advantage of Hollywood blockbusters TRANSFORMERS and HARRY POTTER (Chinese blockbuster WU XIA was also a rumored target), cinemas attached an additional ticket to one of the three “excellent recommended films” for anyone who bought a ticket to these big blockbusters. While ticket price remained the same for these big films, cinemas gave a share of the ticket price to the “excellent recommended films” since whatever price is printed on the ticket goes to the box office gross.

Such tactics led to wild box office patterns for these “excellent recommended films”, as you can see in my earlier post. Since there’s no such law in place yet for how cinemas sell tickets (each ticket for the major blockbusters was still above the mandated minimum ticket prices) and that these films were all “morally positive” works that glorified the Communist Party, there were no repercussions from anyone. Even the western media were so having so much fun from GREAT REVIVAL that they simply ignored this happened. In the end, it was a win-win situation, as TRANSFORMERS still became the highest-grossing film of the year in China with 1.1 billion yuan, and the three propaganda films made a good chunk of money, too.

However, this is all about to change, as the government is set to enforce new laws aimed to stop dishonest accounting by cinemas. The government is also aiming to further reduce the power of cinemas by mandating that they cannot take more than 50% of box office revenue. More on that later.

Box office surprises - The fall of the titans

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In recent years, Donnie Yen and Jackie Chan are names that would typically do well in China (just Donnie for Hong Kong - no one cares about Jackie anymore here), but 2011 has been one disappointment after another for these action superstars.

Donnie started 2011 off with ALL’S WELL ENDS WELL 2011, which managed to gross 167 million yuan in China - not bad for a Hong Kong-style Lunar New Year comedy. However, his two big action films this year both came with plenty of hype and ended with middling grosses. LOST BLADESMAN not only featured a well-known Romance of the Three Kingdoms character as its hero, it also co-starred Jiang Wen, who wrapped up 2010 with LET THE BULLETS FLY. However, the Alan Mak/Felix Chong film suffered a major drop in box office after opening with 100 million yuan in the first six days due to poor word-of-mouth. In the end, the film did gross 162 million yuan, disappointing for a film that reportedly cost 150 million yuan to produce.  The film suffered a similar fate in Hong Kong, grossing just HK$8 million after a strong opening weekend.

The disappointment continued with Peter Chan’s WU XIA. The Chan-produced BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS (which co-starred Donnie) made 296 million yuan back in 2009, and his last directorial effort WARLORDS also made 200 million yuan back in 2007 (a very, very high figure for 2007). Even with Chan directing, Takeshi Kaneshiro co-starring, and no direct competition for two weeks, the action film followed a similar pattern as LOST BLADESMAN, opening with 100 million yuan in its first week and wrapping its run with 176 million yuan. The film did even worse than LOST BLADESMAN in Hong Kong, also grossing just HK$8 million. With this and MR. AND MRS. INCREDIBLE (which he produced) grossing only 51 million yuan in the Lunar New Year period, Peter Chan, who has become his own boss now, must be feeling a little lost right now.

After LITTLE BIG SOLDIER grossed a surprising 160 million yuan in China, all eyes were on Jackie Chan with his historical epic 1911. Costing over 100 million yuan to make (some estimates even put it at US$30 million, roughly 200 million yuan), the film managed to limp to a 61 million yuan gross after hanging on the box office chart for 10 weeks (though no one knows how that happened). LEGENDARY AMAZONS, the period action film produced by Jackie’s production company, also suffered a terrible fate, grossing only 39 million yuan. Both films also did barely any business in Hong Kong.

Creation of a new box office poison - Cecilia Cheung

 

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2011 started well for Cecilia Cheung, who made her first big-screen appearance since 2006 with ALL’S WELL ENDS WELL 2011. However, it went downhill for the actress as the tabloids picked up her airplane photo with former scandal maker Edison Chen, her well-publicized divorce with Nicholas Tse, and her well-documented MIAs on film sets.

Cecilia also continued to make dubious career choices, as she turned down a starring role in the next Derek Yee film for a higher salary from Wong Jing’s TREASURE HUNT. She also took part in the disastrous LEGENDARY AMAZONS, a “special appearance” in Jingle Ma’s critically lambasted SPEED ANGELS, and THE LION ROARS 2, which Louis Koo didn’t even bother doing. She also continues to command a very high salary, including a rumored 16 million yuan for the DANGEROUS LIAISONS remake co-starring Zhang Ziyi. Will Cecilia do better in 2012, and how long will she continue to command this kind of price from investors?

Did I mention that LEGENDARY AMAZONS cost 100 milion yuan to produce? Cecilia took 15 of that.

Box office surprises - It’s all about the young’uns

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2011 also told us that young people spend a lot of money, and they’re willing to spend a lot of it at the movies. In July, horror film MYSTERIOUS ISLAND grossed an astonishing 91.8 million yuan at the box office, despite opening directly opposite Donnie Yen and his chest in WU XIA. A part of its success (perhaps a large part) can be attributed to the popularity of star Mini Yang, whose fans organized group screenings for the film. While it hasn’t happened yet, MYSTERIOUS ISLAND is suppose to lead to a new generation of popular genre films that will make plenty of money from impressionable young moviegoers. That has yet to happen as of the end of 2011.

While it didn’t make MYSTERIOUS ISLAND cash, Hong Kong youngsters dreaming of spending their nights drinking in clubs and having sex with strangers all flocked to Wilson Chin’s LAN KWAI FONG. The nightclub drama attracted plenty of young moviegoers with hot, sexy young stars, lots of near-nudity, and a teenager-friendly IIB rating. In the end, the film grossed just a tad under HK$8 million. Yes, promiscuous clubbers attract as much audiences in Hong Kong as Donnie Yen does. LAN KWAI FONG 2 is already in the works.

But of course, nothing represented Chinese 20-somethings more in 2011 than LOVE IS NOT BLIND, the dramedy about how a 20-something urbanite gets over her boyfriend being stolen away from her best friend. Evoking memories of the worst breakup everyone’s ever had, the film used a clever marketing strategy, locked down the perfect release date (Singles Day!), and it scored one of the biggest opening weeks of the year. The film - which cost 9 million yuan to make - ended up grossing 352 million yuan at the Chinese box office, causing the likes of Donnie Yen, Jet Li, and Jackie Chan to hang their head in shame.

Box Office Surprises - Is it the sex or the 3D?

The most hyped film in Hong Kong in 2011 was undoubtedly 3D SEX AND ZEN. More a rehash than a sequel, 3D SEX AND ZEN sold only two things on the surface: Sex and 3D. However, it also recalled a better time in Hong Kong cinema, when filmmakers could care less about Chinese censorship and for better or worse, went as far as their imagination (and their actresses) could take them. After a long promotional effort (including selling Vonnie Lui as the next Hong Kong sex bomb), the film scored a HK$13 million opening and managed to become the highest-grossing Hong Kong film of 2011 with HK$40 million.

While much of the film’s gross was fueled by Hong Kongers’ curiosity, the film quickly became a critical bomb, as audiences complained about the violence and the lack of Vonnie Lui nudity (she only showed her breast in one 2-second shot). Bashing the film became such a popular thing that a sound recording of Chapman To reading out a netizen’s profanity-filled rant about the film became one of the hottest videos on the net. However, thanks to the May Golden Week holiday, the film attracted many curious Mainland Chinese tourists, to the point that the distributor was able to secure long-term screenings in cinemas in areas popular with Mainland Chinese audiences. Cinemas also caught multiple cases of Mainland cinemagoers taking videos of the film on their cell phones because they were keen to show their friends back home what the fuss was all about. You know what they say: Piracy is the best form of flattery.

However, films that were eager to cash in on sex and/or 3D after SEX AND ZEN all failed. 33D INVADER brought back old-school 90s sex comedy and even opened during the National Day holiday to attract more curious Mainland eyes. However, it barely made a blip, though I saw it twice in the cinemas. Chinese 3D didn’t fare so well, either, as SLEEPWALKER 3D and even Tsui Hark’s FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE was largely ignored as everyone else flocked to Hollywood films for lackluster 3D instead.

The most acclaimed 2011 Hong Kong Film that no one saw - A SIMPLE LIFE

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In September, a little Hong Kong film called A SIMPLE LIFE had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, and its star Deanie Ip managed to win the Best Actress Award. That began three months of hype, as A SIMPLE LIFE was sent to represent Hong Kong at the Academy Awards (after a week of screenings at a small 30-seat auditorium mainly designated for Friends of the Distributor and the few lucky people quick enough to buy up remaining tickets) and it picked up most of the major awards at the Golden Horse Awards.

However, thanks to the distributor’s apparently unchangeable plan of cashing in on the guaranteed Hong Kong Film Awards nominations (playing it to qualify for the Oscars also meant it qualified for the Hong Kong Film Awards), A SIMPLE LIFE will not be opening theatrically for general audiences until March 2012.

Bring back the spirit of Hong Kong cinema - GALLANTS

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On the night of April 17, many expected IP MAN 2 and DETECTIVE DEE to sweep the Hong Kong Film Awards. However, in addition to Pang Ho-Cheung finally winning an award, a little local film called GALLANTS took home four awards, including Best Picture. The Derek Kwok/Clement Cheng film didn’t make much money at the box office, but it has a lot of fans here and abroad due to its old-school sensibilities. In true underdog fashion, GALLANTS managed to become the star of the night, embarrassing IP MAN 2 (which took home two technical awards) and blocking DETECTIVE DEE from achieving FLAWLESS VICTORY after Tsui Hark picked up the Best Director Award that night. What’s the Cantonese equivalent for “boo-ya” again?

Box Office Surprises - America’s not the only foreign invaders at the Hong Kong box office

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Coming-of-age comedy YOU ARE THE APPLE OF MY EYE by novelist-director Giddens packed theaters in both its native Taiwan and Hong Kong. While it made a ton of money in Taiwan (in fact, the highest-grossing Taiwanese film of the year if the two SEEDIQ BALE installments are counted as two different films), it shattered box office records in Hong Kong. By New Year’s Eve 2011, it became the highest-grossing Chinese-language film in Hong Kong history. Its theme song was also voted My Favorite Song of the Year at Hong Kong Commercial Radio Music Awards (the most respected Hong Kong music award), and it reawakened the secondary school students in all Hong Kongers as Hong Kong saw a record number of calls made to married ex-girlfriends. OK, that last part was probably made up.

However, 2011’s The Little Film That Could in Hong Kong was Bollywood comedy 3 IDIOTS. Despite scoring huge with audiences at the 2009 Hong Kong International Film Festival, the film didn’t reach general audiences until September 2010, which is understandable since no Bollywood film has ever been given a general release in commercial Hong Kong cinemas. Fortunately, the film was distributed by Edko, who owns Hong Kong’s biggest cinema chain. With a lot of faith on their part and very enthusiastic word-of-mouth, the film continued to play in Edko’s cinema chain for three months. As of the final weekend of 2011, 3 IDIOTS have grossed HK$23 million, outgrossing even ALL’S WELL ENDS WELL 2011 and OVERHEARD 2.

You will pay for my outrageous spending!

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Just before the opening of Zhang Yimou’s FLOWERS OF WAR, producer Zhang Weiping decided that not only does he deserve to take a bigger chunk of box office revenue than usual, he also felt that audiences were responsible for paying for his own financial decisions by raising the minimum ticket price for his film by five yuan to 40 yuan (See earlier post here). Cinema chains in China were outraged (more at losing their box office share than raising ticket prices, I’m sure), and the eight major cinema chains in China went as far as threatening to boycott the film.

Despite calling cinemas just “places with empty seats” and justifying the ticket price hike with excuses like “an enhanced product naturally means a higher ticket price”, Zhang managed to call the cinema chains in for last-minute negotiations. In the end, cinemas and Zhang reached a compromise, as the revenue sharing ratio was allowed further negotiations chain-by-chain and the minimum ticket price remained the same. Despite some filmgoers having to pay up to 100 yuan for a ticket (For context: an IMAX 3D ticket cost 120 yuan at peak times, and minimum monthly wage in Shenzhen just got raised to 1500 yuan), people flocked to the Nanjing Massacre drama anyway, and it has now become the highest-grossing Chinese language film of 2011 in China. However, its final gross will still be far below the 1 billion yuan Zhang projected (the film cost 600 million yuan to produce).

As a result of this little fight, the Chinese government is looking to enforce a law that will not allow cinemas to take more than 50% of the box office revenue. This may end up tipping the balance of power back to producers and distributors, as they will surely be taking a larger share of box office revenue once the law passes.

Why download illegally when you can download it legally?

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This year saw audiences in China finally catching on to the idea of legal streaming, as traditional pirate video sites Tudou and Youku saw their legal video streaming services take off (region restrictions and all!). However, the biggest one of them all so far must be LeTV, who boasts the largest legally-obtained video library out of all the streaming sites. Offering television series, variety shows, and of course, films, most of LeTV’s content is legal and free (see earlier post here). For the price of letting a little ad pop up on the bottom right of your screen and lackluster audio (their paid service offers HD versions), you can catch the latest Chinese blockbusters on your computer/tablet screens within two months after their theatrical release, and some of them even have English subtitles!

This is terrible news for the Chinese video industry - who is already selling DVDs for as cheap as 15 yuan and has no rental industry due to rampant piracy - but at least it’s a very positive step in getting Chinese people to believe in watching entertainment content in a way that benefits both the consumers (i.e. FREE) and the content providers (i.e. CASH). The next step is getting this technology to people here in Hong Kong, but without the infrastructure and resources that would secure enough profit for content providers, I’m not holding my breath.

With great weibo comes great responsibilities 

Twitt-what? The micro-blog that Hong Kong and Chinese people are crazy about this year was Sina Weibo. With the most popular microbloggers getting literally millions on followers (Yao Chen is the Queen of Sina Weibo with 15 million followers), all the cool Chinese celebrities are talking on media platform Sina’s own version of Twitter. Despite constant threats of censorship, Sina Weibo even became one of biggest source of criticisms against the Chinese government after the high speed rail accident in July.

As for the film world, not only has Sina Weibo become the place for filmmakers and stars to interact with their friends and fans (i.e. get their asses kissed), it’s also allowed them to circumvent the typical press conference-driven promotional plans and release information on their own accord. For example, Pang Ho Cheung and Chapman To actually first announced their WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT HONG KONG MOVIE project on their respective Weibos, before the film’s official Weibo launched and way before the press began to cover the film.

Also, Sina Weibo allowing anonymity means that several “industry insiders” have popped up with secret insider news. While some proved to be false, many have proven to be right. However, attracting the scorn of many industry people, the insiders’ real identities have been as hot a topic as the gossip they provide. When one of these insiders angered SORCERER AND THE WHITE SNAKE producer Yang Zi (mainly involving him and the film’s star Eva Huang), the former actor exposed his/her real identity - a marketing executive at a competing film company - causing the insider to immediately wipe his/her account clean.

While Tencent (as in the company that created popular messaging program QQ) also launched their own Weibo earlier this year with the promise of stars like Karen Mok, Sina remains at the top of the Chinese micro-blogging world, and it’s only about to get bigger. With more and more promotional effort for films being shifted to Sina Weibo (many major films have their own official Sina Weibo account now), it will likely become a place to watch for those who want to see what’s hot in Chinese cinema.

Of course, there were plenty of other stories, including the REST ON YOUR SHOULDER debacle and Johnnie To hitting the Mainland, that I can’t fit in here. I would recommend you to look on the right side of the blog for the archive to see what I covered throughout 2011, including a lot of detail on each of the topic covered in this entry.

As for this blog, I really did wish I updated at a more consistent basis in 2011, and I really wish I can guarantee that I can update on a more consistent basis in 2012. However, with a day job, social obligations, and other professional obligations in this crazy, fast-paced city, I can’t guarantee anything. I just 2012 will be another crazy year in Chinese cinema, though. Where else would I get material?

Once again, a happy new year to all who read this far, and I wish you all a good 2012!

The Golden Rock at the 2011 Hong Kong Asian Film Festival - Day 4

I didn’t actually attend any screenings on night four of the 2011 Hong Kong Asian Film Festival. However, I did pop in my 2010 Fresh Wave DVD for a short film that did screen at the festival that night:

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The Decisive Moment (2010, Hong Kong, Dir: Wong Wai Kit)

FULL DISCLOSURE: I was an assistant director on a film that competed alongside this film at the 2010 Fresh Wave Festival.

The winner of Best Cinematography at the open competition section of the 2010 Fresh Wave Film Festival (independent short films funded by the HK Art Development Council) has more than just good cinematography going for it. After opening with a shocker of a sequence, the mockumentary-style drama  tells the story of a young news photographer who has to team up with a veteran photographer traumatized by a past event. Wong Wai-Kit’s script carries plenty on its plate, dealing with the bond between the old and the young, the old photographer’s guilt, and even a small course on journalism ethics. In fact, it has so much on in its 35-minute running time that the film felt like a digest of a better feature-length film. The bond isn’t as affecting as it should’ve been, and a deeper insight into commercial interest vs. professional ethics would’ve benefited the film greatly.

Nevertheless, what’s here is very impressive for a Hong Kong independent film. The cinematography award is well-earned thanks to the advent of DSLR, and it is a very compelling film for anyone with a remote interest in the media. The acting in the “documentary” sections isn’t natural enough to make it convincing, which means it might’ve been better if it was just chucked out, but the two leads are actually quite good.

The Fresh Wave Film Festival is an emerging organization of the Hong Kong film industry worth looking at. In a world where Hong Kong commercial filmmakers are constrained by Chinese censorship, Fresh Wave gives aspiring filmmakers in Hong Kong the chance to express themselves without fear of censorship by directly funding their films. Many of the young filmmakers at the festival even take the opportunity to explore social and political issues that are too sensitive or too uncommercial for mainstream cinema. Festival head Johnnie To has even reportedly recruited festival contestants to work at Milkyway. While the quality of the films are hit-and-miss, THE DECISIVE MOMENT (as well as Grand Prize winner/indie breakout 1+1) is definitely one worth checking out.

Also screening along with THE DECISIVE MOMENT in the same program is:

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Devil Nail Clippers (2010, China, Dir: Jimmy Wan/Derek Tsang)

DEVIL NAIL CLIPPERS is actually the first film of Pang Ho-Cheung’s “4+1″ project, which involves four short films (produced by Pang) and one feature-length film. The four short films - invested by Samsung and Sina (watch for the shameless product placements!) - are available online for free, which is why I already saw the film earlier in the year. Like the print at the HKAFF, the internet version only has Chinese subtitles.

While the basic premise is based on an installment in Pang’s TRIVIAL MATTERS short story anthology, the short story simply makes up the opening scene of the film, about a girl (Zhou Xun) confessing to her boyfriend (Lawrence Chou) that she’s “nail clipper demon”, which means she only eats nail clippers (NOT nail clippings) to stay alive. What follows is a dry-as-sandpaper dark comedy with a devilish twist that kicks off second half of the 45-minute short film.

Since this is an internet-based short film, I assume that Pang and co. are able to go around stringent Mainland censorship (correct me if I’m wrong). While DEVIL NAIL CLIPPER doesn’t have much objectionable content, it is a surprisingly cynical little film that would not have made it through SARFT. Like Wan and Tsang’s LOVER’S DISCOURSE, DEVIL NAIL CLIPPER is not for everyone, but those who enjoy’s Pang’s sly sense of humor should find something rewarding here.

You can watch DEVIL NAIL CLIPPER (in two parts) -and other 4+1 Project films -  here. DEVIL NAIL CLIPPERS already has 10 million views. Yes, it’s perfectly legal.

Coming up on day 5: A park in Tokyo, and a robot that does karate.

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 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 - 2011 Hong Kong Book Fair Edition

Contrary to popular belief, Hong Kongers actually read more than tabloid magazines. Hong Kong actually has a pretty big publishing industry, and its biggest, busiest time every year is the Hong Kong Book Fair. Held annually at the Hong Kong Convention Center, all the major bookstores and publishers of Hong Kong would unleash their latest works and their unsold inventory. In addition to hunting for cheap books, Hong Kongers also go and buy the latest books for their latest writers/pop stars/bikini models.

In addition to picking up novels that I never read (I finally finished two books I bought LAST YEAR recently), this year’s target was to grab some film books, and there were definitely some gems:

At the Kubrick booth (that’s the bookstore that’s always attached to Broadway Cinemas here in Hong Kong), I picked up two books - The 2011 Hong Kong International Film Festival’s Filmmaker in Focus book on Wai Ka-Fai. And at 15% off!

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The book includes interviews with Wai himself, an interview with Johnnie To, and essays by Hong Kong film critics. It has them in both Chinese and English.

 

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Also picked up at the Kubrick booth was A Killer Life, written by an independent film producer in America. Because after exposing shady practices in the Chinese film industry, Hollywood’s about to welcome me with open arms!

 

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One of the new books I was looking out for was Brigitte Lin’s essay collection “Chuang Li Chuang Wai”. The book collects the years of essays the actress wrote for newspapers and other publications.

 

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Even if you can’t read Chinese, you may want to buy the book for rare pictures like these:

 

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Shot by Christopher Doyle

And there’s a lot more where that came from.

I also accidentally came across two pieces of gems published by the now-defunct City Entertainment magazine.

The first one is a comprehensive collection of posters for all films that played in Hong Kong cinemas between 1997-2007:

 

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The most valuable asset of this collection is that it includes the total box office gross of each film. So, if I want to know how much, say, BALLISTIC KISS made in its theatrical run in Hong Kong…

 

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There it is.

Here are some more posters:

 

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Someone on this page is a ghost, and it’s not the one sitting on the train.

 

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There’s only one good movie on this page.

 

But Hong Kong film fans may be more excited at the other poster collection I picked up:

 

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Obviously, it’s not a comprehensive collection of all 80s Hong Kong films, but you do get treasure like these:

 

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The book also includes the total box office gross of each film featured.

For my translating work, I also picked up this book:

 

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And it includes translations of fun phrases like these:

 

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This phrase applies to most internet opinions - including this blog

 

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I heard this phrase in LOVE IN A PUFF, and now I finally understand it.

That’s the Hong Kong Book Fair for this year. I hope to find more wonderful treasure like this next year, and I hope to do it without breaking the bank like I did this year.

Next time: Back to real news!

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:

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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

 
 
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