Spring festival earnings give film market shot in the arm

Extraordinary tales of ordinary people pack powerful punch to boost confidence in industry's growth

By YANG YANG and LI YINGXUE | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-03-12 07:20
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Moviegoers watch the animated film " Boonie Bears: Time Twist" on Feb 25 in a cinema in Shanghai. Statistics showed that as of March 4, the animated feature had made more than 1.9 billion yuan ($260 million) from its opening on Feb 10, the start of the Spring Festival holiday. CHEN YUYU/FOR CHINA DAILY

A boxing match is about to start at the Xiangjiang Boxing Club. The reigning champion clenches her fists as the adrenalin courses through her veins. The crowd of spectators goes wild in eager anticipation. The challenger's coach is heard off-camera saying that he could stop the match if the going gets tough.

The dramatic opening scene of YOLO, an acronym for "You Only Live Once", sets the tone for the rest of the film that tells the heartfelt story of an obese, reclusive woman in her 30s who transforms her life after meeting a boxing coach.

Little surprise that YOLO, directed by and starring Jia Ling, topped the box office with 2.7 billion yuan ($375.8 million) during the Spring Festival holiday period from Feb 10 to 17.

Despite being a cross-cultural adaptation of the Japanese film 100 Yen Love, the domestic production infused with humor stands out as an audience magnet and goes a long way in bolstering confidence in China's film market.

YOLO is Jia's second directorial venture. She made her directorial debut in 2021 with Hi, Mom, the tale of a woman who travels back in time to befriend her mother, which raked in more than 5.4 billion yuan, making it the highest-grossing film directed by a female director before Barbie took the mantle.

Sony Pictures Entertainment has purchased the rights to remake Hi, Mom in English, and has also bought the global distribution rights for YOLO, which has touched millions of moviegoers, especially women, with its uplifting and honest narrative.

Mao Jian, a film critic and professor of Chinese language and literature at East China Normal University, said in a video post on the livestreaming platform Bilibili that YOLO surpasses 100 Yen Love in the final five minutes of the film as the protagonist finds the courage to live life to the fullest, regardless of risks, and embraces her newfound freedom.

According to writer Dan Bao, who posted a comment on the microblogging site Sina Weibo, YOLO is China's answer to Barbie, rather than a remake of the sports drama 100 Yen Love.

The heart and soul of YOLO is Jia's emotionally versatile and physically demanding performance — she gained and lost 50 kilograms to play the lead role of Du Leying — that kept audiences riveted to their seats from start to finish.

Roaring success

Ji Shaoting, head of Future Affairs Administration, a company that deals with sci-fi publications, consulting and filmmaking, said in a podcast program that only movies that offer a novel plot and stunning spectacles can top the box office during Spring Festival, such as The Wandering Earth (2019) by Guo Fan and Mermaid (2016) by Stephen Chow.

That's why YOLO has been a roaring success, Ji said. "We have never seen such a strong Chinese woman, who is muscular, throws punches for real and says 'no' to a man so directly. We have never seen a woman who makes sharp remarks and feels so free and delighted after reconditioning herself."

Deng Yun, who also works at Future Affairs Administration, echoed Dan and said that YOLO is very different from its Japanese predecessor. "It does a great job in localization, adding a lot of vivid scenes and conversations that can only happen in China, especially those involving men's attitudes toward women," she said.

"The movie is amazing also because it has created and will continue to create intertextuality and interpretations. You can't excise Jia Ling's real life, her roles as a female director and the leading actress, and the diverse voices from male audiences from the movie's 'overflowing text'. That's why it is so interesting and is China's Barbie," Deng added.

According to box-office tracker Dengta Data, women accounted for 63 percent of the total moviegoers during Spring Festival.

YOLO is just one of the movies that scored success during the eight-day holiday, when the total box-office revenue in China surpassed 8 billion yuan, and more than 163 million people walked into cinemas, setting a new record for the Spring Festival season, according to the China Film Administration, the country's top industry regulator.

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