Film industry eyes more success

Record box office sales in the first week of the Year of the Monkey suggested another explosive year for the Chinese film market, the world's second largest.

Chinese cinemas took 3 billion yuan (461 million U.S. dollars) in ticket sales during the six days of the Lunar New Year holiday. Box office from Feb. 8 to 13 was up 67 percent on the same period last year, according to the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT).

On Valentine's Day, which fell on the seventh day of the Lunar New Year, ticket sales totaled 580 million yuan, surging by more than 150 percent year on year.

Valentine's Day coming immediately after the Lunar New Year holiday grouped together two of the biggest occasions for cinema-going in one week.

With average daily box office exceeding 500 million yuan and around 100 million people going to cinemas every day, the week saw several records smashed, including single-day ticket sales and the number of films raking in more than 100 million yuan in daily box office.

MODERN TASTES, MORE DEMANDING AUDIENCES

"Going to the cinema has become a new habit for the Chinese, whether they're in big cities or small towns," said Zhang Yiwu, a literature professor at Peking University.

Liu Jun, a professor with Beijing Film Academy, said people chose going to the cinemas as traditional holiday activities, such as watching new year galas or sampling festival fairs, are losing their appeal.

"People are more satisfied with the movies than by TV programs of spotty quality," Liu added.

All debuting on Feb. 8, the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year, and made in China, the week's top three films, sci-fi comedy "The Mermaid," comedy-action "From Vegas to Macau III," and "The Monkey King 2," generated a collective 660 million yuan in ticket sales on their first day of release. That surpassed the single-day record of 425 million yuan set on July 18 by last year's biggest hits "Monster Hunt," "Jianbin Man" and "Monkey King: Hero is Back."

VIRTUAL REALITY BECOMING REALITY

A record 44 billion yuan's worth of tickets were sold by cinemas in China in 2015.

The flourishing of the Chinese film market can be at least partly credited to market liberalization in 2003, when annual box office in China reached a mere 1 billion yuan.

In that year, authorities doubled the number of foreign films cinemas could show to 20 and allowed foreign enterprises to invest in Chinese cinema chains. China's film market has since posted an average annual growth of 30 percent.

Last year, taking in 27.1 billion yuan in ticket sales, or 61.58 percent of the country's total, domestic films maintained clear dominance in China despite fierce competition from Hollywood.

The industry looks likely to continue its boom.

Growing customer demand and investments have served as the "twin engines" for the industry's success. Next, it will harness new technology like virtual reality, as well as making more use of the Internet, said Liu.

With China aiming to increase the value of its creative industry to 100 billion yuan by 2020, insiders agree it is only a matter of time before the country overtakes the United States to become the world's largest film market.

FILM A CULTURAL AMBASSADOR ABROAD

As well as growing the market at home, authorities are hoping Chinese films can win more commercial success abroad.

On Feb. 8, when "The Monkey King 2" made its debut in Chinese cinemas, audiences in a dozen other countries, including the United States, Britain, Germany, Australia and Japan, could experience the charm of the film at the same time.

The SAPPRFT has organized for at least one Chinese movie to be simultaneously released in China and other parts of the globe every month.

"It's the right time for the Chinese film industry to reach out more to the world," said SAPPRFT film bureau head Zhang Hongsen.

Chinese films currently seem to have little appeal abroad. Their overseas sales were up 48.13 percent in 2015, but the films' takings of 2.77 billion yuan equaled just one tenth of box office sales in China.

Things may start to look up, especially after Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group announced its acquisition of leading Hollywood film producer Legendary Entertainment for 3.5 billion U.S. dollars in January.

"Promoting Chinese movies overseas is not easy right now, just as the film industry reform launched in 2003 was not easy. However, we have faith and know we will make it in the end," said Zhang Hongsen. Endi

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