Box office fraud clouds glory in Chinese market

The disclosure of box office fraud involving martial arts film "Ip Man 3," which stars Mike Tyson, offered a glimpse into the pains nagging the Chinese film market, the world's second largest. The film's distributor recently admitted to fabricating box office figures for "Ip Man 3," according to a statement by the film bureau of the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television released last Friday.

The scrutiny came after the filmgoers and industry observers questioned the authenticity of the film's box office data after it reportedly raked in more than 500 million yuan ($76.7 million) in just four days after its premiere.

The case has stirred up criticism towards the manipulation of box office figures as well as concerns about the future of the nation's burgeoning film industry.

Chinese cinemas took a record 6.87 billion yuan (about $1.05 billion) in ticket sales in February, with the monthly box office overtaking that of North America for the first time, official data showed.

In a bigger picture, China's box office in 2015 reached 44 billion yuan, up 48.7 percent from 2014.

Against this backdrop, the "Ip Man 3" case was a heavy blow to the industry and filmgoers.

"It was a decent film and worth the ticket," said user "Liangliangliang" on popular microblog Sina Weibo after reading fraud reports on "Ip Man 3". "It's just sad to know about the fraud. The filmmakers were somehow screwed."

Observers were worried about the current situation where distributors were reported to be buying tickets sales of its own films in addition to "stealing" box office from other films.

Shi Chuan, vice president of Shanghai Film Association, is one of them. "If the frauds cannot be ruled out, the ultimate victim will be the quality and reputation of our films."

Shi's view was echoed by Li Ruigang, chairman of Chinese Culture Group Co., Ltd, a major culture investment group in China. "You might get some big numbers with monetary measures, but what truly matters is the film production," said Li. "You can't sacrifice the quality of the films."

Some observers believed problems in the film market were inevitable in the industry when it was still in its primary stage. However, Zhang Hongsen, head of the film bureau, stresses that as the problems get more serious, they are already harming the Chinese film.

Lack of supervision and regulations were often referred to as reasons for the fraud in the film market.

"The law has not yet specified what is illegal in terms of box office sales despite the booming film market, which makes the management more difficult," Shi said.

Wang Jun, senior partner of Yingke Law Firm, pointed out that the more varied forms of interactions between distributors and filmmakers add to the difficulties for management over the issue as well.

"Whether the government's management can keep up with the advance of distributors is questionable," Wang added. "They should take stronger actions against the fraud for the notion of deterrence."

After all, as for the future, most people are still calling for more efforts from the government.

Earlier this year, a campaign to regulate the order of the film market was launched, and a series of measures have been taken against the disorders, including the false box office figures and infringement of copyrights.

Since last year, the government has been cracking down on fraudulent acts from distributors, such as monitoring mass buying of tickets.

"They might not be enough, but they're a warning for those distributors trying to take part illegally," said Shi. "At the end of the day, setting up a long-term mechanism with comprehensive regulations will be the fundamental solution to the market order," Zhang said.

"Crackdown measures and long-term mechanism must be combined," Zhang added.

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