Chinese films lose out big to imported films during Dragon Boat Festival weekend

By Wei Xi Source:Global Times Published: 2017/6/6 17:58:39

Promotional material for La Historia Du Un Amor Photo: IC



Promotional material for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Photo: IC



Even though they featured some of China's most famous idols, domestic Chinese films once again suffered a crushing defeat at the box office during the three-day Dragon Boat Festival holidays which ran from May 28 to 30.

In anticipation of the festival, a number of films released on May 27, a Saturday. Among these were six films from China - God of War, Didi's Dreams, La Historia Du Un Amor, Edge of Innocence, Three Little Pigs II and My King My Father - as well as one US-China coproduced animated film Ratchet & Clank.

However, the total earnings of these six domestic films over the four days reached only 111.81 million yuan ($16.4 million), less than one-fifth of the take earned by Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, which premiered in the Chinese mainland a day earlier on May 26 and collected 614 million yuan over those same four days. Even Dangal, the hit Indian film that released almost a month earlier, earned more than the six Chinese films put together with 165 million yuan.

Pointing fingers

What led to such a huge defeat for these Chinese films?

Some in the industry have pointed to a lack of screen share given to domestic films.

To certain degree, they may be right.

On opening day for these Chinese films, God of War had a nationwide screen share of 12.2 percent, the highest share among all domestic films, while My King My Father came in with the smallest share at 2 percent. By contrast, Pirates enjoyed a screen share of 46.3 percent, higher than the 40.1 percent share of all six Chinese films put together.

By May 30, while Pirates still had a share of 41.8 percent, the six Chinese films' total screen share had decreased to 18.1 percent.  

While screen share is sure to have been a factor, others argue that these failed to bring in audience due to their low quality.

Grades on Chinese media review site Douban show that while Pirates does not have a very high mark - a 7.4/10, the lowest rating of all the Pirates films - the Chinese films had an even poorer showing: God of War (6.3/10), Didi's Dreams (6.1/10), La Historia Du Un Amor (3.4/10), Edge of Innocence (5.1/10) and no ratings so far for Three Little Pigs II and My King My Father due to a lack of reviews.

In a post on Baidu blog Baijiahao, blogger Yibaixing challenged the idea that it was screen share alone that led to these films' box-office failure, citing Dangal and 2015 Chinese animated film Monkey King: Hero is Back as examples that show it is possible for films to go on to box-office success despite initial small screen shares if the film proves to be good enough.

He noted that Chinese audiences actually tend to favor domestic films over foreign ones, pointing to Operation Mekong as one such example.

"Operation Mekong was like a shining beacon among a crowd of bad films," he wrote. "Even though it was a political mainstream film, audiences still applauded it and were willing to pay to see it because it was good."

Based on the 2011 Mekong River massacre, Operation Mekong tells the story of how Chinese mainland police track down drug dealers in a joint task force with the Thailand, Laos, Myanmar governments.

Earning only 38.99 million yuan on its opening day, Operation Mekong brought in a total of 118.4 million yuan during its run, ranking at No.6 among all the films released in the Chinese mainland in 2016.

Invisible hand



"It is true that screen share influences box office, but does it have such large influence?" asked one report from the Chengdu Daily.

"It's a given that screen share follows market demand. Figures like cinema occupancy rates and box office influence how much screen share a cinema manager will decide to give a film. One cinema manager told us that 'We are not unwilling to give more screen share to domestic films. It's that these films will not have a larger audience even if we do give them more.'"

While cinema occupancy for Pirates stayed at more than 22 percent from May 27 to 30, the occupancy of Chinese action war film God of War never reached more than 20 percent and the occupancy for La Historia Du Un Amor decreased from 15.6 percent to 10.9 percent despite showing on a smaller number of screens.

The more than month old Dangal, on the other hand, had an occupancy of 29.6 percent on May 27 and a 44.8 percent on May 28.

"For today's audiences, they are willing to pay for a ticket only when these conditions are met: The film is a popcorn blockbuster with awesome audio and visual effects or deep films with stories they can sympathize with," Yibaixing concluded.

"However, most domestic films do not satisfy either of these conditions," he noted. 
Newspaper headline: Holiday massacre


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