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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


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!

The Golden Rock - December 14, 2011 Edition

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


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….


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).


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.

The Golden Rock - November 28, 2011 Edition



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read an excerpt from the original novel here.

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

The Golden Rock 2011 Golden Horse Awards Live blog



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Golden Rock - November 23, 2011 Edition




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sina News 1
Sina News 2

The Golden Rock - Crossing the Border, part 3

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

You can see previous China movie-going exploits here:

Part 1 - Urumqi

Part 2 - Shenzhen: UA KKMall

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Next time: Who knows?

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

Tomorrow: Korea does shojo animation.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Tomorrow: A fantasy about divorce, and a Nikkatsu classic

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

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

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


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

Aarakshan (India, 2011, Dir: Prakash Jha)


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

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

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


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

Tomorrow: Some more reviews. Copyright © 2002-2023 Ross Chen