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Stephen Chow's latest comedy Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons took millions of people on a magical adventure during the nation's largest holiday, and landed on top of the country's box-office charts, contributing to record-breaking holiday ticket sales.
Box-office revenue from the Spring Festival holiday from Feb 9 to Feb 15, which this year coincided with Valentine's Day, was an all-time high of 755 million yuan ($121 million).
The takings for Chow's blockbuster, featuring Wen Zhang, Shu Qi and Huang Bo, accounted for 66.7 percent of all ticket sales during the period, according to a posting by China Film News on micro-blogging service Sina Weibo.
The film took 76.7 million yuan on its first day of release on Feb 10 on the Chinese mainland. It also smashed the opening-day record for domestic films by beating last year's 70 million yuan made by Chinese film Painted Skin: Resurrection.
Chow's film also set box-office records for a single day for a Chinese movie for three consecutive days, said its producer Huayi Brothers Media Group Co Ltd.
Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons, an adaptation of a classic Chinese novel, earned more than 640 million yuan in eight days by Sunday.
The shares of the film's producer and distributor, Huayi Brothers, rose 8.58 percent on Monday to 20.63 yuan. Guotai Junan Securities Co Ltd estimated that the film's total box-office revenue will reach 1.3 billion yuan, to become the highest-grossing domestic film ever.
Huayi Brothers' epic drama Back to 1942, directed by Feng Xiaogang, failed to impress the majority of moviegoers at the end of last year.
The historical drama, with a budget estimated at 200 million yuan, lost the race to actor-director Xu Zheng's comedy Lost in Thailand.
The comedy, which had a budget of only 30 million yuan, became the highest-grossing domestic movie ever up to that point with 1.2 billion yuan in box-office revenue.
Valentine's Day this year brought in 190 million yuan in ticket sales, up 60 percent year-on-year. The figure was the highest for the date.
An adaptation of a popular Japanese TV series of the same name, The 101st Marriage Proposal, which features Lin Chiling and Huang Bo, has pulled in more than 100 million yuan in total. But another film also targeting the day, Together, only grossed 24 million yuan.
Meanwhile, the strong performance of Chow's blockbuster pressured other films, such as Love Retake and Better and Better, which earned 6 million yuan and 24 million yuan, respectively, over the six-day holiday period.
Hollywood blockbuster Cloud Atlas grossed 30 million yuan during the holiday, taking its cumulative total to nearly 160 million yuan since its release on Jan 31.
The latest James Bond film, Skyfall, took 2 million yuan over the holiday week and achieved ticket sales of nearly 400 million yuan. Another new film, Jack Reacher, made 17 million yuan on its opening day.
The fast-expanding Chinese film market - measured by audience figures and number of screens - has nurtured record-breaking box-office revenue this year, said Huang Qunfei, general manager of Beijing New Film Association Co Ltd, one of China's largest theater chains.
Huang said domestic box-office revenue has grown 30 percent on average each year, with more than 9,600 screens across the nation. he said he expects even higher growth this year.
But it's very hard to guess which films will make it, Huang said.
"The industry relies on good films the same way farmers rely on good weather," Huang said. "A good film will bring in the audience no matter when it is released."
He added: "The nature of motion pictures is to entertain. Chinese moviegoers, mostly young white-collar workers who work and live under massive pressure, need comedies to relax."
(China Daily 02/19/2013 page13)