Note: Edited on April 25th with additional information and new English titles.
The Beijing International Film Festival kicks off this week, which may be why the big Chinese film studios are rushing to announce their slate this week. Just a day after Huayi Brother announced their 2012-2013 lineup, Enlight Pictures (MURAL, LEGEND OF THE FIST, AN INACCURATE MEMOIR) announced their own 2012-2013 slate - and they’re looking to impress.
Note: Entry edited on April 23 to add additional information, as well as clear up information about Doze Niu’s film.
In March 2011, major Chinese independent studio Huayi Brothers (DETECTIVE DEE, SHAOLIN, ASSEMBLY) announced a large slate of films dubbed “Plan H”. Surprisingly, Huayi managed to complete most of the projects on that slate, having released Doze Niu’s LOVE, Tom Lin’s STARRY STARRY NIGHT, and Tony Chan/Wing Shya’s HOT SUMMER DAYS. Wuershan’s PAINTED SKIN II, Stephen Fung’s TAI CHI 0, Ronny Yu’s SAVING GENERAL YANG, Feng Xiaogang’s 1942, and Jackie Chan’s CHINESE ZODIACS have all finished shooting and getting prepped for release.
Which means it’s time for round 2. On April 22, Huayi Brothers announced their latest Plan H line-up, as well as the release dates for their 2012 slate:
According to Entgroup figures, TITANIC 3D made RMB 467 million in its first six days in Mainland Chinese cinemas (another chart puts it at 468, but let’s not nitpick, alright?). If the other box office chart I’ve read is accurate, that means it’ll overtake MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - GHOST PROTOCOL’s RMB 678.9 million take to become the highest-grossing film of 2012. Considering that it also beat the 438 million record set by TRANSFORMERS 3 (which ended up making RMB 1.11 billion), we’d looking at it breaking AVATAR’s RMB 1.39 billion record if Fox didn’t already announce that they’re pulling the film by May 20th.
And Hollywood’s not done yet. BATTLESHIP and the second GHOST RIDER movie are opening this weekend, and THE AVENGERS will replace those screens on May 5th. With the May Golden Week holiday, it’s guaranteed that these three films (plus TITANIC) will be rolling in the dough.
Considering that last year’s Golden Week brought THE LOST BLADESMAN and CHINESE GHOST STORY - both of which made over RMB 100 million - The Chinese film industry must have something powerful to counter the Hollywood invasion, right?
Note: Edited April 14th to include award predictions
We haven’t blogged for over a month due to work and film festival commitments, but when we come back, we come back harder than ever!
That’s also a quote from Scud’s next film.
Anyway, it’s that time of the year again. No, not Lunar New Year, it’s the Hong Kong Film Awards! And that means it’s time again for The Golden Rock Hong Kong Film Awards Live Blog!
We don’t know how many times we’ve done this already (3rd? 4th?), but at least we can tell you it’ll be the most star-studded one:
None of these people will join us on this year’s live-blog
The picture alone makes it star-studded, right?
So join us again as we (and by we, we mean one dude in his living room) battle technology, bad red carpet commentary, crappy cuts to commercials, useless musical performances, and, of course, Hong Kong film industry congratulating themselves for another successful year of making movies in Mainland China!
As we had done previous years, the live-blog will be housed in one single entry that will be updated every minute or so, which means readers only have to go to the dedicated entry and press refresh for the latest updates. The show starts at 20:00 Hong Kong time on Sunday, April 15th, and we will start at 19:30 Hong Kong Time (GMT +8). We may even open the comments section by then, so get ready to join us in the fun-making.
As someone who has seen almost all the nominated films (and unfortunately, a few more) and regularly follows the awards, I think I can make an educated guess about what will win.
This entry covers two major messes going on in the Chinese film industry, and a Golden Broom to sweep it all up.
Photo from Sina Entertainment Weibo account
- The attention for action film SPECIAL IDENTITY meant to go to Donnie Yen, who is starring and producing under the direction of Clarence Fok. However, the attention has now shifted elsewhere before shooting has even wrapped.
This started when Apple Daily reported on February 24th that co-star Vincent Zhao essentially left the set due to complaints about the new script by Hong Kong writer James Yuen, which undermines his role and favors Donnie’s. The new script had been changed without Zhao’s approval, though Zhao’s contract said that he had the right to do so. There were also complaints about Zhao’s prima donna attitude on set (which includes an entourage of seven).
On February 27th, the SECRET IDENTITY production opened its own official Weibo account (verified as the real deal by Sina), followed by an official statement from the production on the night of February 29th announcing that Vincent Zhao has officially left the production, and that it was an amicable split. James Yuen (he’ll show up again later, by the way) also wrote his Weibo that he did not write one word of the film.
Two hours later, Vincent Zhao posted a e-mail from the IDENTITY production on his own Weibo:
“As of noon on March 1, 2012, the SECRET IDENTITY production will no longer provide accommodation for Mr. Vincent Zhao. I hope you can understand; the production is seriously over-budget!”
At 6 am, Zhao also posted a statement on his Weibo discrediting the points in the Apple Daily report one by one, and that the statement from the production was released without his knowledge, which means Zhao has essentially been fired.
Zhao’s wife also joined in on the fun, defending her husband and accusing the production of using him as a scapegoat for the mismanagement of the film’s finances. Zhao calls himself the victim and left Shenzhen (where the film was being shot) for Beijing on the same day. Meanwhile, public support from Zhao’s past co-stars like Laung Ka Yan, Timmy Hung, Xu Jiao, and Wudang director Patrick Leung came Weibo-ing in.
Thing were quiet until today, March 4th, when Zhao held a press conference in Beijing essentially repeating his Weibo statement. He accused the production of changing the script that he’d signed up for without his approval, and that he was unilaterally dismissed by the production.
Several hours later, the production put out its own statements to counter Zhao’s points. They are as follows:
1) Zhao caused the start of production to be delayed by a day because he not only demanded to be upgraded to an executive suite, he also demanded that the production pay for the expenses for his wife, his two kids, the nanny, an English teacher, his agent, and his assistant, as well as a driver and bodyguards (a martial arts actor needing a bodyguard. Imagine that).
2) The script changes were done for the benefit of the film. As producer and action director, Donnie had approached Zhao to discuss the changes, only to be turned away. In fact, the production only agreed to take on Zhao based on Donnie’s recommendation.
3) Andy On is to replace Zhao on the production.
Zhao says he retains his right to take legal action, but with On joining the production and Zhao simply crying shenanigans, it looks like this will remain only a battle of words. Zhao has little more to say (unless he wishes to counter the production’s counter-argument), but it’s likely that SPECIAL IDENTITY will be remembered more for this scandal than anything else for the time being.
- Another person calling foul is writer James Yuen. The respected Hong Kong scriptwriter of films like LOST IN TIME, several Peter Chan films, and oh, HERE COMES FORTUNE, is crying foul because he claims that his script for SHADOWS OF LOVE, the latest Cecilia Cheung film, was stolen by the film’s investor.
This all began on February 19th when Oriental Daily reported Yuen’s claims that he has written the original script for SHADOWS OF LOVE, and that its investor Allen Tan (a former talent agent) took it without giving proper credit or proper compensation. After a strong denial Tan himself, who says director Calvin Poon and his writer essentially rewrote the script, which means there’s not much traces of Yuen’s work. Tan also accused Yuen of demanding too much money. Angered, Yuen took it further by writing a complete account of his side on Weibo.
Here are the basic explanation of Yuen’s claims:
Yuen was asked by Tan in March 2010 if he had any scripts that Tan could produce. Yuen then turned in a 6000-word outline that he wrote with two assistants back in 2009. However, he never heard from Tan again.
In June 2011, Yuen heard that a film with the same story and characters starring Cecilia Cheung had just wrapped shooting. The film’s producer: Allan Tan
Yuen then called producer Stanley Kwan, who said that he knew they were Yuen’s material and even asked Tan to settle any copyright and payment issues. That was never done
The following month, Yuen and Tan had a meeting, and Tan asks Yuen to sell off the rights to him and his company. Yuen agreed and even signed a contract.
However, Yuen claims he never got his payment, and when he inquired Tan about it, Tan said that financiers China Film Group and DMG were unwillingly to pay.
On February 22nd, Yuen writes that this mess has entered legal proceedings, which means there won’t be any more public comments from either side. However, this may also block the film’s release until the case is settled and turn this into another case of bad luck/bad career choice for Cecilia Cheung.
- On Saturday, March 3rd, the 3rd Annual Golden Broom Awards was held in China. Much like the Razzies in America, the award (dis)honors the worst in Chinese cinema. After nominations from the public, the awards are decided by a jury of 27, which includes scholars, film critics, authors, editors, and members of the media. The award ceremony also included a respectable guest list that included director Wang Shaoshuai, Li Yu (BUDDHA MOUNTAIN), Manfred Wong, Lou Ye (SUMMER PALACE), Gu Changwei (LOVE FOR LIFE), Zhang Meng (PIANO IN A FACTORY), Yu Dong (head of Bona Group), and actress Qin Hailin. By the way, none of them won any of the dishonors.
Here is a list of (lose-)winners:
Most Disappointing Films: WARRING STATES, LEGENDARY AMAZONS, THE LOST BLADESMAN
Most Disappointing Mid-Low-Budget Films: NO. 32, B DISTRICT and LOVE NEVER DIES
Special Jury Prize for Most Disappointing Film: FLOWERS OF WAR (for using the Nanjing Massacre to sell sex)
The biggest story in Hong Kong entertainment these last several days is not any movie or celebrity gossip, but rather the image breakdown of a man named Henry Tang.
For more about who Henry Tang is, you can read his wikipedia page. The simple explanation is that he is one of the several people running for Hong Kong’s Chief Executive position. He’s been behind in the polls, but his unpopularity goes all the way back before he quit his job as the Chief Secretary to run for his boss’ job, including an antagonistic attitude towards young critics of the government and other public speaking gaffes (all detailed in Wikipedia). He was also involved in an infidelity scandal that broke out (and almost forgotten) just several months ago. However, he is still a heavy favorite due to backing from Hong Kong’s tycoons.
But now, his campaign seemed to have been dealt the ultimate blow due to a 2,400 square feet basement in his luxury home.
How, you ask? Let us go back to half a year ago, when the government decided to crack down on illegal structures built in/on Hong Kong houses.
What constitutes as illegal structures, you ask? When you build a house in Hong Kong, you’re supposed to submit plans to the relevant authority, who would then go by its criteria to decide whether you’re following building codes or not. However, many house owners tend to build extra structures on their home - like a balcony or a shack on the roof - without obtaining government approval, thus running the risk of violating building codes.
When the government had its crackdown, the media discovered that several high-ranking officials also have such illegal structures in their homes, which prompted a whole lot of wrist-slapping and promises to take down the illegal structures. Tang was not one of the people who admitted to having built an illegal structure in his home at the time.
A longtime target of ridicule by netizens, Tang has finally given netizens the ultimate target, and over the last 24 hours, they have been having a field day filling the internet with memes that ridicule the situation.
This is where this blog comes in. Since many of the memes are photoshopped version of Hong Kong movie posters, I’m going to share several posters I found on the “Tang Earthquake” Facebook page (The Chinese title for AFTERSHOCK is “Tangshan Da Di Zhen”, and “Tang Shen” in Cantonese means “Mr. Tang”). This not only reflects Hong Kong cinema in pop culture; it also proves that creativity (especially in satire) is still alive and well here in Hong Kong:
(By the way, any woman you see that isn’t an actress would be Tang’s wife, who is shouldering the blame for this mess)
Mr. Tang’s Earthquake
Tang’s home is at 7 York Rd., hence the CAPE NO.7 reference.
Henry Tang as Tony Leung
The Tang Palace, in 3D
No longer Laughing Gor
You are the Basement of My Eye
Ip Man—>葉問—>別問—–>Don’t Ask
Produced by “Pig Dragon” - Tang was once asked how he felt about netizens saying that he looks like a pig. His answer: “I was born in the year of the dragon”
I’d rather see this than the Jay Chou movie
Stephen Chow is actually a Tang supporter, which adds extra comedic value to this poster.
And while this one has nothing to do with films, here’s one to take us out:
Who says Hong Kong cinema is dead? I’d say the art of satire is alive and well!
Hate to have my first post of the Year of the Dragon to not be “real content”, but this is something that’s more timely and worth posting.
SQUATTERTOWN creator Marco Sparmberg is back, and he is making an ambitious sci-fi film called HAEXAGON. Along with that, he has formed his own production company for future trans-media projects. Since HAEXAGON is now in production, this is definitely something to post here.
I am posting this not only because I believe in the work Marco “Squattertown” Sparmberg is doing, but also because I am actually one of the co-founders of this company. So of course, I would be using this platform to promote it.
What is HAEXAGON and what is Haexagon Concepts? Read below:
Hong Kong’s first trans-media production company starts with a haexagonal SciFi ride
Hong Kong; February 8, 2012 - Five Academy of Film and Academy of Visual Arts graduates are creating the city’s first one-stop production company solely focusing on trans-media projects.
Named Haexagon Concepts, the company will execute high concept narrative ideas by combining video, advertising, internet, social media, press, and interactive gaming via a vast network of partnering artists and companies. The company’s first project recently entered the production stage and will prove that Hong Kong can also create and execute sophisticated science fiction ideas.
Haexagon Concept’s founding team comprises of three film school and two visual arts master graduates from the United States, Germany, Austria, Portugal, and Hong Kong, respectively. They will bring their diversified expertise and cultural backgrounds together to create unique, tailor-made media campaigns for clients. Co-founder Marco Sparmberg says, “Each team member comes carrying professional working experience in areas like film production, project development, press, visual arts and mobile/internet technology. It’s going to be very exciting when we see all that come together”.
For its inaugural project, Haexagon Concepts is currently producing the short film “Haexagon”, and it will be the most unique video endeavor to be created within Hong Kong in recent years. With an estimated budget of HK$ 300,000, this project centers around a post-apocalyptic short film that treads the grounds of science fiction, a genre that traditionally holds a large fanbase in Hong Kong but rarely explored by local filmmakers and artists.
Cinematographer and Haexagon Concepts co-founder Diogo Martins says, “The project will target a long vacant niche within Hong Kong’s media landscape while trying to augment its appeal to the busy lives of Hong Kongers. Haexagon will bring science fiction elements into a jungle environment mixed with ingredients of 1970s doomsday exploitation.”
And the short film is just the beginning. Its high concept narration will be later taken and turned into an extended trans-media campaign which will use the means of mobile and augmented technology for the benefits of the project sponsors’ promotions. Additionally, Haexagon Concepts plans to develop “Haexagon” into a feature film that will hit international film markets beginning of 2013.
“Haexagon” is currently in production. Principal photography will wrap in Hong Kong at the end of February 2012. However, the project is still in need for further financial support, as well as experienced crew members.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!
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?
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!
On December 15th, the biggest box office battle of 2011 in China begins with Tsui Hark’s FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE and Zhang Yimou’s FLOWERS OF WAR opening in Chinese cinemas (Derek Yee’s THE GREAT MAGICIAN was slated to join the battle, but has since backed off to January 12th). It’s the climax of what will be another intensely competitive year-end period in Chinese cinema (last year saw year-end king Feng Xiaogang surprisingly beaten by Jiang Wen). This entry will look at each of the major contenders, and why they will and won’t be hits:
THE FLOWERS OF WAR
Release Date: December 15, 2011
Why it’ll be a hit: Zhang Yimou, one of the most acclaimed directors in the history of Chinese cinema, making the most expensive film in the history of Chinese cinema. Set in the Nanjing Massacre (or Incident, if you’re in Japan), the film, which is also based on a popular novel is promising plenty of large battle scenes. It’s also one of the first Chinese films to feature a major Hollywood star (Christian Bale) as the lead, and it’s representing China at this year Best Foreign Film race at the Oscars.
Why it’ll not be a hit: Its US$90 million price tag already pretty much guarantee that it will not be making its budget back in China (It’ll have to gross at least US$180 million in China alone to break even - government takes roughly 8% as tax, and cinemas take about 55% of the after-tax gross - and that’s not even counting advertising).
Zhang Yimou has also been battling a less-than-great reputation among Chinese film fans after CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER and A SIMPLE NOODLE STORY (among other various gossip), and the way the film has been sold - with emphasis on sex scenes, Christian Bale, and spectacle - being called insensitive by some won’t help his cause. Also, the very public fight between Zhang’s producer Zhang Weiping and cinema owners in China (and the high ticket price that will result from it) may turn some away as well.
Meanwhile, Christian Bale might have been a good name to sell to potential investors and overseas distributors, he isn’t exactly a household name in China, with neither of his BATMAN films having been shown theatrically in China (though I’d assume that many people have seen them anyway).
Lastly, the film isn’t in 3D, unlike….
FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE
Release Date: December 15, 2011
Why it’ll be a hit: Tsui Hark managed to make the highest-grossing film of his career with DETECTIVE DEE (correct me if I’m wrong here), and now he’s making one of the most expensive films of his career with his first 3D Wuxia epic (US$35 million price tag). It’s been well publicized that Tsui is so devoted to making the 3D technology work that he made a feature film as a test film. His producers also made a wise move by striking a deal with IMAX to make it the first ever Chinese IMAX 3D film. Polybona has also moved GREAT MAGICIAN out of the way to make sure it’s one of the only two games in town on its opening weekend (MAGICIAN will go against Huayi’s VIRAL FACTOR instead).
When judged against FLOWERS OF WAR, the action and 3D make it an easier sell overseas than a film about the Nanjing Massacre. Of course, it also has a bigger cast than FLOWERS OF WAR, with Jet Li, Aloys Chen, Zhou Xun, and pop star Li Yunchun.
Why it’ll not be a hit: Not everyone can afford to pay 3D ticket prices, especially when IMAX prices will be up to 120 yuan. Also, there has been a decrease in the popularity of period action films, as evident in the disappointing grosses for LOST BLADESMAN and WU XIA this year.
And now, the dark horses:
Release Date: December 23, 2011
Why it’ll be a hit: Actress-filmmaker Xu Jinglei made history when her GO LALA GO became the first Chinese urban romantic comedy to pass the 100 million yuan mark at the Chinese box office. Her and LALA co-star Stanley Huang are back in another romance (is there even any comedy in this) about the dog-eat-dog business world, which will likely bring in urbanite women and their boyfriends. In addition to shooting on location in Hong Kong and London, Xu has also gotten a bigger cast this time around, adding Hong Kong stars Gigi Leung, Aarif Lee, Christy Chung, and the legendary Michael Fitzgerald Wong.
Why it won’t be a hit: It opens a week after FLOWERS OF WAR and FLYING SWORDS, which means cinemas are not likely to give it much screenings if both films continue to pack houses. GO LALA GO was also not particularly well received by some, who criticized Xu for putting in too much product placements and straying too far from the source material (Xu, however, has guaranteed that DEAR ENEMY will have fewer product placements).
THE ALLURE OF TEARS
Release Date: December 22, 2011
Why it’ll be a hit: The ensemble cast skews towards a slightly younger audience than DEAR ENEMY. Tearjerkers actually do attract audiences in China (Look at AFTERSHOCK and IF YOU ARE THE ONE II), though the actors here are not exactly known for their impeccable acting skills. Christmas is considered more of a romantic holiday than in the west (like in Japan. Ah-ha, China!), which means this will also bring in lots of couples.
Why it won’t be a hit: Like DEAR ENEMY, it may have problem getting enough screenings in certain cities. No one in the cast can be considered a box office dra, and the same goes for the Barbara Wong/Lawrence Cheng team. Some people may get turned off by the “You will definitely cry” promotional campaign, as well as how closely the poster resembles the poster for the Korean film SAD MOVIE.
Release Date: December 28, 2011
Why it’ll be a hit: It features a very strong female cast (Rene Liu, Tang Wei, and Cecilia Cheung), and its topic of car racing can be considered fresh in the Chinese commercial film industry. Also, its December 28th release date sets enough distance from the big films that it may be the only big game left in town people haven’t seen.
Why it won’t be a hit: If all four films above turn out to be hits, it’ll be tough to secure enough screens for a big opening weekend, especially since a wave of Lunar New Year films will start in less than two weeks. Jingle Ma isn’t exactly a guarantee of quality for film fans anywhere, especially since everyone’s dressed in purple uniforms and the trailer is promising more melodrama than real racing. Plus, three words for Cecilia Cheung: Box office poison.
There are other smaller films released during the period, but these are essentially the big contenders for December. Of course, it would be great for the industry if all of these films do well, but you know the thing about free market is that people actually will watch what they want to watch and download what they don’t want to watch. Either way, I’ll be keeping a close eye on this box office battle and provide updates and analysis later on.