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Overseas Blockbusters Drive China's Box Office Surges in First Half

2012-07-20 09:37:36        xinhua
China's box office sales totaled 8.07 billion yuan (1.28 billion U.S. dollars) in the first half of 2012, up 41.7 percent year-on-year, due to imported movies, including the 3D version of the "Titanic."

Ticket sales for imported movies increased 90.4 percent to 5.27 billion yuan, compared with the weak performance of Chinese films, which posted 2.8 billion yuan in sales, down 4.3 percent, according to data published Thursday by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television.

With box office sales of 215.99 million yuan by the end of June, the fantasy epic "Painted Skin: The Resurrection" was the biggest domestic film in the first half, ending the almost half-year long dominance of imported films.

"Painted Skin: The Resurrection," released on June 28, had grossed 516.6 million yuan by July 8. However, it is still far from the 934.03 million yuan grossed by "Titanic 3D," the most popular foreign movie in China in the first half.

"Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" raked in 679.18 million yuan and "The Avengers" 564.75 million yuan, ranking second and third most popular among foreign movies.

"Apparently more Hollywood blockbusters were introduced in the first half of this year, that's the main reason for the huge box office gap between domestic films and overseas films," said Yin Hong, a professor of film and television studies with Tsinghua University.

Earlier this year, China increased its quota of 20 films for imported American blockbusters by adding another 14 Imax films into its import limit.

As a result, 14 revenue-sharing blockbusters hit Chinese theaters in the first half among the 38 overseas films screened in the country, and only two of them failed to bring in more than 100 million yuan.

Most of the imported blockbusters are 3D films, said Yin, which he said he believed was another important reason for their box-office success, as ticket prices of 3D version films are usually much higher.

According to the SARFT box office ranking list, only one of the top 10 domestic films -- "Painted Skin: The Resurrection" -- is a 3D film while nine of the 10 highest-earning imported films have 3D versions.

To many Chinese, 3D versions of blockbusters, especially Hollywood 3D pieces, are much more appealing. "I'll first consider foreign 3D films as it's really exciting to experience some vivid fantasy scenes," said Fu Yishuo, who studies at Shanghai-based Tongji University.

Domestic films can hardly rival those from Hollywood in visual experience due to immature 3D shooting technologies, said Zhang Huijun, president of the Beijing Film Academy.

In Zhang's view, most of the China-made movies screened in the first two seasons are small-budget and not targeted as commercial successes.

Film ticket sales in the Chinese mainland totaled 10.17 billion yuan in 2010 and over 12 billion yuan last year.

Ticket sales in China are expected to overtake Japan in 2012, which had a 2.3-billion-U.S.-dollar film market last year, according to figures from the Motion Picture Association of America.

With China becoming more of a middle-income nation, more Chinese are choosing to watch films in theaters, which contributes to increased box office revenues, according to Zhang.

In the past nine years, domestic films have gained more in ticket sales than overseas films, but the weak performance in the first half is challenging the trend.

"The condition is not optimistic for this year," said Zhang, noting a new wave of overseas blockbusters in the next half year such as "Ice Age IV" and the fourth Spiderman sequence "The Amazing Spiderman."

Zhang said China's openess to the fierce overseas blockbusters will make Chinese filmmakers sober up. "How can they produce quality films that cater to the audience and generate lakes of cash?"

He suggested theaters not lavish too much love on the profitable Hollywood blockbusters and arrange more screens for home-made small-budget films.

Director Cai Cong also warned that, after unroofing the shelter of government policy, domestic film producers should work hard to catch up with Hollywood businessmen both in film technology and in story-telling, which is the "soul" of a film.

It's urgent for Chinese film industry to transform the cliche workshop-production of movies to a modern specilized creation and operation, by that it's hard to say who the winner will finally be, said Yin.

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