With Chinese movie director Chen Kaige's The Promise grabbing almost twice as much money at the Chinese box office as George Lucas' Star Wars: Episode III, 2005 was a golden year for homemade-films.
A number of successful domestic movies were accompanied by a boom in the Chinese mainland's film market, which foreign blockbusters also benefited from.
Box office sales for both Chinese and foreign movies in the Chinese mainland hit an unprecedented 2 billion yuan (US$247 million) last year, which is one-third more than that in 2004, according to statistics from the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT).
Of this sales revenue from about 120 domestic movies and around 50 foreign movies, the 10 most popular films contributed to almost half of the figure.
Top on the list was The Promise. It earned 146 million yuan (US$18 million) in the Chinese mainland market.
It was followed by another fantasy, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire from Warner Brothers, which took 93 million yuan (US$11.5 million).
Six of the top 10 movies were made in China.
It is the first time that domestic movies outnumbered foreign ones on the list since China's cinemas began to show foreign blockbusters in 1994.
"The spring of domestic movies is coming at last," said Zhang Hongsen, deputy chief of SARFT.
Film production in China was at its highest for years in 2005, with about 260 feature films being made, 25 percent more than in 2004.
Statistics from Shanghai United Cinema Line Co Ltd, which owns 78 cinemas in Shanghai and eastern China, show that it offered 169 movies last year, including 124 domestic ones. In 2004 it only released 80 domestic movies.
Box office sales of domestic movies accounted for about 60 percent of the total revenue generated in the home market last year.
In the overseas market, Chinese films reaped an unprecedented 1.65 billion yuan (US$204 million) in 2005, according to SARFT.
They earned critical acclaim too. Peacock by Gu Changwei won the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival, while Shanghai Dream by Wang Xiaoshuai picked up a Jury Prize at Cannes Film Festival.
Meanwhile, of the approximate 50 foreign movies imported to the mainland market, Harry Potter's latest adventures were embraced as passionately as his previous tales have been since 2001.
Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith was the second most popular foreign film at cinemas in China last year.
Other Hollywood blockbusters, such as Mr and Mrs Smith, War of the Worlds and National Treasure were also popular.
The overall success of films in China last year can, in part, be attributed to marketing drives launched to coincide with the country's "golden holidays," industry insiders say.
The five holidays in the eyes of the movie industry in China are the Spring Festival in early February, the Labor Day holiday starting from May 1, the summer holiday of schools spanning July and August, the National Day holiday starting from October 1, and the week from Christmas to the New Year.
More than 8 million Chinese went to the cinema during the Spring Festival, almost 90 percent more than in 2004, according to statistics from SARFT.
Average box office sales during the five golden holidays of 2005 were 40 percent more than those in 2004.
"But one can see that the film makers are still far from skilful at making use of the holidays," said Liu Jun, associate professor with Beijing Film Academy.
Around the Valentine's Day period last year, about eight suitably romantic movies vied for audiences, but all lost money.
More good cinemas
With the film market rising as a whole, new cinemas were built and many old ones were renovated or expanded in 2005.
Of the 55 new cinemas in 2005, more than two-thirds cater for upmarket audiences.
And cinema chains have been expanding at such an extraordinary rate that they have become the cornerstone of the country's film market.
There are 37 in the Chinese mainland and the largest five of them reported box office sales of more than 900 million yuan (US$111 million) in 2005, which is almost half of the Chinese mainland's total, according to statistics from SARFT.
Shanghai United Cinema Line Co Ltd is now the largest cinema chain in the country, after it acquired 10 theaters in 2005.
China Film Stellar Cinema Chain Co Ltd became the biggest in Beijing, owning a total of 73 theaters after acquiring 23 in 2005.
"The development of the giant cinema lines can help promote the industry," said Chengdu-based industry analyst Liu Jia.
"But some smaller-sized ones are now under threat because of them. The survival of these small venues is necessary for the health of the market."
On the whole, China's film industry has much to expect from 2006, according to Zhang from SARFT.
"Nurturing a large group of frequent movie-goers in the country is crucial for the development of the film industry," he said.
(China Daily March 28, 2006)