China film industry grapples with coronavirus impact Published: 2020/2/3 3:30:28

A poster for the romantic Chinese film The Enigma of Arrival, which was scheduled for release on February 14. Photo: Official Weibo account for the film

To win the fight against the novel coronavirus and isolate those infected to stop the virus from spreading, domestic cinemas have been asked to remain closed until further notice from supervision departments. 

Seven films scheduled for release during the Spring Festival holidays were canceled on January 23, the same day officials in Wuhan, the capital city of Central China's Hubei Province announced that outbound travel would cease due to the virus outbreak. 

The Spring Festival holidays are considered the "Golden Week," and last seven days when Chinese mainland movie theaters generate their highest revenue for the year. During the same seven-day periods in 2018 and 2019, 5.72 billion yuan ($825 million) and 5.83 billion yuan was earned at the domestic box office, according to box office data from Entgroup, a Chinese consulting firm. 

Each annual figure accounts for over nine percent of the total box office gross income, which was 60.98 billion yuan in 2018, and 64.27 billion in 2019.

For 2020, box office revenue during the "Golden Week" was roughly 500,000 yuan, according to Entgroup. 

Shi Wenxue, a Beijing-based film critic and teacher at the Beijing Film Academy, predicted the impact of the novel coronavirus on the Chinese mainland film market will extend through February, March, and through the first half of the year, as a result of the virus and efforts to control it. 

Shi remembered when Beijing entertainment venues were temporarily closed for almost two months after the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003. During this period, zero box revenue was generated by the city's cinemas. The same situation is likely to happen to Chinese mainland box office between February and April.

Veteran film critic Lin Xi in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province took a more cautious stand on predicting the results of this year's Chinese box tally, but feels it won't be until the summer that Chinese moviegoers will flock to theaters to enjoy their leisure time and forget their emotions on the novel coronavirus.

Agent Backkom: Kings Bear and Enter the Fat Dragon, two Chinese films scheduled to be released in February, announced last week they would cancel their openings. The news that over a dozen films set to open on February 14, Valentines' Day would be canceled has not been confirmed.

Shi said that February releases, like the Chinese romantic film, The Enigma of Arrival, and Little Women from the US will announce their cancelations. 

"Instances of films canceling their screenings or changing their opening dates were not uncommon in 2019. The routine will be repeated in 2020," Shi also said.

The epidemic's impact on the Chinese mainland film market has been severe, especially for small and medium sized cinemas which can barely cover operation expenses due to fierce competition and waning attendance in recent years, Shi explained.

Lin also said that some of her friends, who are cinema managers, told her the blow received from the novel coronavirus has been severe for them as revenue generated from new releases during the Spring Festival holidays accounts for 40 percent of their annual revenue, with some claiming the figure is closer to 50 percent.  

Lin pointed out that Chinese filmmakers could be inspired by the stories that emerge from the fight against the coronavirus and could inspire magnificent works. 

Lin has heard from film insiders that directors and screenwriters are working on films for Zhong Nanshan, 83-year-old Chinese respiratory expert and a leading scientist in the research against the novel coronavirus and SARS in 2003.

Shi considers the epidemic may not vanish the hope that 2020 will be another year that Chinese box office income will exceed 60 billion yuan following 2018 and 2019 because the films set to play in theaters will not decrease, while bigger commercial foreign films may be imported to stimulate the Chinese film market. 

Previous predictions made by international film critics that said mainland box office revenue would surpass the US has been dimmed. 

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