Films prepare to do battle during 2020 Spring Festival holiday

By Liu Zhongyin Source:Global Times Published: 2019/12/15 20:32:20


Promotional material for Zhong Guo Nv Pai Photo: Courtesy of Taopiaopiao

Each year, in the Spring Festival holiday period, which traditionally includes Chinese New Year's Eve and Chinese New Year's Days, becomes one of the biggest battlefields for film studios as 1.4 billion Chinese celebrate the most important festival of the year with family members.

In 2018, a total of 5.6 billion yuan ($802 million) was earned at the Chinese mainland box office during this holiday period, while this year that total rose to 5.8 billion yuan. Looking at the total boxoffice, the mainland earned 61 billion yuan ($8.73 billion) in 2018 and is estimated to bring in around 65 billion yuan this year, meaning the Spring Festival receipts account for an average of 9 percent of the annual total.

The Spring Festival is important not only in terms of its leverage in the annual box office but also because the highest-earning film of the year is likely to debut during this time period. 

Comedy film The Mermaid, directed by Stephen Chow, premiered during the 2016 Spring Festival and ended up topping that year's box office with 3.39 billion yuan. This was also the case for action/crime film Operation Red Sea in 2018. This year, Chinese sci-fi blockbuster The Wandering Earth was set to be this year's box-office champion before being defeated over the summer by the phenomenal animated film Ne Zha, which is now the second-highest earning film of all time in China.   

To date, 10 films have been announced for release on January 25, the first day of the Spring Festival, including Detective Chinatown 3, Zhong Guo Nv Pai (Chinese National Women's Volleyball Team), Jiang Ziya, The Rescue, Lost in Russia, Vanguard and Boonie Bears: The Wild Life

According to an analysis of Chinese audience interest 50 days ahead of the Spring Festival holiday released by Alibaba Pictures' big data promotional platform Beacon on Friday, audiences this year were seven times more interested in watching a Spring Festival film than the same period last year. 

Film critics and industry insiders told the Global Times that they are confident that the box office for the 2020 Spring Festival will surpass that of 2019.

Sha Dan, a curator at the China Film Archive and a film critic, told the Global Times that a film without good audience reaction can easily be neglected by the competition because cinema managers will quickly alter schedules to maximize profit as best they can during this extremely competitive period. He also noted that the Spring Festival is special because film studios usually don't hold early screenings of their films for media or critics, which they are more willing to do during other time periods of the year. 

According to film critics interviewed with the Global Times, the biggest contenders of the 2020 Spring Festival holiday period are Detective Chinatown 3, The Rescue and Lost in Russia and Zhong Guo Nv Pai. Shi Wenxue, a teacher at the Beijing Film Academy, notes that original sports film Zhong Guo Nv Pai could turn out to be a dark horse that takes the competition by surprise. 

Promotional material for Detective Chinatown 3 Photo: Courtesy of Taopiaopiao

Detective Chinatown 3 and Lost in Russia are both sequels. Starring popular star Liu Haoran and comedic actor Wang Baoqiang, Chinese actor-director Chen Sicheng's Detective Chinatown series follows a detective duo as they solve mysteries in various cities across the world. The first two films took place in Bangkok and New York respectively, while the third story is set to unfold in Tokyo. 

Lost in Russia is the fourth film in the long-running Lost series of films starring Chinese actor Xu Zheng, who also took over director duties since the second film. The series also takes place in various locations, the Chinese mainland, China's Hong Kong Speical Administrative Region, Thailand and now Russia, and follows the main characters as they resolve disputes and overcome difficulties on their journeys. 

Both of these series are comedies with huge fan followings and cater to the gleeful atmosphere during the festival very well. However, this will be the first time that the two films will go head-to-head at the box office.  

The Rescue sees the return of director Dante Lam, who directed the 2016 hit Operation Mekong and Operation Red Sea, 2018's biggest winner. Lam has rich experience in handling grand action scenes and crime stories. According to Sha, Lam told him the action scenes in The Rescue are several times grander than those in Operation Red Sea. With this in mind, Sha said the film is certain to be a heavy contender for the Spring Festival holiday.

While Zhong Guo Nv Pai may not be able to draw on an established fan base, it does star internationally famous Chinese actress Gong Li as Lang Ping, the head coach of the Chinesenational women's volleyball team. The film follows several generations of the team as they were defeated by strong rivals only to earn glory for their nation at the end. 

"If it can resonate with audiences' patriotism and nostalgia, the movie can further attract people of different ages and backgrounds to cinemas, which will help it stand out from the competition," said Shi. 

Sha also noted that such films as Zhong Guo Nv Pai that portray positive Chinese values have improved a lot in recent years and have become highly welcomed by Chinese audiences.

While animated film Jiang Ziya is from the same studio that made the breakout fantasy animated film Ne Zha and also draws on Chinese mythology, it is unlikely to reach the same height due to the fierce competition it will face during the holiday, Sha noted. 

The film does have some advantages though. Similar to how the Marvel films all draw from the same source, Jiang Ziya and Ne Zha are both characters from the classic Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) novel Investiture of the Gods. This, along with the fact that both films are from the same studio and have fans of the first movie hoping that eventually studio Coloroom Pictures, will be able to create their own cinematic universe over the long run. 

Sha suggested that although the seven-day festival may be the main battlefield, how much exposure the movies can get by triggering public discussion will also determine the final ranks of the contenders.


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