China Shatters Box Office Records in February Despite Capacity Curb

Credit: China Visual Group

BEIJING, February 28 (TMTPOST) – It is common sense in China that the Spring Festival, also known as the Lunar New Year, marked a boon for film companies and cinemas, but the red-hot market still surprised many movie-goers.

“The cinema is packed, at the capacity limit of 75%,” said Xiao Xiang, before leaving a cinema in Luoyang, Henan Province.

With the coronavirus pandemic still lingering across China, the Chinese government has discouraged people from travelling back to their hometown for a family reunion. During the new year holiday, the number of travellers fell 70% from the previous lunar new year, the year of the mouse. Going to a cinema in the city of their work has become a prudent choice among a small number of options for seasonal celebrations.

A total of seven titles released during the Spring Festival, which fell on February 12, are all made-in-China works. They performed well in terms of box office revenue. Other lucrative screening seasons in China include the New Year Day, the National Day holiday and the Labor Day holiday.

New Highs in Spite of Lackluster Production

During the seven-day holiday (from the Lunar New Year’s Eve to the sixth day of the year), the box office hit RMB7.822 billion (about US$1.21 billion), according to statistics released by China Film Bureau. It represented a 32.47% increase from about two years ago, smashing the single-day box office record and the single weekend box office record of the world.

Among the seven movies released on the Lunar New Year’s Day, “Hello, Mom” reaped RMB4.8 billion (about US$738 million) as of February 28, establishing its status as the top earner, according to Maoyan.com, an online ticketing website.

Despite the lack of cinematic originality and plot creativity, “Hello, Mom” hit moviegoers, most of them young adults, in the tender spot of their hearts. An academically mediocre girl caused many troubles to her mom. She faked a letter of university admissions but the sham was debunked during the big festive dinner in the name of her academic achievement. Her mom felt humiliated but did not blame her and instead showered her daughter with unconditional love. Eventually she succeeded by the standards of the world but her mom was killed in a car accident. It is a maudlin movie but resonated with many frustrated young people in the face of fierce competition at work in China.

The movie also became the third largest box office earner in the history of China’s film industry as of Sunday after surpassing Roving Planet, only after Nezha : Birth of the Demon Child (RMB50.35 billion) and Wolf Warrior II (RMB56.94 billion).

The second earner is action comedy “Detective Chinatown III”, with RMB4.3 billion (about US$661 million) in ticket sales for the first 18 days after its release. It is a dull movie in terms of cinematography, actor performance and plot. Many moviegoers saw the sequel mainly because of the past reputation of the original episode.  

“A Writer’s Odyssey” was a total fiasco by artistic standards. However, it pocketed RMB8.9 billion (about US$1.37 million) in revenues, becoming the third earner. The movie features a bunch of high-profile actors and actresses, who obtained their celebrity status by constantly boosting their exposure regardless of positive or negative publicity. Such celebrities, described as “arriving with a myriad of fans”, apparently helped movie producers realize high ticket sales.

Renchao Xiongyong, a comedy-drama co-starring Hong Kong singer and actor Andy Lau, brought in RMB449 million (about US$69.6) as of February 28, coming as the fourth by box office.

A total of the seven movies accounted for 97% of total box revenues, while the remaining 15 titles contributed to 3%. 

Mixed Blessing for Chinese Movie Industry

The outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan was a bad omen for Chinese cinemas, which were shut down in January 2020. Subsequently many film companies and cinemas were plagued by a cash crunch. However, they reopened gradually in July when the virus spread was largely under control despite new one-digit or double-digit daily cases during sporadic outbreaks in a small number of places. As of February 28, China has gone over 10 days without reporting a single new case of community transmission.

Since the global pandemic was declared in March 2020, the movie production around the globe has come to almost a standstill. Due to a shortage of movie imports, Chinese films have quickly acquired a large share in domestic markets.

In 2020, China sold an estimated US$2.7 billion in tickets, overtaking the United States as the world’s largest movie market. The United States reported ticket sales of US$2.3 billion last year, down by 80% from 2019, due to the longest period of cinema closure during a year in living memory.

The share of foreign films, including those from Hollywood, fell to 16% of Chinese box office in 2020 from 36% in 2019, according to Maoyan.

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