Monkeying about

Centuries-old classic battles five-day wonder at the New Year box office

Liu Lu w

Winner at box office: Chen Qiaoen

Robin Li is China’s richest man (calculates Bloomberg) and reputedly the best-looking Chinese CEO, according to Forbes. Now he’s seeking new accolades. The founder and chairman of search giant Baidu, Li wants to add movie producer to his list of achievements.

Last week it was reported that Baidu has teamed up with Korean filmmaker Kim Jeongjung and Chinese producer Gary Zhang to start a new production house called Aquamen Entertainment. The studio, which is based in Los Angeles, has announced its first project: the 3D and CGI-heavy Kong, a sci-fi adaptation of the classic Chinese tale Journey to the West.

“It’s a natural move for Baidu to enter the film production area at this moment,” says Shao Gang, deputy director at Horizon Research Consultancy Group. “It’s the right time for companies to consider investing in the content production sector… The need for exclusive content has become more and more urgent among the online video providers.”

Then again, the subject matter for Baidu’s new project is hardly ground-breaking. Chinese audiences seem to love Journey to the West adaptations. Stephen Chow’s loosely-based tribute – Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons – was the most popular film last year by ticket revenue. And another production inspired it has emerged as the biggest winner over the key Lunar New Year period last month. Journey to the West – The Monkey King, is a 3D spectacular starring Chow Yun-Fat, Aaron Kwok and Chen Qiaoen which raked in more than Rmb300 million ($49.3 million) during its first three days in theatres, says EntGroup. By late February it had earned over Rmb1 billion – a pretty good performance at a time in which more than 20 other films were released (see WiC218).

Another winner was Dad, Where Are We Going, which premiered on the same day as the latest Monkey King flick. It also broke a record for the best single-day haul for a 2D film, taking more than Rmb90 million in its first 24 hours. To date it has made Rmb600 million, which is an impressive haul for a project that took only five days to shoot at a cost of just Rmb50 million (Oriental Daily says the film broke-even before release, thanks to revenues from sponsorships and product placement).

In fact, the film was adapted from Hunan Satellite TV’s hit show of the same name, which has done well in the ratings since first showing in October. The reality format follows five celebrity fathers who take their children to different destinations around China and compete in a series of tasks (for more, see WiC213). It seems to have tapped into the family feel-good factor: Dad, Where Are We Going was so popular that many moviegoers struggled to see it. “We finally got tickets on February 2, but the seats were not good,” Liu Lu, the mother of a six year-old, told the China Daily “But we still enjoyed the film and the audience often roared with laugher.”

“This movie is the perfect ending to the first season of the show. Thank you to all the fathers and five children for bringing us a happy and warm winter,” a netizen wrote on weibo. (The TV version has been downloaded more than a billion times online, according to Sohu.)

But critics carp that Dad, Where Are We Going shouldn’t even be classed as “a real film” because the only difference with the TV series is that it lasts longer and doesn’t break for commercials, says Xinmin Evening News.

The producers are “lazy” and the movie is “shoddily filmed with virtually no storytelling,” the newspaper dismissively remarked.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s just like putting the reality TV show, shot in just five days, onto the cinema screen,” one critic complained. “I think the popularity of such ‘films’ will be harmful to the industry, because when shortcuts like this are taken, who will bother to make a movie that needs major investment but generates fewer rewards?”

But supporters of the production rejected such concerns. “Rather than complaining that the film is no different from family videos, filmmakers should think about how to make something like Dad, Where Are We Going which is filled with so many interesting details and has created such vivid characters,” says writer Jin Hezai.

In fact Dad, Where Are We Going isn’t the first film to be adapted from reality TV. In December, Jiangsu Satellite TV moved its hugely popular singing competition The Voice of China to the big screen. Audiences weren’t keen, however, and it only took Rmb3 million in receipts. Prior to that, an adaptation of Happy Boys, another singing competition from Hunan TV, as well as Let’s Date, another show, also fell flat in the box office.

Perhaps Dad, Where Are We Going worked because it has a little more drama than some of the earlier efforts. Also likely is that the timing was a major advantage, tapping into the festive mood over the holiday period. Certainly. families seem to have been happy to queue up for tickets, “even if it means they have to pay for what they can get on TV for free,” noted Tencent Entertainment.

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