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Chinese Films Come of Age

After ten years' defeat at the box office by foreign films, Chinese films finally won the domestic battle in 2004.

According to the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), box office revenue in China exceeded 1.5 billion yuan (US$182 million) in 2004, with Chinese films taking up 55 percent of the market share.

The top three films in China last year were "House of Flying Daggers," "A World Without Thieves" and "Kong Fu Hustle," all of which are Chinese, a distinct turn from the past foreign-film-dominated box office.

Zhang Yimou's "House of Flying Daggers," has made 153 million yuan (US$18.5 million), far exceeding the "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," the highest-grossing foreign film in China.

Film industry analysts estimate the two Chinese New Year blockbuster films "A World Without Thieves" and "Kong Fu Hustle" have already made up to 200 million yuan (US$24 million).

Chinese director Lu Chuan's film "Ke Ke Xi Li: Mountain Patrol", about the protection of wild animals in northwest China, also made good performance.

"2004 was the year that Chinese films made their greatest leap," said Weng Li, vice manager of the film exhibition and distribution arm of China Film Group, China's biggest film producer and the only company authorized to import foreign films.

According to SARFT, China produced 212 films in 2004, 80 percent of which were either funded by private capital or foreign investment.

Of the top three box winners of 2004, "House of Flying Daggers" was financed by privately-owned Beijing New Picture Distribution Co. LTD and "A World Without Thieves" and "Kong Fu Hustle" were both produced by privately-owned Huayi Brothers, one of the mainland's most commercially successful film and TV production companies.

"Kekexili: Mountain Patrol" was a coproduction of Huayi Brothers and Columbia Pictures.

"Chinese films are moving to the international track, thanks to the vitality private investment has brought to them," said a Chinese film critic.

In October 2004, US film giant Warner Brothers Pictures set up China's first movie production joint venture with China Film Group and the privately run Hengdian Group.

In November 2004, China announced it would let foreign companies take up to 49 percent of stakes in local television production companies, giving international media better access to the world's biggest market.

Yang Buting, chairman of China Film Group, called the loosening restrictions on Chinese film industry "an unprecedented golden chance."

However, the box office gains last year cannot make Chinese films live "happily ever after."

According to China's WTO commitments, foreign films meeting import qualifications will swarm into China to taste the long-coveted Chinese market.

"A battle for market share is in store," said Zhu Hong, SARTF spokesperson.

(Xinhua News Agency January 3, 2005)

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