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China's film industry in retrospective
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Cecilia Cheung in Chen Kaige's The Promise

Cecilia Cheung in Chen Kaige's The Promise

The movie was a true commercial success in every sense from production to marketing, and it marked a turning point for the Chinese movie industry. The days of gloom were over; with the general public's interest reawakened, the Chinese movie business started to boom. To date Mr. Zhang has dedicated his efforts to multimillion-dollar blockbusters like House of Flying Daggers (2004) and Curse of Golden Flowers (2006), leading other directors to follow suit. Farewell, My Concubine director Chen Kaige unveiled his US$35 million-plus fantasy The Promise in 2005, a film that was highly-successful at the box office, although at the same time it almost put an end to the director's career. Even Feng Xiaogang, a director better-known for his hilarious comedies, has thrown his cap in the ring of the martial arts movie, and his The Banquet, set in ancient China but adapted from William Shakespeare's Hamlet, graced the silver screen in 2006.

In addition, Hero truly and successfully carried modern Chinese cinema to the international audience. It was shown around the world from 2002 to 2005. With over US$53 million in ticket sales, it was the third largest-earning foreign language movie in the U.S. from 1981 to 2005. The flourishing overseas market encouraged both the government and film makers to promote Chinese cinema internationally. The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) has now implemented favorable policies to help Chinese movies go global by offering various financial incentives.

Moviegoers are queuing in front of a box office to buy tickets for Curse of Golden Flowers in Beijing 2006.

Moviegoers are queuing in front of a box office to buy tickets for Curse of Golden Flowers in Beijing 2006.

Thanks to the concerted efforts of government and film markers, China produced 420 movies in 2007, ranking third in the world. Meanwhile, 2007 box office receipts increased by more than 30 percent over the previous year to gross over 3 billion yuan (about US$440 million) – the biggest leap in the international movie industry.

But there are some undeniable problems that are hindering the progress of Chinese cinema. The first and biggest is the administrative system. Absence of a rating system makes movie makers and distributors feel uncomfortably constrained. Some topics are still taboo in China. Even SARFT's deputy director Zhao Shi admits that administrative barriers are substantially affecting the movie industry.

Secondly, Chinese movies in general lack competitive edge. Generally, they are weak in terms of storytelling and application of technology. Some directors suggest that Chinese cinema does not make enough effort to engage emotionally with its audience. Many of the movies present miserable portrayals of China that are not only far from the truth, but also dishearten movie goers. They do not offer the entertainment that the public wants.

Thirdly, the prices of movie tickets are set too high. 60 to 80 yuan (US $9-11) for a ticket makes cinema-going a luxury for ordinary Chinese with an average monthly income of about 3,000 yuan (US$438). The result is that many Chinese turn to pirate DVDs, to the detriment of cinema attendance numbers.

(China.org.cn by Pang Li, December 12, 2008)

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