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China Rakes in US$248m at the Box Office in 2005
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In 1905, Ren Jingfeng, a Beijing-based photo studio owner, used a French-made wood-box camera to shoot several scenes of the Peking Opera Conquering Jun Mountain, which turned out to be China's first movie.

A hundred years later, films are no longer shot on wood-box cameras or shown in open-air makeshift theaters. China now has over 1,200 cinemas with a total of about 2,670 screens, and box office takings for both domestic and foreign films continue to soar.

According to State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) statistics, the industry earned a total of 4.8 billion yuan (US$595 million) in 2005, US$148.8 million more than in 2004. The total revenue includes earnings from overseas screening sales (1.65 billion yuan) and TV screening (1.15 billion yuan). 

Domestic box office sales were a whopping 2 billion yuan (US$248 million), with Chinese films earning 60 percent of that revenue, 5 percent more than in 2004. Chen Kaige's The Promise topped the revenue list with 153 million yuan (US$19 million), and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire led the foreign imports at 93.9 million yuan (US$11.7 million).

A total of 260 movies were made in the mainland in 2005, compared with 212 in 2004, 140 in 2003 and 100 in 2002. A total of 263 Chinese films were entered for competition at 101 international film festivals. 18 films won a total of 32 awards at 24 events.

Also in 2005, 26 Chinese film festivals were held in 22 countries and regions.

Other accomplishments include kung fu guru Tsui Hark's Seven Swords and Peter Chan's musical Perhaps Love having been chosen as the opener and closer respectively for the Venice Film Festival. And two Chinese-language movies, The Promise and Stephen Chow's comedy Kung Fu Hustle, were both nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Golden Globe Awards.

However, despite the healthy sales and behind the glitz and the glamor, 2005 wasn't successful for everyone in the movie industry.

Of the 260 movies shot in 2005, only 15 percent were screened in cinemas. The rest went straight into storage, the luckier ones being bought by TV.

This would have to do with a taste for only mainstream movies of blockbuster proportions. Low-budget productions have little chance of success.

Director Zhang Yang spent four years making Sunflower, which won him the Best Director and Best Photography Silver Shell awards at the San Sebastian Film Festival in Spain in September. The film was well received by foreign audiences.

But the art film was withdrawn after only one day in Chinese cinemas. It just wasn't bringing in the crowds or money. 

Zhang said the market for art films has to be forged gradually. "We can't blame the cinema operators because they have to respond to market demands. But the film was shot for the domestic audience and they should be given the opportunity to see it."

( by Li Xiao, January 18, 2006)

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