Chen Kaige's mammoth budget epic The Promise premiered in selected cities yesterday and began screening across the world today, joining Hong Kong director Peter Chan's Perhaps Love in opening China's year-end movie market.
"I have much confidence in the film," said Chen. "The Promise, like Farewell My Concubine, combines commerce and art." Farewell won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 1993 as well as good box office earnings.
The Promise, so far the largest budget film in China to the tune of US$42 million, has secured the government's authorization as the mainland's contender for an Oscar nomination this time round.
Several other Chinese films are vying for box office takings this season: Zhang Yimou's US$7.2 million budget art film Riding Alone for a Thousand Miles will be screened on December 22, followed by A Chinese Tall Story by Jeff Lau and Fearless starring action star Jet Li.
In 2004, Feng Xiaogang's A World Without Thieves boosted the holiday film season from December 8. This year, Perhaps Love premiered on December 1 and Fearless will be shown right up to the Spring Festival break that ends in mid February.
Gao Jun from Beijing Xin Ying Lian Film Co Ltd said the year-end season is being extended to encourage a better commercial draw.
But according to Hong Kong director Wong Jing: "I cannot imagine that the holiday season can last for two and a half months on the mainland while standing for at most three weeks in Hong Kong."
"Japan and South Korea have both experienced this with the audience becoming fed up and the market lackluster," he added.
Weng Li from China Film Group, producer of The Promise, said this year's films are of
varied genres and good quality, and expected earnings to surpass last year. Perhaps Love, the closing film at the 62nd Venice Film Festival, had brought in more than US$2.2 million during its first week's showing on the mainland.
Gao said that despite fierce competition from other films, The Promise is capable of collecting at least US$18.8 million at domestic box offices.
Another change in this year's season is increasing performances by foreign film stars, such as South Koreans Ji Jin-hee in Perhaps Love and Jang Dong-gun in The Promise, as well as Japanese veteran Takakura Ken in Riding Alone for a Thousand Miles.
The concept of the holiday film season arose on the mainland in the late 1990s with the release of Hong Kong film star Jackie Chan's Rumble in the Bronx and gained popularity thanks to Feng Xiaogang's The Dream Factory (1997).
(China.org.cn by Li Xiao December 15, 2005)