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Domestic reality-based films gain box office edge

Xinhua | Updated: 2013-07-21 10:42

BEIJING - Already topping US box office charts, action sequel "Fast & Furious 6" and sci-fi flick "Pacific Rim" are also poised to cash in on the flourishing Chinese film market.

However, these Hollywood blockbusters, which are scheduled to debut in Chinese theaters on July 26 and July 31, respectively, will face fierce competition from their Chinese counterparts, including a sequel to a popular coming-of-age drama "Tiny Times" that will hit screens early next month.

"Tiny Times," a film inspired by author-turned-director Guo Jingming's novel of the same name, has raked in 475.6 million yuan (about 77.5 million US dollars) in the Chinese mainland since its debut on June 27, according to figures released by China Film News on Tuesday.

Zhang Huijun, president of the Beijing Film Academy, said that with the releases of an array of domestic productions, especially ones built around reality-based storylines, it will be a challenge for imported films to take the lion's share of ticket sales in the second half.

Among the films to open in the next a few months are urban romance "My Lucky Star," starring Zhang Ziyi, set to debut on September 19, and the action-packed film "Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon," scheduled to open on September 28, according to information released on, a major entertainment website, on Saturday.

"Personal Tailor," the latest comedy from popular director Feng Xiaogang, will hit screens on December 19, bringing audiences the story of a nouveau riche character's efforts to ascend to the life of an aristocrat.

These domestic films are expected to turn up the heat on screens and potentially track the success enjoyed by domestic films in the first half.

Official statistics show that China's box office sales totaled 10.99 billion yuan in the first half of 2013, up 36.2 percent year on year, with domestic films surging 144 percent to account for more than 60 percent of the total ticket sales.

Of the top ten highest-grossing films, four were domestic, led by adventure-comedy "Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons," which topped China's box office in the first half, outperforming "Iron Man 3."

"So Young," "American Dreams in China" and "Finding Mr. Right" rounded out the top five with contemporary stories set in reality.

Zhang Yiwu, a professor at Beijing University and an active culture critic, said domestic film producers have managed to attract wider audiences, especially people in their 20s and 30s, by relaying stories that resonate with the daily lives of ordinary people.

Real-life stories have worked magic for the domestic film industry, which has struggled to gain an advantage over imported films since 2012, the year that China upped its annual quota for imported films, according to Professor Zhang.

Under a new China-US film agreement signed in 2012, China increased its annual import quota of Hollywood blockbusters from 20 to 34 and lifted their share of revenue from 17.5 percent to 25 percent.

As a result, ticket sales for imported movies contributed 51.54 percent of gross ticket revenue that year, ending domestic films' nine-year dominance at the box office.

Encouraged by low-budget comedy "Lost in Thailand," which took in an unprecedented 1.2 billion yuan in less than a month after it debuted on December 12 last year, domestic producers have shifted their focus from blockbuster epics to real-life dramas and comedies.

"Audiences, especially young people, are more attached to movies that depict nostalgia and anxiety in life, which provides an outlet for them," said Zhang Yiwu.

In recent years, pressure has mounted for Chinese people in their 20s and 30s, a group that is facing ever stiffening competition on the job front and soaring living and housing costs in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai.

Domestic movies have opted to communicate with audiences, especially young people, by mirroring the pressures audiences face in real life, while most Hollywood blockbusters are still focused on surreal experiences, said Rao Shuguang, deputy director of the China Film Art Research Center.

Hollywood blockbusters screened in the first half included sci-fi blockbusters "Iron Man 3," "Star Trek Into Darkness" and "Man of Steel."

Professor Zhang said he believes that domestic films, led by those featuring contemporary storylines, have entered the best phase of development amid a burgeoning domestic market that is already the world's second-largest.

His view was echoed by Zhang Huijun, who forecast that the market share of domestic films could expand further in the second half.

However, Rao expressed less optimism about the outlook for the performance of domestic films, citing concerns about the variety and artistic quality of most domestic films.

Last year, 893 Chinese domestic films were shown in theaters, compared to only about 50 imported movies, including 34 Hollywood blockbusters.

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