An optimistic prediction from China's first and one of the largest film festivals, the Changchun Movie Festival, is that the country's movie market is coming out of a long depression.
"The market is rebounding and there's still great potential there", Zhang Pimin, deputy director-general of the Film Bureau under the State Administration of Radio, Film and TV, said at the movie festival being held in Changchun.
Insiders note the flow of private and foreign investment has reinvigorated the movie market compared with past years.
So far this year 25 young directors have produced their debut films, only the second time since 1979 that more than 20 inaugural works have been released in a year.
Most of these movies were funded by independent producers instead of the government or state-owned movie production companies.
Many "fifth generation" directors, a group who tended to focus on art movies, have turned to commercial films this year.
Zhang Yimou, the two-time Venice Film Festival winner, is shooting a martial arts epic Hero while Chen Kaige, director of the Golden Palm prizewinner Farewell My Concubine in 1993, is producing a commercial movie Be With You.
"More and more factors are emerging to pull the movie market out of the slump," said Zheng Dongtian, secretary general of the association of Chinese movie directors.
A series of reforms have modernized movie production and distribution. Some theaters in large cities have introduced digital technology.
The Chinese government has allowed foreign companies to set up joint venture theaters with Chinese counterparts but solely foreign-funded theaters are still banned.
"The movie market on the Chinese mainland has a rosy future now China is in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and this will also benefit Hong Kong," said Peter Li, Hong Kong Trade Development Council official.
China promised to import 20 foreign movies in the first year after it became a formal WTO member and the number would rise to 40-50 movies in three years.
China had a huge movie audience of about 30 billion a year some 20 years ago but the number shrank to 500 to 600 million. Now each Chinese watches less than one movie every year, only one tenth of the number in the United States.
"Theaters in China face a serious threat from piracy since a pirated digital video disk costs only one yuan here," said Jeff Stone, a US TV producer.
"But we still would like to participate in the Chinese market," he added.
Official figures show that the total box office in China is estimated at 800 million to 1 billion yuan but the number is likely to grow 15-fold in ten years.
Zhang Pimin pledged to strive harder to realize expectations.
(Xinhua News Agency August 26, 2002)