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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

FROM PAGE TO SCREEN: Writer-turned-director Han Han at the filming scene of his debut film The Continent (FILE)

Take the third installment of the Tiny Times series for example. Audiences aged below 19 accounted for 41 percent of the movie's takings while those aged between 20 and 29 accounted for 28 percent. Young audiences have become the main consumers of youth movies, and also constitute the majority of the Chinese movie-going public. According to the EntGroup report, customers aged between 19 and 30 have accounted for over one half of moviegoers in the past two years. College graduates account for approximately 80 percent of current audiences.

As young moviegoers are frequent Internet users, online social networking platforms such as Weibo and WeChat have become important means for film promotion. Films hotly discussed on these platforms in advance of their release often achieve high box office numbers.

Several notable directors came out with new productions in 2014. However, many of them fell short of commercial expectations, arguably owing to an inability to adapt and cater to the market. For example, both John Woo's The Crossing and Jiang Wen's Gone With the Bullets, which hit screens in December, flopped at the box office. Meanwhile, Dearest and The Taking of Tiger Mountain 3D, respectively directed by Peter Chan and Hark Tsui, curried favor with audiences and performed well commercially.

"The two movies were the highlights of last year. They have reached a balance between demands of the commercial mainstream, the directors' personal aspirations and the audiences' interest," said Suo Yabin, a professor at the Communications University of China.

He criticized Jiang for paying insufficient attention to the market and overemphasizing his personal ideals to the detriment of audience enjoyment in his most recent movie.

In addition to famous directors, people from other professions such as writers and actors also tried their hand at filmmaking last year. Two young best-selling authors Guo Jingming and Han Han both made their directorial debuts. Their Tiny Times 3.0 and The Continent earned 522 million yuan ($84.05 million) and 629 million yuan ($101.28 million) apiece respectively during the summer vacation period. Actor Deng Chao's The Breakup Guru took in 666 million yuan ($107.24 million) and actor Chen Jianbin's A Fool won him Best Actor and Best New Director at the 51st Golden Horse Awards in Taiwan, one of the largest events in the Chinese-language film industry's calendar.

"First-time directors often depend on carrying over their established fanbase from other entertainment areas to prop up the box office. Such a model of success is impossible to replicate by others. In the meantime, inadequate narrative ability will hinder them from making further progress," said Chen Xuguang.


In spite of the outstanding performance of the film industry last year, industry insiders and experts harbor concerns about the future.

"The Chinese film industry should not be unduly distracted by the revelry arising from recent box office success and pay more attention to improving quality," said Rao Shuguang, Chairman of the China Film Association.

"Only by improving the quality of films can the film industry realize sustainable and healthy growth," Rao added.

Rao said the film industry still has many shortcomings, such as being overly recreational in focus and possessing a lack of artistic creativity and imagination.

Suo said the lack of quality content has become an increasingly serious problem for Chinese films. Many films seem more like the director's own personal tract or monologue rather than constituting an attempt to communicate with the audience. Some use sophisticated methods of promotion to "trick" audiences into the theater but failed to deliver a well crafted, high-quality piece of entertainment thereafter.

"If Hollywood is granted unlimited access to the market in 2017, when China and the United States will hold their next meeting on movie quotas, domestic films will be greatly impacted," said Suo.

It is widely believed that the quota will be further increased or that the market will even be completely opened to U.S. movies.

The report by EntGroup also pointed out that the Chinese film industry has a lot room for improvement in spite of its recent rapid growth. For example, the area of film-related merchandizing, encompassing products such as T-shirts, action figures and video games, is underdeveloped. Merchandise occupies only a small proportion of revenue from films, and lacks variety and adequate sales channels. What's more, most of the audiences are predominantly urban young people aged between 19 and 40. Middle-aged and senior citizens, children, and people from rural areas, meanwhile, are underrepresented and seldom go to the movies. It appears on the whole that if the Chinese movie industry is to further thrive, it will have to spread its wings in terms of improving quality, merchandizing and embracing a wider audience base.

Email us at:jijing@bjreview.com

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