Lights, cameras… dollars

The nation’s film industry sets new records

Lights, cameras… dollars

Shu Qi: the new queen of the Chinese feelgood movie

It is certainly no coincidence that the Golden Age of Hollywood overlapped with the Great Depression in the 1930s. The movie industry thrives on escapism (look no further than Bollywood). The perceived wisdom is that depressed audiences go to the cinema to be distracted from more miserable realities. Thanks to the economic slump, a Golden Age may have arrived in Chinese cinema.

The Chinese box office pulled in Rmb155 million ($23 million) over the 7-day Lunar New Year holiday, up 36% from the same period last year. Since late November, millions of Chinese have been flocking to the cinema to catch the latest releases. The biggest winner, If You Are The One, is a romantic comedy directed by Feng Xiaogang, an acclaimed director whose works include Assembly and The Banquet.

Starring Taiwanese sweetheart Shu Qi (see photo) and one of China’s popular actors Ge You, Feng’s latest effort even edged out Red Cliff II, the second instalment in an epic tale directed by John Woo (see WiC 1), to become the highest grossing domestic film ever, pulling in Rmb350 million since its release last December. In an interview with China Daily, Feng said he wanted to make a movie that makes people laugh: “Life is complicated and hard enough, people want films to be simple and relaxing.”

Though far from a comedy, John Woo’s nail-biting war epic grossed over Rmb320 million, while China’s first home-grown animation Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf outperformed anyone’s expectation, taking in more than Rmb68 million.

China’s movie boom started last year, with the domestic box office reaching Rmb4.34 billion ($680 million), an increase of 31% from 2007. Since 2002, the industry has been experiencing a steady growth of 25%. Given the strong box office figures in the first two months of this year, 2009 is poised to be another record-breaking year.

The recent success in China’s movie industry, says China Daily, is due in no small part to the growing number of movie theatres across the country. China now boasts more than 4,000 theatres compared to only 1,400 in 2002. Last year there were 118 new theatres, which added 600 screens.

But more importantly, the overall quality and variety of the domestic films have improved substantially in the last few years – thanks to bigger budgets. For example, Red Cliff was jointly funded by production companies from China, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong. If You Were the One, was financed by China Merchants Bank. And with a growing crop of homegrown movie stars, it has become a more bankable business too.

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