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January 12, 2019

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Shanghai a table-topping box office smash

CHINA’S film industry continues to go from strength to strength with figures revealing a new box office record of 60.98 billion yuan (US$8.88 billion) registered for 2018. Shanghai also topped the nation’s city league table in box office sales and the numbers of cinemas and movie screens.

Latest statistics from the State Film Administration revealed there has been a 9 percent increase in the yearly movie box office grosses since 2017 in China. And by the end of last year the number of movie screens across the country had reached 60,079, up 9,303 from the previous year.

In 2018, box office receipts of homegrown movies rose almost 26 percent to nearly 38 billion yuan, which contributed to over 62 percent of the market. Despite the influx of Hollywood blockbuster films, a few high-quality domestic productions in varied genres did emerge to take a dominant share of the Chinese market.

Among the top 10 highest-grossing movies of 2018, six are homegrown films and four are Hollywood productions. Chinese productions — “Operation Red Sea,” “Detective Chinatown 2” and “Dying to Survive” also took the top three places. Each of them reaped over 3 billion yuan. Forty-four domestic films earned more than 100 million yuan each at the box office. Hollywood films on the top 10 list include “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Venom,” “Aquaman” and “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.”

China’s film industry also maintains its robust growth in production. Last year, a total of 1,082 films of diverse genres were produced. Among all the productions, 902 were feature films, 51 were animated and 57 were documentary films. Additionally, more Chinese people over 30 years old watched films at the cinema according to a survey by online ticketing platform “maoyanmovie.”

Social issues

Zheng Zhe, a 30-something IT worker, usually checks the scores and remarks of each new movie on the film and TV review website Douban, before attending screenings. He is impressed by the increasing number of in-depth domestic films tackling social issues.

“I am used to learning about the background of the film first,” says Zheng. “In addition to going to the cinema, I also watch movies on video-sharing websites like Youku and iQIYI.”

Zheng says that it is not a surprise for him to see a robust performance in a domestic film, compared to Hollywood mega-productions about super heroes, because of a more open and flexible film censorship.

“A lot of satirical real-life stories are now put onto the screen,” he added. “Realistic movies will continue to attract bigger crowds of people in China as their stories are more grass-rooted and closely connected with ordinary people’s lives and emotions.”

The Shanghai film industry is booming and there have been several high-quality, original productions.

Thirty-five Shanghai-produced movies were released at theaters, grossing 10.4 billion yuan in total, an increase of 110 percent on the previous year. It accounted for over a quarter of all homegrown movie ticket sales.

Twelve films, produced by the local companies, made over 100 million yuan at the box office, including “Dying to Survive,” “Us and Them,” “The Island” and the crime thriller “Project Gutenberg.” During the process of script writing, shooting and distribution, almost all 12 films received funding through the city government.

Box office receipts in Shanghai hit 3.7 billion yuan last year. The city also made improvements to the cinema experience. And to date there are 360 theaters and 2,158 movie screens in Shanghai, more than any city in China.

New high-tech screening halls with functions like IMAX, Onyx, 4D and RealD Cinema have been introduced. A new IMAX laser theater also opened at Shanghai Hoyts Cinema last year. Equipped with a brand new generation of IMAX laser projection and 12-channel sound, it has improved visual experience in brightness, contrast and sharpness.

Experts are optimistic about the future of Chinese cinema as filmmakers are attaching more importance to reality.

Professor Gu Xiaoming, a film expert of Fudan University, says that Chinese cinema has overcome a bottleneck of stories with the support of the film policy. A lot of excellent directors, who are also scriptwriters and authors, will emerge in the near future. In his opinion, film is part of reality and people reflect on their own lives from this magic mirror.

“As Oscar Wilde says, it is the spectator, not life, that art really mirrors,” Gu said. “A good film does have the power to inspire an audience. We need more good in-depth stories about the vicissitudes of the society, just like Balzac’s novels.”

To make the film industry fully developed and strong, he also suggests local government provide more support for scriptwriting and literature, and establish a mature film review mechanism to foster more powerful original productions.

There are also many highly anticipated domestic productions to be screened in 2019.

Crime thriller film “Theory of Ambitions” gathers award-winning actors Tony Leung and Aaron Kwok to depict two notorious corrupt Hong Kong police officers during the 1960s. The film also portrays the tremendous changes of society at that time.

The war epic film “800” by mainland filmmaker Guan Hu is a tribute to the 800 Chinese soldiers who sacrificed their lives in the famous Defense of Sihang Warehouse in 1937.

According to director Guan, they shot the war scenes with a top ALEXA IMAX65 camera. The film’s special effects and stunts are done by Hollywood visual artists who were involved in the production of “The Thin Red Line,” “Titanic” and “The Lord of the Rings.”

Martial arts film “The Hidden Sword,” a story set in the 1930s, will also be released. Starring Huang Jue and Xu Qing, the film is helmed by Xu Haofeng who is also a well-known martial arts writer.

Top 15 highest-grossing movies shown in China in 2018

1. Operation Red Sea

2. Detective Chinatown 2

3. Dying to Survive

4. Hello Mr Billionaire

5. Avengers: Infinity War

6. Monster Hunt 2

7. Venom

8. Aquaman

9. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

10. The Ex-file: The Return

Of the the Exes

11. Ready Player One

12. Us and Them

13. The Island

14. Project Gutenberg

15. Mission: Impossible: Fallout


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