​Chinese film market rebounds during Spring Festival

By Zhang Rui
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, January 29, 2023
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Cinemas in China excitedly welcomed back flocks of moviegoers to see movies on the big screen during the recent Spring Festival holiday, with the box office total reaching the second highest in history.

Due to COVID-19's negative impact last year, China's film market has suffered numerous blows over a prolonged period of time. But after restrictions were removed when the Chinese government adopted new pandemic prevention policies at the end of last year, the much-anticipated lucrative Spring Festival film season eventually arrived, and soared.

The holiday box office sold 129 million tickets from Jan. 22-27, generating a staggering revenue of 6.76 billion yuan ($996 million), according to big data entertainment platform Beacon. The earnings overtook that of the same holiday last year, making this year's Spring Festival holiday the second highest-grossing to date in history, only second to that of 2021. 

Six new domestic titles were released during the holiday. Zhang Yimou's period suspense thriller "Full River Red," a twist-filled plot mixed with comedy, was the biggest winner during the Spring Festival, raking in 2.61 billion yuan and accounting for 38.6% of the holiday's box office total. Its takings have made it the biggest film in Zhang's already legendary career and it looks to continue to accumulate a stunning box office total in the coming weeks. 

Frant Gwo's Chinese sci-fi film "The Wandering Earth 2," a prequel to the blockbuster's first installment in 2019, also delivered phenomenal box office performance during the holiday, taking a haul of 2.16 billion yuan, accounting for 32% of the box office total. Its momentum will continue after the holiday, with the cast and crew announcing they will embark on a national meet-and-greet tour to promote the film. The film, praised by the audience and critics as a new milestone in Chinese sci-fi filmmaking, also had a limited opening in some countries around the world during the Chinese Lunar New Year, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Malaysia.

The animated film "Boonie Bears: Guardian Code" took third place on the box office chart. The ninth installment in one of China's longest-running movie franchises grossed 748 million yuan, pushing the franchise's total box office takings to over 5 billion yuan.

Other high-performing films included Cheng Er's spy-action thriller "Hidden Blade" starring Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, which grossed 493 million yuan; "Deep Sea," a critically-acclaimed animated fantasy from Tian Xiaopeng, the helmsman of "Monkey King: Hero is Back," which grossed 359 million yuan; and "Five Hundred Miles," a romantic comedy starring comedian Zhang Xiaofei, best known for her part in the 2021 dark horse "Hi, Mom," which grossed 290 million yuan. 

Even "Avatar: The Way of Water" grossed a remarkable 49.5 million yuan during the holiday. The film has extended its run in China until Feb. 14, but its screening arrangements were mostly cut on the first day of the holiday to give way to China's new blockbuster releases. However, more and more cinemas started to put it back into schedule over the few days following, with many of its showings in large premium formats sold out. The film's total China takings have now surpassed 1.62 billion yuan, making it the best-performing foreign film during the pandemic era. Its worldwide total has grossed more than $2.07 billion, making it the fourth highest-grossing film of all time.

Theaters supporting large premium formats did quite well during the holiday. For example, IMAX China reported that it collected 231 million yuan from its IMAX screens, which is the best Spring Festival performance for IMAX ever, accounting for 8.22% of the total box office takings in China from only 1% of all screens in the market. The IMAX version of "The Wandering Earth 2" led the way, grossing 178 million yuan across the IMAX network. Of the top 10 Chinese cinemas to make the most profit, eight had IMAX screens. 

There was also a little drama during the holiday, with the sports film "Ping-pong of China," directed by Deng Chao and Yu Baimei and starring Deng himself, delaying its release until Jan. 24 from its originally planned release of Jan. 22 due to some last-minute changes to the film. The distributors then found that there was so little room and potential for the film to thrive during the highly competitive season that they decided to delay its wide release to Feb. 17. Nevertheless, after screening for just two days, the film grossed 38.14 million yuan.

Rao Shuguang, president of the China Film Critics Association, said the movie frenzy made him feel that Chinese films are off to "a new start towards a better future" after being hampered by COVID-19 for years. There have been calls from critics for more quality films to be made to draw more moviegoers back to cinemas, citing their significance to the recovery of the film industry overall.

Notable new releases in the coming weeks include the much-anticipated crime film "Where the Wind Blows," directed by Philip Yung and starring Hong Kong megastars Aaron Kwok and Tony Leung, which will hit Chinese screens on Feb. 5. Disney and foreign film companies will also put out new releases in China soon, including "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" and "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania," which will be released in China on Feb. 7 and Feb. 17, respectively, and marks the first Marvel Cinematic Universe titles to enter the Chinese market since 2019. Warner Bros/DC's "Shazam! Fury of the Gods" will also be released in China, adding to the line-up of foreign blockbuster films making their way to Chinese theaters.

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