Chinese domestic films' darkest hours?

By Zhang Rui
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, June 1, 2017
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Posters of "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" and "Dangal." [Photo:]

Chinese filmmaking seems to have sunk into something of an abyss, with the worst box office performance for months while foreign films continue dominating the world's second largest market.

During the Dragon Boat Festival, a three-day national holiday, all films currently being screened grossed a total of 704 million yuan (US$103.69 million), a 17 percent decline compared with the previous year. This is also the first decline in five years in this particular period.

However, that wasn’t the worst news; instead, it was the gigantic failure of all Chinese domestic films.

"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" ruled the three-day holiday, earning 476 million (US$70 million). It debuted in China two days before the Dragon Boat Festival, and had made more than 800 million yuan (US$117.89 million) by Thursday noon, according to Second place belonged to the Indian drama "Dangal," which has made more than 1 billion yuan (US$147.37 million) in total so far over a slightly longer period, after rave reviews helped it make history in China as the best-selling Indian film ever.

A poster of "God of War." [Photo:]

By comparison, the best Chinese film performance was Gordon Chan's "God of War", a war epic based on Ming Dynasty national hero Qi Jiguang, which had only grossed 50 million yuan (US$7.36 million) by Thursday noon, while Taiwan's most famous TV host Kevin Tsai's directorial debut film, "Didi's Dreams" made only 24.26 million yuan (US$3.57 million).

As foreign films overwhelmed show time in theaters across the country, no wonder Ann An, CEO and founder of Desen International Media Co., Ltd, lamented the lack of screening time for her company’s "Edge of Innocence" in the national holiday.

"We crafted the film for more than two-and-half-years, but only occupied 5.5 percent of the screening times allotted to all films, while 'Pirates of the Caribbean 5' had 50.9 percent", she complained in her Weibo account. "The gap is so huge, and Chinese films will surely die if those continues. Please give a survival chance and space for domestic films and don't let them die at the starting line!"

"Edge of Innocence" has only grossed 8.5 million yuan (US$1.25 million) in total so far.

Posters of "Didi's Dreams" and "Edge of Innocence." [Photo:]

At the beginning of May, after long absence from the top spots on China's box office chart, four Chinese-made films, including Leste Chen's "Battle of Memories," Herman Yau's "Shock Wave," Derek Hui's "This Is Not What I Expected" and Pang Ho-Cheung's "Love Off the Cuff", cherished hopes of winning back audiences during the May Day holiday. They didn't make it, losing out to the phenomenal "The Fate of the Furious," which has raked in nearly 2.7 billion yuan (US$397.64 million) thus far.

Hollywood has reigned in China for nearly three months since "xXx: The Return of Xander Cage" was released on Feb. 10 after China's Spring Festival film season. "Kong: Skull Island," "xXx: The Return of Xander Cage," "Resident Evil: The Final Chapter" and Indian dark horse "Dangal" all passed the 1-billion-yuan mark while "The Fate of the Furious" has become the top grossing foreign film of all time on the mainland.

In addition, "Beauty and the Beast," "Logan", "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," and "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" also produced strong performances.

China's domestic films will suffer more in June, as the heavyweight Hollywood blockbusters "Wonder Woman", "The Lost City of Z", "Alien: Covenant", "The Mummy," and "Transformers: The Last Knight" are all scheduled to open this month.

The future of domestic films will certainly be gloomy in coming years if they cannot rebuild moviegoers' confidence in their quality and appeal. According to The Wrap, the Washington D.C.-based U.S.-Asia Institute will lead congressional delegation of about a dozen senators and representatives to China in August to review the country’s growing movie market.

The most recent quota, negotiated in 2012 between then U.S. vice president Joe Biden and Xi Jinping, who was then China’s vice president, allows 34 American films to be distributed in China each year, with 14 of them designated for 3-D or IMAX screenings. This deal expired last February, but the guidelines have remained in place until a new agreement can be established, which could allow more Hollywood movies into China - a fear many local filmmakers have shared for years.

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