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UPDATED: January 26, 2015 NO. 5 JANUARY 29, 2015
A Blockbuster Business
Chinese box office numbers saw high growth in 2014 despite lingering problems
By Ji Jing

GOOD DIALOGUE: Participants attend a forum at the 10th Chinese-American Film Festival in Pasadena, Los Angeles County, California, on November 3, 2014 (YANG LEI)

With an eye to the opportunities present in the gigantic Chinese market, many foreign film companies are now seeking cooperation with China. The Hollywood science-fiction action film Transformers: Age of Extinction was co-produced by Paramount Pictures, the China Movie Channel and Jiaflix Enterprises. Some of its scenes were shot in the three Chinese cities of Beijing, Chongqing and Hong Kong, and the film included a number of Chinese actors and actresses in order to appeal to local audiences. Actress Li Bingbing, for instance, was among the film's top-billed stars.

The movie, which is the fourth installment of the Transformers franchise, raked in 1.98 billion yuan ($319 million), surpassing previous records for both domestic and foreign movies to become China's highest-grossing film ever.

By the end of 2014, 10 countries had signed film co-production agreements with China, such as the United Kingdom, South Korea and Singapore.

An Xiaofen, President of Desen International Media Co. Ltd., a Beijing-based company specialized in local feature film production and distribution, said there are three ways for foreign movies to enter the Chinese market. First, film producers may apply for their film's inclusion in the yearly quota of 34 imported films, through which they can claim a 25-percent share of the box office sales. Second, domestic distribution companies purchase the rights to show a foreign film. Under these circumstances, foreign producers will have zero share in the box office. Third, Chinese and foreign producers coproduce a film, in which case foreign producers are entitled to a 43-percent share of the box office revenue.

In addition to foreign producers, domestic Internet companies such as Baidu Inc., Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Tencent Holdings Ltd., also announced plans to invest in the movie business in 2014.

According to Tianto Info Consulting, Internet companies are likely to reshape the whole film industry. They will be able to take into greater consideration the audiences' wants and needs, as they possess data on audiences' purchasing and search preferences. In addition, they may expand film distribution channels by making use of the Internet, especially the mobile Internet.

"Every mobile phone can function as a miniature silver screen. The profit film distributors receive from mobile streaming apps will become more stable and lasting. At the same time, the boom in apps of this kind will enable movies with narrower appeal, such as art-house titles, to reach audiences," said Liu Shuyao, founder and CEO of 100 TV, a video portal exclusively designed for mobile devices.

Wider variety

The tastes of Chinese film audiences are also becoming decidedly more varied. Predictably, romances, comedies and action movies occupied nearly 70 percent of the box office revenue for domestic films last year. However, thrillers, martial arts films and fantasy movies also experienced upticks in popularity.

There is widespread agreement that the biggest deficit in the film market last year was the lack of homegrown blockbusters and science fiction films, said Chen Xuguang, Director of the Institute of Film, Television and Theatre of Peking University.

As a result, blockbusters and sci-fi epics from the United States registered huge success. For example, Christopher Nolan's sci-fi Interstellar garnered acclaim from critics and audiences alike and also achieved commercial success, grossing 751 million yuan ($120.93 million).

"The lack of domestically produced science fiction movies has given opportunities for even mediocre movies inhabiting such genres from the United States to grab a share of China's film market. Some speculate that the Chinese screenwriters are not steeped in the tradition of scientific and rational thinking necessary to create good science fiction. Maybe we could focus on fantasies temporarily in the place of science fiction, as the two genres are very close to each other in terms of conventions," Chen added.

Movies specifically targeting at the youth market thrived in 2014, as represented by Beijing Love Story, My Old Classmate, Fleet of Time and Tiny Times 3.0, all of which reaped over 400 million yuan ($64.41 million) in box office receipts.

"Teen movies, which often center on love stories, have managed to successfully relate to young audiences," said Chen.

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