2012, a remarkable year for China’s movie market

In a recent press conference, China’s film administration said the country’s 2012 box-office gross revenue had reached over 17 billion yuan, equal to almost 3 billion US dollars, ranking it second worldwide behind only the US.

While it’s no longer news that China’s movie market is rapidly expanding at an annual speed of over 30%, there were a couple of “firsts” for Chinese film in 2012.

“In China’s film history, 2012 was a remarkable year. Remarkable, that it’s the first year that 14 more American films have been contracted to enter Chinese mainland’s cinemas. Remarkable, that it’s also the first time that these imported films have grabbed more than a half share of the market. It’s also remarkable that the highest box-office record for domestic films have been refreshed twice in this single year. It’s a carnival for Chinese audiences, but not for Chinese movie makers.”

In 2012, China produced feature films at a rate of two per day. But less than one third of them made it to the big screen. And, out of the 2.7 billion dollars collected at Chinese box-offices, local movie-makers took in less than half, as Hollywood blockbusters bombarded Chinese theaters.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, 101 million US dollars. The Avengers, 84 million dollars. Men in Black 3, 77 million dollars.

But, Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” raked in more than 90 million dollars in the Chinese mainland, the first time a foreign movie has grossed more in China than in North America.

On the domestic scene, 21 Chinese-made films earned more than 16 million US dollars. In June, “Painted Skin: Resurrection” broke box-office records with 115 million dollars in revenue. That record only lasted 4 months, when the small-budget comedy “Lost in Thailand” somehow managed to bring in more than 160 million dollars in ticket sales. The success of these two films has inspired other Chinese film-makers searching for ways to battle back the foreign competition.

“Painted Skin: Resurrection” tells a Chinese fantasy story in a Hollywood way, with a big budget, star studded cast, and film shot and screened in 3D. The director, Wuershan, believes movies are for public entertainment and to succeed, movie-makers should strive to provide the best experience for every cinema-goer.

Wuershan, Director of “Painted Skin: Resurrection”, said, “It tells a magic legend based on Chinese literature. It fills a gap for that genre in the market. Nowadays, many big-time directors have exploited 3D technology. I think it’ll be the way of future, so I’ll stick to it. We are sort of crossing the river by feeling for the stones.”

Compared to Hollywood’s well-developed film industry that has a century of history, Chinese film-making has only taken off within the past decade.

Wuershan, said, “Compared to Hollywood, we have holes in every phase of making a commercial film. We could only hope that we will grow step by step. Good and steady box-office returns are a crucial support.”

Meanwhile, the small budget comedy “Lost in Thailand” suggests that a “down-to-earth” approach for a targeted audience can also bring success.

Xu Zheng, Director of “Lost in Thailand”, said, “I have been thinking about how to make comedies to meet the need of Chinese audiences. It has to connect to reality, and connect to the actual mind of people.”

Despite the ups and downs of China’s film industry in 2012, the year also saw an increasing number of small budget films turn their cameras on ordinary people in real life. Although film-making is a business, audiences will always welcome movie makers who bring something new, something interesting and something artistic.


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