Battle of the big screen
Updated: 2013-05-17 02:03
By Liu Wei (China Daily)
Hollywood blockbusters are major players at the Chinese box office, but lately the local industry has been giving the Americans a run for their money, with mid-budget local films enjoying huge success. Liu Wei reports.
China has been the most rewarding box office territory for many American blockbusters in recent years, but the rapidly growing local industry reminds Hollywood that it faces tough challenges ahead in its bid to woo Chinese moviegoers.
When local romance Love is not Blind, made with only 10 million yuan ($1.6 million), dwarfed Steven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin by grossing 330 million yuan in November 2011, some considered it a special case. In December 2012, however, another mid-budget comedy, Lost in Thailand, grossed 1.26 billion yuan, not far off the 1.3 billion yuan ticket sales of James Cameron's Avatar, in China. Jackie Chan's action comedy Chinese Zodiac, released shortly after, took 880 million yuan.
Finding Mr. Right, a mid-budget romance, stunned critics and analysts in March, by raking in 520 million yuan, despite being released at the same time as Die Hard 5 and Resident Evil 5.
The most recent head-to-head battle is between Iron Man 3 and So Young, the directorial debut of local actress Zhao Wei, that tells the story of a woman's university love and its ripple effects in her life.
Iron Man 3 raked in 500 million yuan in 10 days, but So Young, which cost 60 million yuan to make and was released five days earlier, grossed 600 million yuan over two weeks, despite also competing with Paramount's G.I. Joe: Retaliation and Dreamworks' The Croods.
Critic Bi Chenggong says sticking to tried and true film genres is one reason local films have enjoyed such huge success.
Lost in Thailand, he says, is a typical road-trip comedy, Finding Mr. Right is a romantic comedy or "chick flick", and Chinese Zodiac is an action comedy.
"What these films have in common is they respect the narrative, structure and storyline of classic film genres, which have been proven by thousands of films and are accepted by viewers," he says.
Mainstream audiences connect with these movies, which deal with everyday issues.
A report released by Beijing Normal University on May 7 studied recently released popular domestic comedies. The study found that the average age of the viewers is around 30, and 60 percent of them went to college.
"Today the mainstream filmgoers' age and background allow them to easily relate to urban romance comedies such as Finding Mr. Right and Love is not Blind, as well as to their directors, who are aged 30-40," says senior producer Gao Jun.
Costume epics are another prevailing genre of domestic films, but they are increasingly becoming less fashionable. Local costume epics, such as Zhang Yimou's Hero and Chen Kaige's The Promise, require major investment and a large cast, but often lack solid storylines.