Holiday popcorn

By Wei Xi Source:Global Times Published: 2014-2-11 21:43:01

A poster for Where Are We Going, Dad? Photo: CFP

A poster for Frozen Photo: CFP

A poster for The Monkey King Photo: CFP

With a number of new records being set at the box office, the 2014 Spring Festival must be one of the most successful ever for the Chinese film industry.

During the seven-day holiday from January 31 to February 6, a total of 1.4 billion yuan ($231 million) was made on the Chinese mainland, an increase of over 44 percent from the numbers (780 million yuan) for the same holiday period in 2013.

Reality show turned movie Where Are We Going, Dad? made over 500 million yuan in the shortest ever time for a 2D movie (just eight days) while 3D fantasy movie The Monkey King became the first Chinese film to break 100 million yuan on its day of release, according to, a data based entertainment industry website. 

'Monkey,' 'Dad' take lead

About eight films were released during the holidays, but The Monkey King and Where Are We Going, Dad? occupied over half of the movie screens. The two films generated over 1.1 billion yuan of the total 1.4 billion box-office receipts during their opening week.

With 612 million yuan of revenue, The Monkey King came out on top, nearly 150 million ahead of Dad (468 million yuan).

Taking 182 million yuan, Hong Kong veteran director Wong Jing's The Man From Macau took third place while mainland newcomer Tian Yusheng's directorial debut Ex File ranked fourth with a little less than 43 million yuan. Following closely was the Hollywood animation Frozen, which achieved 34.6 million yuan in two days from February 5 to 6. Domestic romantic comedy Just Another Margin pulled in a little less than 20 million yuan over the holidays, according to the Beijing News. 

Some, however, had doubts about the tremendous success of The Monkey King and Dad They criticized Monkey as "a film that when you have watched the trailer, there is no need to watch the whole movie." Dad, which came from the popular reality show of the same name, was questioned about whether it can even be called a film.

A time for family

The overwhelming increase in box-office returns caused many discussions on the reasons behind this years bumper successes.

Liu Hui, the manager of a cinema in Beijing, attributes the increase to the number of blockbusters and the styles of the movies.

In an interview with domestic website portal, Liu said that while only Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons could be regarded as a blockbuster during the Spring Festival of 2013, this year provided more choices.

"Generally speaking, the whole period was very rich in good movies, therefore the market performed better than the previous year," he said.

Zhou Xing, dean of the School of Art and Communication at Beijing Normal University, believes that the potential for the movie market in China is improving. "The number of movie screens is increasing, and there is a growing demand among the Chinese for cultural [products]," he told the Global Times.

Yet most critics agree on one point: The growth is driven by families.

Liu noted that though Monkey and Dad differ in theme and style, they are both tailored for a family audience.

"Every year when students have holidays there will always be the [TV drama] Journey to the West on air. So to see a monkey jump up and down on the big screen during the lunar new year is a familiar choice for families," said critic Han Haoyue in a comment on the Beijing News.

Yin Hong, executive vice dean of the School of Journalism and Communication at Tsinghua University, further explained that as most Chinese return to their hometowns for a family reunion during the Spring Festival, taking their children to the cinema has become a popular choice over recent years.

"[In such circumstance] taking a child results in three tickets being sold, leading to a large increase in box-office takings," Yin told the Global Times, adding that the name awareness of Monkey and Dad helped parents make decisions about watching them.

When there is a special demand to watch movies, Yin noted, a film's quality matters less.

"[What the family audience need] is a proper product, which does not have to be the best," Yin said. "Just like McDonalds. It is not very nourishing food, but at a certain time and place it fulfills a demand." 

A new style of movie

Another factor that made Dad, a movie shot in only five days, stand out is that it seems to present a successful commercial model for similar TV shows-turned movies. 

Dad is not the first in this trend. In 2011, a film named Somebody to Love was made from the TV dating show Take Me Out, and in 2013, there were Happy Home (from reality show Happy Camp) and I Want You (from singing contest TV show The Voice of China).

Nevertheless, none of these earlier works were commercially successful.  

According to a report on Xinmin Evening News, Teng Huatao, executive producer of  Dad, believes that an important reason for the failure of I Want You was that the film version had nothing to do with the popular TV show.

Teng insisted on "the movie version going back to what made the TV show successful, because this is what the audience want to watch."

A well-run promotion, both online and offline, is also believed to be a key to the movie's success.

Shanghai-based Oriental Morning Post pointed out that besides releasing normal publicity materials like posters and stills, the major actors appeared in 40 audience meetings around the nation before the screening - a number much larger than for other movies.

Xinmin Evening News also noticed that Dad had the biggest number of forwards or comments on social media, thanks to the stars' contributions. For example, Taiwan singer and actor Jimmy Lin posted 12  promotional messages on Sina Weibo, resulting in over 200,000 forwards and nearly 180,000 comments.

Whether the model of Dad is a good sign, however, raises diverse opinions.

"Though we admit Dad is interesting and loved by children, its extreme popularity reflects the immaturity [of the film market]," Zhou Xing commented, adding that he believes movies with deeper meanings should lead the market.

"In the West, [the film industry] represented by Hollywood still thinks more highly of traditional films. But here in China, if our movies are only [TV shows] brought to the big screen, I don't see a future."

Yin Hong, however, does not think adding a new style of entertainment to the cinema is a bad thing.

"[Dad] is popular because there is a demand for such types of movies. If any TV show is better received by audiences on the big screen, it is the problem of [traditional] films. There is nothing to complain about," Yin added.

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