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The Golden Rock - August 31, 2011 Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trailer park time:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Filmbiz Asia
Sina Weibo

The Golden Rock - August 29, 2011 Edition

With talk about the box office battle looming in China come December, it’s a good time to do a focus story about the art of scheduling movie releases in the Greater China area:

- As i had mentioned in an earlier entry, this summer has not been a particularly great one at the movies here in Hong Kong. The thing is that it hasn’t been that great in China, either, as BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL, WU XIA, and MYSTERIOUS ISLAND have been the only three major stories all summer. This may baffle those who are used to the usual summer tradition around the world, with the biggest, loudest blockbusters rolled out to make money from kids out of school on holiday (high weekday grosses).

While the vacationing kids audiences is big in China, high ticket prices means that the movie going audience tends to skew a little older, which means that big filmgoing periods are more likely to coincide with big holiday periods when people don’t have to work.

There are essentially four big release periods in China that every distributor of major blockbusters in China want to get their hands on: Lunar New Year, Golden week in May, National Day extended holiday in October, and mid-to-late-December. Since the summer is when Hollywood blockbusters dominate the global box office, the summer is not a huge release period unless you have something big enough to compete.

Case in point: Out of the top ten grossing films in China in 2010, only two films were not released during those four periods - AFTERSHOCK was big enough to take on the summer, and UNDER THE HAWTHORN TREE was released a week before the National Day holiday rush began with LEGEND OF THE FIST.

Three of those periods are pretty self-explanatory when it comes to why they’re huge for filmgoing - Instead of long weekends, China’s holidays are clumped into longer batches because it allows time for workers in big cities to return home to visit their families. Extended holidays also mean theaters and distributors are blessed with consecutive days of high box office gross, which also means plenty of good publicity for the films as well.

However, the period that baffles even me is the December period. The so-called “year-end celebratory” period has long been where Feng Xiaogang reigns as king (ever since his SORRY, BABY in December 1999, only THE BANQUET was not released during that time), and that’s when China made so many major blockbusters that it’s become the place where Zhang Yimou and Feng Xiaogang earn top box office dollars with films like HERO, THE ASSEMBLY, IF YOU ARE THE ONE, and CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER. In 2010, the period saw its most intense competition yet with a direct battle between Jiang Wen’s LET THE BULLETS FLY and Feng Xiaogang’s IF YOU ARE THE ONE 2. While BULLETS came out on top, IF YOU ARE THE ONE 2 also made 473 million yuan, Feng’s second highest-grossing film after AFTERSHOCK.

That battle is about to get even more intense this year, with three big films already locked to duke it out in the same week in mid-December:  Derek Yee’s THE GREAT MAGICIAN (Tony Leung + Lau Ching Wan + Zhou Xun), Tsui Hark’s IMAX 3D FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE (Jet Li +wuxia + 3D), and Zhang Yimou’s NANJING HEROES (big budget +rumored IMAX release + Batman!). There’s even word that Wong Kar Wai’s GRANDMASTER may be trying to make that release date as well.

But why? and how? December sees no major holidays in China (I’m pretty sure they don’t get Christmas Day off over there), and yet, that’s when the year’s biggest films (yes, even bigger than Lunar New Year) are rolled out. But at least now you know why all the talk in Chinese cinema right now is concentrating on that all-important December period. If your film is there, you’ve hit the big time, baby.

- China has three major film awards - The Golden Rooster Awards, the voter-based Hundred Flower Awards, and the Huabiao Awards. Held by the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television every two years, the latest edition of the Huabiao Awards has just announced its nominees. The Huabiao is a little unique in that it clearly separates purely Chinese productions and co-productions into two separate categories.

Under “Excellent Chinese Narrative Films”, the 20 nominees include both FOUNDING OF A REPUBLIC and BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL, as well as “box office hits” like WENTIAN, GUO MING YI, and WEN SHAN ZHOU. Of course, Zhang Yimou’s UNDER THE HAWTHORN TREE, Chen Kaige’s SACRIFICE, and Feng Xiaogang’s AFTERSHOCK are included. Even GO LALA GO managed a nomination.


10 other films were also nominated for “Excellent Digital Film”, but those are just small productions that no one really cares about.

Only two foreign films were recognized in the nominations - AVATAR and INCEPTION. Those who care, raise their hands? OK, moving on.

WENTIAN, the astronaut film produced by the People’s Liberation Army’s August 1st Studio (Last I heard, they were making an inspiration sports film about their basketball team), scored the most number of nominations - with “Excellent Film Techniques”, Best Script, Best Director, Best Actor in addition to its best film nod. I can’t wait for that WenTian sequel, which might be some twisted, communist propaganda version of STAR TREK.  Yes, soon, the PLA will be liberating the oppressed people of space from the evils of the intergalactic Kuomintang.

For those who still care, the awards were held on August 28th, and 10 out of the 20 nominated films were recognized for best films. They include REVIVAL, AFTERSHOCK, REPUBLIC, WENTIAN, GUO MING YI, WEN SHAN ZHOU, and HAWTHORN TREE. Meanwhile, WENTIAN and REPUBLIC picked up Best Director (s), REVIVAL won Best Screenplay, both Ge You (for SACRIFICE) and YANG SHAN ZHOU’s Li Xue Jian won Best Actor(s), Sandra Ng won Best Overseas Chinese Actress for ECHOES OF THE RAINBOW, and Chow Yun Fat picked up Best Overseas Chinese Actor for CONFUCIUS.

Notice one important omission? Yes, LET THE BULLETS FLY was completely ignored.

The complete list of winners (in Chinese) can be found here.

Not much for an entry today, but I promise Chinese box office and other gossip in the Chinese movie scene next time.

The Golden Rock - August 14, 2011 Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The horror….the horror…


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

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

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

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

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

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

And now, my own thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next time: Whatever we can find time for.


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

The Golden Rock - August 9, 2011 Edition

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Just some small news tidbits before we go:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Edit: NEW LINK

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

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


Filmbiz Asia
Hollywood Reporter


The Golden Rock - August 6, 2011 Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s China’s fault.

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Hong Kong’s fault. 

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

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

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

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

It’s Hollywood’s fault. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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The Golden Rock - August 2, 2011 Edition

Like we always do at the beginning of the week, we’re looking at Chinese box office:

- As expected, the TRANSFORMERS dominance continues in China, with the robot fightin’ blockbuster taking another 369 million yuan for a grand total of 770 million yuan at the Chinese box office. It’s now officially the highest-grossing film in China in 2011, and the one billion yuan mark is not unlikely. However, business is slowing down, with 56.5 admissions per show. HARRY POTTER 7.2 (which is distributed by Huaxia, not China Film Group. Sorry about that) opens in China on August 4th, so expect the film to take a huge bite out of TRANSFORMERS’ box office this coming weekend.

Like last week, the most interesting part of this week’s box office chart is looking at how the so-called “excellent recommended films” that celebrate the Chinese Communist Party’s 90th anniversary did. First, take a look at these charts:




These are the box office gross patterns for WU XIA and BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL, which shows a steady decrease in box office gross week-to-week. These can be considered normal trends.

However, take a look at these:





These are the box office trends for WENTIAN and GUO MING YI, respectively. Both are two of three “excellent recommended” films named in the internal memo  that I put on the July 21st Internal Memo Edition of the blog. It shows abnormal rising trends in their week-to-week grosses.

After last week’s miraculous 600% jump, WENTIAN jumped another 215% this past week, making 14.4 million yuan in the last seven days from 4,578 screenings. It has an average of 88.77 admissions per show, which is even higher than TRANSFORMERS. GUO YI MING had a similar jump in its gross as well, jumping 162.5% with  58.2 admissions per show (compared to 42 admissions per show last week).

This past weekend was the last week before the so-called “Red Month” commemorating the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party ended, and with memos being issued to encourage cinemas, government departments, and the media to promote these films, it’s no surprise they would see a sudden surge in the box office. We can either credit the jump to those shady ticket printing practices point out in the cinema chain internal memo, or organizations like the People’s Liberation Army organizing group screenings. We’ll likely never know the truth, but an industry insider on weibo predicts that such practices will continue to run until National Day in October. As the famous Department of Railway spokesman said a week ago, “You can choose to believe or not, but I believe it”.

More party-approved movie grosses this past week: YANG SHAN ZHOU saw a 283% jump for a 63 admissions per show average. THE SEAL OF LOVE jumped 925% for a per-show average of 149 admissions AND an average ticket price of 55 yuan.

Another big box office story this past week is the surprising performance of animated film SEER, based on the popular Chinese online video game. The film managed to hit the no.2 spot at the box office with 27.6 million yuan over four days for a per-show average of 30.95 admissions. Opening in the middle of the summer AND cashing in on the popularity of the game, THIS is the Chinese animation miracle of the summer so far, and judging from its trailer, it probably didn’t cost that much money to make. However, the film is being trashed by netizens on Douban, with an average score of 2.9 out of 10 and 61.4% of voters giving it one star. One comment even wrote that it’s “recommended for children age three and below”. Ouch.

Meanwhile, MYSTERIOUS ISLAND now at 86.3 million yuan, WU XIA now at 173 million yuan, and Wong Jing’s TREASURE INN now at 103 million yuan.

- In Taiwan, the comedy KILLER WHO NEVER KILLS, starring pop singer Jam Hsiao and a bunch of Hong Kong actors, did fairly well in its moderate release over the weekend. The film, based on a novel by popular author Giddens, is partly funded by the Hong Kong government’s Hong Kong Film Fund.

This is an interesting development, considering this is a film co-financed by the Hong Kong government that has a very clear Taiwanese identity. More about this film fund in a focus story in the future.

And now, some casting news:

- Speaking of MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, a big part of its success is reportedly due to the popularity of star Mimi Yang. An artist under contract at Mei Ah, she will be getting big roles in all the upcoming major Mei Ah productions. First, it’ll be THE GREAT WUDONG, opposite Vincent Zhao. Then it’ll be Alan Mak/Felix Chong’s WIND SEEKER opposite Tony Leung (the film is still in pre-production, according to an inside source). Finally, it’ll likely be BUTTERFLY CEMETARY, which is only in the planning stages right now. Go, Mimi….I guess.

- Nicholas Tse’s next role will reportedly be a Chinese television drama in which he’ll play an entrepreneur with depression, and that he’ll be starting the shoot soon. This will keep him in Mainland China for a while. Anyone who doesn’t know where I’m going with this should look at the tabloids.

- Donnie Yen reportedly has four additional films lined up already, including a comedy opposite Eva Huang (produced by director/actor Yang Zi…ahem…), the next Raymond Wong-produced Lunar New Year comedy, the ASSASSINS COUPLE film reportedly opposite Cecilia Cheung, and the one you all will care about, the next Jackie Chan production.

According to the report, he will be co-starring with Jackie in the action film, and he will be playing a master decoder (whatever that means). The 100 million yuan-plus production will start production around China in November.

However, his spokesperson said that Donnie is currently on vacation in the states, and that nothing will be confirmed until he returns to Hong Kong.

Moving into production news:

- Legendary talent manager Willie Chan and pop star-turning-actor Juno Mak have officially announced the start of their production company. In addition to the latest Wong Ching-Po film, Kudos will also be producing Stanley Kwan’s upcoming adaptation of a novel by racecar driver/author Han Han, subject to censorship clearance.

-  In an event in Shenzhen, director Tsui Hark, with Polybona chairman Yu Dong’s approval, revealed that he’s planning to adapt Qu Bo’s TRACKS IN THE SNOWY FOREST as his next project. The film, about People’s Liberation Army soldiers hunting bandits in the snowy northeastern China, will likely go into production at the end of the year for a year-end 2012 release. The first choice for star at the moment is Jiang Wen, though nothing is confirmed at the moment.

And now, I read Weibo so you don’t have to:

- An anonymous industry insider reveals that Jackie Chan’s 1911 has been heavily cut to please Chinese censors. One of the rumored points of contention is that they want the film to skim over presence of “the other party’s flag as a symbol.”

Also, with 1911 having obvious symbolic meaning and SORCERER AND THE WHITE SNAKE having the backing of a major distributor, Gordon Chan’s MURAL will likely be the loser of the National Day time slot this year.

- Wong Jing wrote on his weibo that fans have asked him why he hasn’t done anything in the horror genre lately. With the shoot for his latest romantic comedy wrapping up, he said he may use his free time in August and September to shoot a horror double feature with director Patrick Kong. The 90-minute film will feature two 45-minute piece - one by each director. However, this post apparently did not go through his spokesperson, who says this project is not confirmed. So don’t take it as anything more than spitballing by a director.

Next time: Hong Kong cinema this summer, and more news.


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Note: box office graphs also from Entgroup. 

The Golden Rock - 2011 Hong Kong Book Fair Edition

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

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

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



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




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




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




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




Shot by Christopher Doyle

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

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

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




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



There it is.

Here are some more posters:


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


There’s only one good movie on this page.


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




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










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

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




And it includes translations of fun phrases like these:


This phrase applies to most internet opinions - including this blog


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

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

Next time: Back to real news!

The Golden Rock - July 29th, 2011 Edition

Before getting into the news today, here’s a friendly reminder:



The SQUATTERTOWN premiere is happening on July 30th at 7:30 pm Hong Kong Time. I will be there, checking in live on Twitter and Facebook with constant updates before and after the film. You can check out the details on Facebook or see what’s going on live at the ustream page. It’s going to be a great night, and we’ll cover the premiere with a special entry next week, so stay tuned!

- Today’s focus story comes from Jinan Shibao, and it attempts to explain why the star-studded propaganda film BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL did not do as well as the predecessor FOUNDING OF A REPUBLIC.


Here’s some background: BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL is China Film Group’s big blockbuster made to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party. The film features 170+ stars from the Greater China area (plus Taiwan, depending on your politics), and it was expected to do major business at the box office ahead of the party anniversary on July 1st. You can read Boss Kozo’s review here.

In case you don’t know (and if you’ve been reading western media, you probably don’t), BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL was expected to be a record breaking box office hit. China Film Group said they were targeting 30 million admissions for a gross of 800 million yuan. They didn’t just want to barely pass by LET THE BULLETS FLY’s reported 700 million yuan record, they wanted to DESTROY IT, and 800 mil was the sensible next step. There were 89,000 showings in the first 5 days alone, with organized screenings by governmental organizations and a huge advertising campaign. Yes, an advertising campaign for a movie advertising the communist party.

Problem was, it wasn’t enough. The film only had an average of 36 admissions in each of those 89,000 showings, meaning that they screened it, but not enough people came. As of July 24th, it has only made 367 million yuan (roughly US$57 million) after 40 days. Sure, that’s no small number, considering it’s currently the highest-grossing Chinese film of 2011 so far. However, it’s far lower than the 800 million target set by CFG, and it’s still below the gross of FOUNDING OF A REPUBLIC two years prior, when there were less screens (It made roughly 410 million yuan). REVIVAL has already been released on DVD, and it has already made its way to the legal streaming sites, which means no revival for this poor fella.

Why can’t a country with reportedly 80 million communist party members get enough people to watch a movie about the communist party? I will first paraphrase each point provided by the article, followed by my own comments in bold.

1) Scheduling. BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL picked what seemed to be a perfect opening date on June 15th - right in the beginning of summer - with only an “alternative” film like WU XIA and low-key dramas like SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN in its way. However, FOUNDING OF A PUBLIC opened during the extended National Day holiday in October, and it was able to benefit greatly from that. On the other hand, REVIVAL could only benefit from school holidays, and students is not the target demographic for the film. Even though REVIVAL saw more organized screenings than REPUBLIC, it did not attract enough audiences to voluntarily watch it.

Let’s not kid ourselves here, China Film Group may not be a prolific film producer, but they are the biggest distributor of films in China. They serve as distributor/co-distributor on at least half of all Chinese films released, and they are one of the only two distributors of foreign films, including KUNG FU PANDA 2, TRANSFORMERS and HARRY POTTER. They held TRANFORMERS 3 , the biggest threat to REVIVAL’s box office dominance, back by a month.

Of course, the holding of foreign films to give local films a leg-up is an unofficial annual tradition in China, and this practice is only getting extra attention this year because the leg-up was given to a propaganda film. So it’s hard to say whether they held TRANSFORMERS back for commercial or political reason. All we can say is that they held it back. There was also a rumor that WU XIA (not distributed by China Film Group) could’ve done better if it had opened on the extended July 1st weekend in China, and that it “voluntarily” pushed its opening date to the following Monday. We’re not going to guess if that’s true or not. And you probably shouldn’t, either. 

One thing the article speculated and probably got right was that REPUBLIC benefited from an extended national holiday, and REVIVAL didn’t. Not even the communist party anniversary holiday helped the film get the boost it needed. 

In a future entry, we’ll look at the art of scheduling in the Chinese film industry. 

2) The star syndrome. The biggest selling point of FOUNDING OF A REPUBLIC was probably its large cast of stars. BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL attempted to cash in on that same selling point, packing it with stars like Andy Lau, Chow Yun Fat, Zhou Xun, Liu Ye, Chang Chen, and all those Mainland Chinese stars with two-word names. However, after REPUBLIC, fans of the stars knew that their idols would likely only appear for several minutes in order to fit in the next star appearance. As a result, fans would rather skip wasting money on seeing their idol for a few minutes in REVIVAL and instead saved their money for a movie where they knew their idol would actually be appearing for longer than five minutes.

Likely true, but I’m not sure if it really played that huge of a role, since audiences will likely see more than one of their idols in a movie promising 170 stars. 

3) (lack of) Critics’ influence/word-of-mouth. While REPUBLIC sparked conversations on the internet and elsewhere, REVIVAL saw decreased enthusiasm and negative word-of-mouth from audiences. The film had no professional reviews, which meant general audiences weren’t properly guided on whether the film was good or not. On movie rating sites Douban and Mtime, the rating system and the discussion sections were both shut down, preventing people from having a public opinion on the film. These days, young audiences like to check movie rating sites to see word-of-mouth on a film before they choose to watch it. Without that tool, people simply decided not to watch it. One netizen speculated that since REPUBLIC didn’t run into to the same situation, the powers that be must’ve been afraid that the focus of discussions would be placed on Tang Wei.

This being a mainstream media report, they wouldn’t point out the fact that the rating system was initially opened on douban, only to be shut down later that day when the average score was only 2.2/10. For a film to be so often voted on with such a consistently low score on only opening day, netizens were obviously having fun trashing the film. Douban’s immediate action of shutting voting down didn’t help the film’s publicity, either, as people then simply skipped the film out of principle. It’s true that the film had negative word-of-mouth, but what the report didn’t point out was that it started long before the film even opened. 

On the other hand, weibo didn’t shut down any opinions on the film (it even had its own unique trending section), but most of them were sarcastic comments and netizens trashing the movie. Either way, REVIVAL was damned whether they allowed Douban and Mtime’s voting system to be opened.

Other than this report (which was reposted on at least Mtime’s news section), not many mainstream Chinese media has covered REVIVAL’s box office failure. China Film Group is acting nonchalant, saying that they will accept whatever the free market dictates them to do. With REVIVAL obviously making a profit and China Film Group still laughing to the bank with TRANSFORMERS and KUNG FU PANDA’s record-breaking box office grosses, it appears that China Film Group is simply moving on and not looking back.

With the Douban/Mtime situation, the reported “box office gouging”, and now the box office piggybacking of other China Film Group-involved party anniversary commemoration films all dragging down the reputation of commercial “mainstream” (as in “mainstream values”) films, what will happen to it in the future? Will there be any more large-scale propaganda film for the next big national anniversary? We’ll keep an eye out in the years to come.

- Speaking of “mainstream films”, August 1st Studio - the People Liberation Army’s film division and the producer of patriotic films like WEN TIAN - is releasing another party anniversary movie this weekend. SHOU WANG TIAN SHAN depicts the heroic efforts of the PLA during the paving of the Tianshan highway in Xinjiang province. Judging from WEN TIAN’s miraculous box office performance this past weekend, I’m looking forward to see what the August 1st Studio and distributor Hua Xia has in store for us come Tuesday.

- Film company Media Asia (INFERNAL AFFAIRS, LEGEND OF THE FIST) has been merged with fellow eSun subsidiary East Asia Music to become just Media Asia. In addition to the IPO, it announced that it will be targeting the Macau/Mainland China market. At the press conference, the company announced that it will be producing the latest Johnnie To film, and it will be reuniting Sammi Cheng and Andy Lau. Andy will be playing a cop who loses his sight working on a case, and Sammi will be playing his lover.

Pang Ho-Cheung, Miriam Yeung, and Shawn Yue also made an appearance to talk about LOVE IN A BUFF, the sequel to LOVE IN A PUFF. Pang revealed that the Hong Kong section of the shoot is complete, and that they will be starting the Beijing portion of the shoot soon. In fact, Pang recently asked on Weibo for couples to join as extras for a scene on August 18th. If you’re in Beijing and interested, check out Pang Ho Cheung’s weibo. I assume if you can show up, you can read and speak Chinese, so you can look for the post yourself.

Also announced: Shawn Yue will be joining the cast of THE FLYING GUILLOTINES, LIFE WITHOUT PRINCIPLES has completed shooting, Media Asia will be opening its own cinema chain in China, and it will be working on a major Hollywood production.

-  Also recruiting for people is Japanese paid television network WOWOW. During their free preview weekend, they are looking for someone to help dub their Japanese version of Jackie Chan’s PROJECT A. You will be trained to become a professional voice actor AND join in on the new Japanese version of the PROJECT A theme song. Check out this page for details. Again, if you’re looking to become a Japanese professional voice actor, I assume you already speak Japanese, so no translation.

- According to Donnie Yen’s Weibo, he has signed up to star in “Assassin Couple” (translated from Chinese title), an unofficial Chinese take on MR AND MRS SMITH (unofficial because they probably didn’t buy the rights). The production company has yet to confirm, but the media is reporting that Cecilia Cheung will be starring opposite Donnie, and she will be getting 15 million yuan for the role. What’s Donnie getting? 30 million yuan. Production budget is reportedly around 80 to 100 million yuan. No other talent attached yet.

- I will be using this article again for the horror focus story later. What’s relevant now is that MYSTERIOUS ISLAND director Chung Kai-Cheong said that he is still working on a 3D JIN PING MEI movie. In case you don’t know, JIN PING MEI was the source material for the SEX AND CHOPSTICK films. Who is Chung planning to get as his star? Jeon Do-Yeon. Yes, Cannes Best Actress winner and one of the best actresses in Korea Jeon Do-Yeon.

He also explained that Jordan Chan skipped out on promotional activities for MYSTERIOUS ISLAND because he went home to conceive a child with his wife Cherrie Ying. I am not joking at all about this.

- The Venice Film Festival lineup was recently announced, with Ann Hui’s A SIMPLE LIFE representing Hong Kong and SEEDIQ BALE representing Taiwan. One film that was being rumored to enter the festival was Zhang Yimou NANJING HEROES. However, the film wasn’t announced to be screened at neither Venice nor Toronto. A reporter talked to the film’s production company, and the spokesperson simply said they’re not in the position to comment right now. Either the film is really going the commercial route and giving up the festivals for direct commercial distribution (the way LET THE BULLETS FLY went), or it’s that mysterious Venice film that will be unveiled during the competition. Or it could be going to another fest.

Who cares? We’ll all get to see it in December anyway.

Next time: A special Hong Kong Book Fair edition.


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The Golden Rock - July 26, 2011 Edition

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

Well, it doesn’t.

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

And for some reason, that’s OK.

And now, onto the news:

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what can we learn from this mess?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Film Business Asia

The Golden Rock - July 24, 2011 Edition

First, we’re following up on the “internal memogate” that we devoted our previous entry to:

- A reporter for Sina has followed up on the story and managed to come up with the actual memo that even includes literally the stamps of approval from all six committees: The Propaganda Department of the Communist Party of China, State Administration of Radio, Television, and Film, The Organization Department of the Communist Party of China, the People’s Liberation Army General Political Department, the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, and the so-called “Good Activities Guidance Committee” (not actual English name).

However, the approved memo simply includes the point about using union/party membership fees to pay for the film. It also orders the PLA to organize screenings for its troops, that departments must ensure that as many people as possible get to see the “excellent recommended films”, and for the media to give these “excellent recommended films” as much coverage as possible to provide “positive guidance” and “elevate its influence amongst audiences”. What it DOESN’T include is that theaters should piggyback the films on any other films as double features and gouge box office gross.

Instead, it was the theaters who decided to do it. The reporter got in touch with Wu Hehu, the Vice President of the Shanghai United Circuit, where the original memo originated. Wu outright admitted that the internal memo, which was specifically for the Shanghai United Circuit, does exist, and that he believes it’s the cinemas’ responsibility to promote Chinese-made films. This is his exact quote (loosely translated):

“What people think is their business, we will not refute them. We are upholding our own responsibilities. The six committees asked us to recommend these three films to more audiences, and we have a responsibility to use any means necessary to promote Chinese films. We are upholding our own responsibilities.”

To be clear, the government nor China Film Group never asked on paper for these special “double features” and “group tickets”.  This is purely the act of at least one cinema chain. The reporter surveyed several Beijing cinemas and saw no such promotion. Also, Gao Jun, a cinema chain owner and the guy that’s been quoted by the western media about the so-called 800 million yuan requirement for BEGINNING OF GREAT REVIVAL, also said that his cinemas are not using such a tactic.

As for the minimum ticket price, TRANSFORMER’s distributor has revealed that the minimum ticket price for the 35mm version is 15 yuan and 20 yuan for the 3D version, which means the 20 yuan share for TRANSFORMERS pointed out in the previous entry does NOT break the law.

In other words, it’s douchey, but it ain’t illegal. Take that, world!

If you care (and most chances is that you don’t), TRANSFORMERS 3 broke the record for highest opening day in China (91 million yuan), highest midnight show grosses in China (12 million yuan), and highest single-day box office in China (112 million yuan on July 23rd.). It is the first film is make more than 100 million yuan in a single day. After 3 days, the robot fightin’ movie has made 295 million yuan. By now, it has likely beaten the total box office gross of BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL and maybe even FOUNDING OF A REPUBLIC. Michael Bay: Communist propaganda killer!

- In case you haven’t noticed, it’s been a pretty exciting week for trailer fans. We saw the latest trailers for THE GRANDMASTER, THE SORCERER AND THE WHITE SNAKE, and if you’re at a Chinese cinemas this weekend, you can add Tsui Hark’s FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE (and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES teaser, but that doesn’t matter) to that list. A news article has pointed out that the battle of the December films has started early, with all three of these films premiering their trailer in the same week in cinemas. However, note that the GRANDMASTER December release date is only tentative, just like the last 20 release dates Sil-Metropole scheduled.

With these (especially GRANDMASTER and FLYING SWORDS) and the not-too-bad LOVE IN SPACE teaser that also hit the web this week, it seems that the art of trailer is now being appreciated in Chinese cinema. A executive at Polybona (who’s releasing the Tsui Hark film) says that trailers used to be just about three things: introducing the main talents, introducing the film’s genre, and introducing the film’s release date. Now, a film will release multiple trailers - a teaser, a final trailer, and sometimes one more in between - as part of their extended promotional campaigns.

To be honest, I really was impressed by these new trailers. It’s not because they make the films look good (some do, some don’t), but rather because it seems like film companies here finally recognize the value of well-made trailers. Due to resources and other unknown reasons, Hong Kong trailers tend to be put together very sloppily without much sense of storytelling. Instead, they simply serve the points of showing cool moments/dialogue and introducing the stars. As a result, you have trailers that literally tells you nothing about the film except the people in it. The last really great Hong Kong trailer I can remember is ISABELLA. Yes, it may have something to do with me being a Pang Ho-Cheung fan, but the trailer makes me want to watch the film again whenever I see it. Not only do the song and the visuals effectively establish the tone of the film; the dialogue actually gives you an idea what the story is about for once. Once you’ve sat through it, you want to see more of it. THAT’S what a good trailer is about.

What do the LOVE IN SPACE, FLYING SWORDS, and GRANDMASTER trailers have in common? None of them tells you what the story will be, but all three of them give you a taste of the tone of the film instead of just the selling point of the film. Not only are they clear about the tone they want to strike with audiences, they also work as well-edited pieces of video in their own right.

Of course, there’s also the issue of really good trailers leading to really bad films (MR. AND MRS. INCREDIBLE, anyone?), but that’s not something we’ll talk about here.

Two other trailers hit the web this week: Wong Jing’s TREASURE HUNT (Starring Cecilia Tse Cheung, Ronald Cheng, and Lucas Tse), and the new TVB/Shaw Brothers production FORTUNE BUDDIES. They open in Hong Kong on August 18th and August 11th, respectively.

And if you’ve read this far, here’s a little reward for you.

- Back to Hong Kong news, Juno Mak picked up the Best Actor award at the Puchon Fantastic Film Festival for REVENGE: A LOVE STORY. I’ll let Film Business Asia pick up the rest later on.

- With the announcement of the Venice Film Festival line-up coming this week, Sina speculates which Chinese-language films has a chance of getting in. For strictly Mainland China, we have Zhang Yimou’s NANJING HEROES and THE SORCERER AND THE WHITE SNAKE. Ann Hui’s A SIMPLE LIFE may end up representing Hong Kong/China. There’s word that Taiwan’s mega-budget SEEDIQ BALE is a shoo-in.

Also, the report updates the production statuses of several high-profile director’s latest: Wang Quan’an’s latest film just started the scoring process and is nowhere near completion. Lu Chuan’s LAST SUPPER is still in production. LIFE IN PRINCIPLE recently just began reshoots. Wang Shaoshuai already said his latest film will go to a very reputable film festival that doesn’t have an official competition (report guesses Toronto).

And now, I read Weibo so you don’t have to:

- Dante Lam writes that he’s already cut a one-minute long trailer for THE VIRAL FACTOR. The action film literally just wrapped shooting and is aiming for a Lunar New Year release.

- Wong Jing writes that the Nicholas Tse letter to Cecilia Cheung floating around the internet has to be fake because Nic’s Chinese is just OK, and that he would write such a letter in English, not Chinese.

- Yang Zi, the director of CHASE OUR LOVE and executive producer of THE SORCERER AND THE WHITE SNAKE, unveiled a new musical to star Eva Huang (rumored to be….well, I don’t have to say it). Hong Kong director Lee Lik Chi was also at the press conference, but he’s not the director. He was apparently just there.

Next time: Finally we’ll look at how one Chinese new report analyzes why BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL flopped, and maybe the in-depth story about REST ON YOUR SHOULDER. It depends how much sleep we get here.

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