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Laughs Give China's Film Market a Boost

2013-02-21 09:35:19        xinhua

A still of the movie. [Photo: douban]

During the week-long Lunar New Year holiday, Chinese people not only bought presents and delicacies, but also paid to laugh.

In movie theaters around the country, film fanatics were treated mainly to comedies, with most laughs watching Hong Kong actor Stephen Chow's fantasy action comedy "Odyssey".

The film took 510 million yuan (81.7 million U.S. dollars) in the week ending Feb. 15, accounting for 67.1 percent of all ticket sales during the seven-day period, according to China Film News' postings on Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, on Monday.

Built on the popularity of Chow's "A Chinese Odyssey" series in 1994, the film is a retelling of the classic Chinese tale "Journey to the West".

It had been poised to be a box office smash before its release on Feb. 10, said Peking University professor Zhang Yiwu.

Moviegoers are looking for fun after a year of grind, Zhang said. "A movie that can generate laughs is definitely what they want."

The professor also attributed the movie's success to the growing Chinese film market. China's box office sales hit 17.07 billion yuan in 2012, surging 30.18 percent year on year and making the country the world's second-largest film market, data from the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) showed.

The most watched film last year, "Lost in Thailand," which debuted Dec. 12, raked in an unprecedented 1.2 billion yuan in less than a month, earning more than "Avatar" and "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" to become the highest-grossing movie ever shown in Chinese theaters.

"If the comedy 'Lost in Thailand' tapped in the growing potential of the Chinese film market, then 'Odyssey' is there to accelerate its growth," Zhang said.

But the two comedies are not the only beneficiaries.

The "101st Marriage Proposal," a low-budget domestic romcom, which debuted in Chinese theaters on Feb. 12, raked in 95 million yuan during the seven-day holiday.

"The maturing market featuring the success of comedies shown during the holiday also benefited from the expansion of China's theater coverage, said Rao Shuguang, China Film Art Research Center deputy director.

Last year saw an average of 10.5 screens added to Chinese theaters each day. The number of screens in the country grew from 1,845 in 2002 to 13,118 in 2012, official data showed.

Considering that there is a screen for about 8,000 to 10,000 people in the U.S., while there is only one for about 100,000 in the Chinese mainland, the potential for further growth of the Chinese film market is huge, Rao said.

Meanwhile, observers have complained about the quality of Chinese films.

"They are still unable to rival Hollywood blockbusters in script and production," Rao said, adding a lack in diversity and variety was another weak point for the market.

Popular films screened in recent months, including "Lost in Thailand" and "Odyssey" are all comedies. "People were left with little choice when it came to quality films produced by domestic companies," Zhang said.

Zhang added a majority of the domestic films are box office failures due to poor quality and marketing.

In 2012, ticket sales for imported movies accounted for 51.54 percent of gross ticket revenue, but 893 Chinese domestic films were shown in theaters, compared to only about 50 imported films, including 34 Hollywood blockbusters.

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