Bums on seats

Propaganda movie struggles

Bums on seats

Dong Jie: stars in Great Revival

It seems like China’s latest propaganda flick Beginning of the Great Revival (initially called The Founding of a Party) needs a little reviving itself. Xinhua reckons that since the film was released three weeks ago, it has made Rmb300 million at the box office, well short of its Rmb800 million target.

The movie is part of the wider campaign to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party. And to make sure it does well in ticket sales, Beijing has delayed the release dates of Hollywood alternatives until late July. Gao Jun, a film distributor, even predicted to Southern Metropolis Daily that “imported films will not be shown” until Revival reaches Rmb800 million in sales (see WiC110).

Other strategies are being employed to whip up interest. State-owned companies have been busy renting out theatres and giving their employees free tickets. Government offices have been organising viewings in the middle of workdays. Reports say the city of Changchun, Jilin province, even bought tickets for 100,000 Party members.

Domestic media also seems to have been told not to be critical of the film and most of China’s major websites have blocked netizens from posting ratings.

Of course, similar censorship does not apply for the 29 screens in the US where Revival is showing. The critics have not been kind, either: New York Times reviewer Andy Webster says the film “demonstrates that mainstream Chinese cinema can be as guilty of self-indulgent overstatement as anything out of the West”.

Perhaps it’s no wonder that Revival isn’t earning rave reviews from Chinese cinema-goers either. That means that the authorities are resorting to more creative means to hit their ticketing targets. Last Wednesday, Hong Kong’s Apple Daily published photos posted on Sina Weibo (China’s Twitter-equivalent) showing tickets for the propaganda film amended with handwritten notes suggesting entry to alternatives, such as Wu Xia (see WiC112). Soon, other netizens were posting similar pictures on weibo.

What has been going on? As Chinese box-office results are compiled against computer-generated ticket flows, it seems cinemas have been recording a Revival sale but then scribbling another title over the formal receipt (presumably the one that the customer actually wants to see). Industry watchers say the government has assigned box office targets to some of the cinema chains, prompting their creative response. Cinema bosses also want to hit their Revival numbers as soon as possible, so they can switch over to the new Transformers and Harry Potter flicks.

A spokesperson for China Film Group, the producer of Revival, has said that the company is unaware of such indignities. Guangzhou-based Jinyi International Cinemas, the multiplex chain said to be responsible for the doctored tickets published by Apple Daily, also told reporters that it was all a misunderstanding.

“What happened was that a member of the audience bought a ticket for Revival but changed his mind and wanted to see Wu Xia. But the person working at the time did not know how to issue a refund, so he just wrote it on the ticket manually,” says Xu Binbiao, general manager of the chain.

Few netizens bought the explanation, with many decrying the government for “stealing tickets”.

Companies that risk having their box office take “stolen” have been less vocal. Few will want to risk offending the authorities. Derek Ha, a distribution official for Hong Kong-based We Pictures, which made Wu Xia, also declined to comment. However, the film’s director, Peter Chan, admitted that he was worried. “I have already complained to the relevant authorities. They are still investigating. I hope it is not true,” he told the People’s Daily.

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