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A Century-long Journey for Chinese Film
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The Chinese film industry has experienced a long and tumultuous century.


In 1905, Dingjunshan was believed to be the first-ever homegrown Chinese movie that combined an imported film technology and media genre with Peking Opera, a quintessential Chinese art.


The movie was shot by Ren Qingtai (1850-1932), owner of Beijing Fengtai Photo Shop.


However, in its early years, the Chinese film industry did not prosper in Beijing but in East China's Shanghai, then the most international Chinese city and also a cradle for Chinese films.


In the 1930s, the Chinese film industry saw its first boom and many films produced by local companies even beat imported Hollywood flicks in box office revenues.


For quite a long period of time after the founding of New China, the Chinese film industry was solely invested by public funds, and there once existed at least 30 provincial and regional State-owned film studios, with the three biggest ones being Beijing Film Studio, Changchun Film Studio and Shanghai Film Studio.


During the first few years and early years of the "cultural revolution" (1966-76), the Chinese film industry experienced hard times, producing mainly films instilled with political ideology and aiming to educate and instruct rather than to entertain the audiences.


Between the late 1970s and early 1980s, with China left behind after more than a decade of political turmoil, the Chinese film industry enjoyed a short-lived prosperity, attracting a record 29.3 billion moviegoers within less than a decade.


However, in the few years since the mid-1990s, the Chinese film industry, lagging behind other sectors that were undergoing dramatic reforms, suffered a lot in the local market, with the number of moviegoers reportedly dropping to less than 220 million in 2001.


The reforms and opening up in the Chinese film sector, in the real sense, kicked off in 1993 when most State-owned film studios were forced to earn their living in the free market instead of receiving funds from central and local governments.


From then on, "commercial film," "profitability" and "marketability" have become part of the daily mantra of more and more Chinese film-makers.


Since 1994, more and more big-budget Hollywood blockbusters have been introduced to the Chinese mainland market.


Between the late 1990s and 2003, Hollywood films took in at least 60 percent in box office income, followed by Hong Kong films accounting for 30 per cent and mainland films making up merely 10 percent in the local markets.


Though posing a big threat to local film studios and companies, the introduction of competitive Hollywood movies did help inject a shot in the arm to the Chinese film industry as the Chinese Government began taking steps to "revitalize" the local film sector, allowing larger and larger access of private money into the fledgling "cultural business."


In 2004, a total of 212 feature films were produced by local film studios but only 40 were shown in movie theatres across the country, while most films were relegated to the DVD market and China Central Television's Film channel and cable TV channels nationwide. Among the 40 "lucky ones," only about one-fourth reportedly made profit.


But it was in 2004 that for the second time in Chinese movie history, Chinese movies beat Hollywood blockbusters in box office takings.


Zhang Yimou's House of Flying Daggers, Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle and Feng Xiaogang's A World without Thieves all reportedly scored at least 100 million yuan (US$12 million) each in box office in local markets while Hollywood blockbuster Lord of the Rings 3 raked in only 86 million yuan (US$10.6 million) in Chinese mainland markets.


In 2005, a total of 260 feature films have been produced, a record high in the whole Chinese film-making history.


(China Daily December 29, 2005)

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