The only film for Spring Festival 2020

By Zhang Rui
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, January 24, 2020
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Spring Festival is considered as the biggest film season of the year in China, as a trip to the movies has become a new holiday tradition. This year, due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, the film studios of seven blockbusters slated to hit Chinese theaters during the Spring Festival holiday urgently cancelled their release plans. They announced this unprecedented move on Thursday.

                          A new online debut poster for the movie "Lost in Russia." [Image courtesy of ByteDance]

The movies, including "Detective Chinatown 3," "Lost in Russia," "The Rescue," "Leap," "Vanguard," and two animated features, "Legend of Deification" and "Boonie Bears: The Wild Life" were scheduled to hit Chinese cinemas during the upcoming holiday.

However, concerns over the safety of watching movies in cinemas, usually considered as a confined space with the risk of virus transmission, have increased amid the spreading of the country's novel coronavirus-related pneumonia, Xinhua News Agency reported. Studios that produced these films released statements soon after, confirming that they would suspend the release of their films, in an effort to help curb the spread of the virus. Many stocks of Chinese film companies plummeted on the Chinese stock market and the fall continued for many days.

On Friday, film company Huanxi Media made a bold move, deciding to release its much-anticipated comedy tentpole "Lost in Russia" online nationwide for free, after signing a surprise new cooperation agreement with the internet powerhouse ByteDance. The film will be shown on ByteDance's platforms including Douyin, Toutiao, Xi Gua Video and Huanxi's own streaming platform Huanxi Premium.

Under the deal, ByteDance will pay Huanxi a one-time fee of HK$700 million. The two companies' video services will "pool content, cross-promote and also share advertising and transactional video-on-demand revenue", according to The Hollywood Reporter. Huanxi also has retained the theatrical rights to "Lost in Russia," should it decide to bring the film out in cinemas in the future. 

Actor/director Xu Zheng's "Lost in Russia" offers a bittersweet yet heartwarming story, as a manipulative mother and her middle-aged son go on a trip together. 

"Many mothers and children are ashamed to show love to one another. I want to touch people's souls and give them some warmth," the director said at the premiere held in Beijing on Jan. 17. The film seems to be the perfect choice for families during the holiday.

In Chinese, the title of the film is "Jiong Ma" (literally "awkward mother"). It is about an awkward journey to Russia of a manipulative old mother and her middle-aged son who wanted to rebel and escape. Many elements will resonate with Chinese audiences as it touches on typical mother-child relationship in China that is either too intimate or estranged, tough and manipulative. Further, it also touches the problem of marriage for middle-aged individuals. 

Previous installments of the "Lost In..." franchise received a positive market response. "Lost in Thailand" (2012) grossed 1.27 billion yuan in China, while the following one, "Lost in Hong Kong" (2015), took in 1.61 billion yuan at the box office. In 2018, Xu produced and starred in the drama film "Dying to Survive," reaching a new peak with 3.1 billion yuan in revenue, a high critic rating and plenty of accolades.

"Lost In Russia" stars veteran actress Huang Meiying, actress Yuan Quan and actors Guo Jingfei and Jia Bing. It is worth noting that there's a cameo of the late young Chinese-Canadian actor Godfrey Gao, who tragically died at the age of 35 in November 2019 of cardiac arrest while filming a TV show.

Director Xu Zheng and cast members pose for a group photo at the premiere of "Lost In Russia" held in Beijing, Jan. 17, 2020. [Photo courtesy of Maxtimes Culture]

Anxious distributors previously announced "Lost in Russia" will enter the furious Spring Festival race earlier, hitting Chinese theaters on Jan. 24, the eve of Chinese Lunar New Year and a day earlier than the originally set release date. This move immediately caused complaints, as many cinema staff have to work extra hours before they can go home for the traditional reunion dinner with family.

Film industry observers said the bold move of early release is not just due to the novel virus situation, but also for other rival film studios having to fight for more screening potential, spaces and arrangements after they saw the presales of "Detective Chinatown 3" was overwhelming. Director Xu Zheng once openly apologized to cinema staff.

Now "Lost in Russia" studio's new move seemed to be an happy ending after Spring Festival film season is scrapped. It is unknown if other tentpole blockbusters will follow the suit.

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