In the past several months, Chinese comedies Lost In Thailand and Journey To The West have laughed all the way to the bank, becoming the top local hits of all time with over $200M in box office each. In the past several days, a drama has been breaking records. So Young, a nostalgic look at college romance directed by actress-turned-helmer Vicki Zhao Wei, broke opening day records for a 2D Chinese movie on April 26 with $7.3M, beating Lost In Thailand‘s previous high mark. It also bested Journey To The West in advance sales, according to reports. Through Sunday, its cume was $76.72M, per Ent Group data. First-time feature director Wei, a star who’s appeared in such hits as the Painted Skin movies and Shaolin Soccer, also reportedly became the first female director to see her debut pass the coveted 100M yuan mark. The film now faces stiff competition from Iron Man 3, but Wei is apparently taking it in stride. She told China Daily, “I’m given box office figures every other day. I feel OK. I am very satisfied with what we’ve taken. You can’t be too greedy.” Here’s a subtitled So Young trailer:
Baidu, China’s answer to Google, has acquired the online video business of web-based broadcaster PPS for $370M. PPS’ online video business, which includes Asian and American programming, will be folded into Baidu’s TV and and movie portal iQiyi. …
UPDATE, 10:49 AM: Sony Pictures just announced that China is going to give Django Unchained another bow in theaters. This time, maybe it’ll even screen all the way through. The studio releasing the Quentin Tarantino actioner about race relations issued this announcement this morning: “We are delighted that audiences throughout China will be able to experience Django Unchained beginning Sunday, May 12th. There is tremendous excitement, anticipation and awareness for the film and we thank the local authorities for quickly resolving this issue.” On April 11, Django was booked into theaters around China only to be pulled within minutes into screenings without an official explanation. It has taken Sony and Chinese officials all this time to complete negotiations.
The Motion Picture Association and the China Film Distributors and Exhibitors Association have released a study that says the film and TV business contributed $15.5B to China’s economy in 2011. Commenting on the report, Mike Ellis, president and managing director of the MPA for Asia Pacific, said, “Chinese audiences are seeking out and enjoying a variety of films, whether they are made locally, internationally or co-produced through collaborative international partnerships.” While box office is predicted to keep building regardless of where films come from, figures released recently by China’s film watchdog confirm what could be a disturbing trend for Hollywood: Local movies are taking a big bite out of ticket sales. The State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television said last week that homegrown films accounted for 69% of mainland box office revenues in the first quarter of 2013. The shift began with the late 2012 release of comedy Lost In Thailand, which broke about every record possible, went on to become the highest-grossing Chinese title of all time and gave a kickstart to 2013. But despite that movie’s eleventh-hour arrival, local pics still finished 2012 at a four-year low with a market share of only 48%. In the first three months of this year, however, Chinese films made 3.6B yuan ($582M) and six films broke the coveted 100M yuan ($16.2M) barrier. The top film was Stephen Chow’s Journey To The West: Conquering The Demons, which earned 1.25B yuan ($202.2M).
Last year, four foreign films were responsible for 56% of total sales in the first quarter. But this year, the only Hollywood pictures to punch above 300M yuan ($48.5M) were Skyfall and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the Xinhua news agency reported. They were followed by A Good Day To Die Hard, Cloud Atlas and Resident Evil: Retribution.
The UK’s Pinewood Shepperton is the latest Western outfit to hook up with Chinese media mogul Bruno Wu via a joint-venture to finance and produce content in China for the global market. The 50/50 partnership with Wu’s Seven Stars Media Limited will be called Song Lin (Pinewood in Chinese) with each side initially putting up $1M for R&D on local business proposals. Those include co-production opportunities; training courses to be given by British institutions in Beijing and other cities; financing and related services for local productions; film-themed entertainment venues in Shanghai and regionally; and film-themed projects in Beijing, Shanghai and Wuhan. A UK chairman will be appointed.
This is the most recent announcement involving Wu in what’s been a busy 14 months. In February 2012, he burst onto Hollywood’s radar with plans for an $800M media and investment fund and subsequently formed a joint-venture with Fast Five helmer Justin Lin for a slate of films. He also outlined plans to build entertainment and media hub Chinawood in Tianjin with an investment of over $1.27B. Wu was then in Cannes to say he would back the John H. Lee remake of John Woo’s The Killer and in December hooked up with Avi Arad’s Arad Productions to develop superhero franchise properties inspired by Chinese history and mythology, starting with Rise Of The Terracotta Warriors. Those films along with Gong Li-starrer The Last Empress are in development.
Some industry insiders both in China and in Hollywood have been skeptical of Wu and his ambitious announcements, which so far don’t appear to have produced much tangible output. However, he is understood to be “incredibly well-connected politically” which foreigners believe cannot hurt in a territory like China, where the government retains a tight grip on the media.
Paramount is teaming with the state-backed China Movie Channel and U.S./Chinese streaming company Jiaflix in a “cooperation agreement” on Michael Bay‘s Transformers 4. This is the latest high-profile studio movie to enter into a Chinese partnership: Marvel’s Iron Man 3, which debuts later this week in China, was made with local production outfit DMG. Although that film was initially intended as an official co-production, Marvel and DMG untimately said they decided not to apply for the status. The Paramount announcement makes no mention of Transformers 4 being a co-production, but says China Movie Channel, under SARFT, “will cooperate with Paramount in broad-based support of the production of the film in China.” Transformers 4 will be released there on or about June 27, 2014. It will shoot in China and local post-production is a possibility. Chinese talent is also expected to be cast alongside Mark Wahlberg, Nicola Peltz and Jack Reynor. Bay recently said Transformers 4 “will feel very different then the last three. We are embarking on a new trilogy.” The last Transformers pic, Dark Of The Moon, was huge in China, grossing $165M locally. The press release below spells out the details on the deal:
Los Angeles, CA – April 2, 2013 – Paramount Pictures, China Movie Channel and Jiaflix Enterprises announced today that they have entered into a Cooperation Agreement regarding the production of “Transformers 4” in China. The Cooperation Agreement was signed on April 1, 2013 in Beijing and Los Angeles.
Pursuant to the agreement, China Movie Channel, under the State Administration of Radio Film and Television (SARFT), will cooperate with Paramount in broad-based support of the production of the film in China. “Transformers 4” is expected to be released in China on or about June 27, 2014. The parties also intend to cooperate in a number of other areas related to “Transformers 4,” including the selection of filming sites within China, theatrical promotion, and possible post-production activities in China as well as casting of Chinese actors and actresses in the film.
This agreement represents the first time that China Movie Channel will work with a western studio in the production of a major motion picture.
Global Showbiz Briefs: China’s Pay-TV Revenues Surge; French Film Production Up, Investment Down; Hat Trick & Plum
China Is Now World’s 2nd Biggest Pay-TV Market: Report
China has done it again. Last week, the MPAA’s Theatrical Statistics Report confirmed that China’s box office had outpaced Japan’s to make the nation the world’s number-two movie market. A new report from UK-based Digital TV Research finds that China is also the leader in pay-TV revenues outside the U.S. Amid massive growth in the Asia Pacific region, the report’s author, Simon Murray, said China overtook Japan to become “the most lucrative pay-TV market in 2012.” Revenues from pay-TV across Asia Pacific are expected to reach $43.9B in 2018. In 2013 alone, the report estimates the subscription and on-demand pay-TV business will grow by $2.1B to $33.9B. In Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, revenues are expected to more than double by 2018, although a drop is foreseen in Hong Kong and South Korea where penetration is expected to be almost 100% by then. Digital penetration should hit 90% in 2018 across the region, but opportunities for growth will remain in Indonesia and the Philippines. China is expected to have 313M pay-TV households by 2018 and India will have 158M.
After doubling their box office takings over the past five years, the BRIC countries will see combined revenues of $12.1B and account for 25% of global sales by 2017, according to research group IHS. That would put the Big Four on a par with where IHS expects the North American box office to be at that time. (It was $10.8B in 2012.) Driving growth are increased ticket prices and new construction — China is building cinemas daily and is expected to have about 20,000 screens by 2015 alone. IHS analyst Charlotte Jones also noted the loosening of quotas in China for 3D and IMAX films, the popularity of premium pics in Russia and the rise of shopping centers in Brazil as market drivers.
UPDATED: The controversy here in the U.S. over Django Unchained‘s depiction of slavery apparently didn’t bother China’s oft-finicky film czars. Django has been cleared for an April 11 release in the territory, after the film already has …
China Eyes Merger Of TV, Film & Press Watchdogs
In a move that could help to streamline China’s clearance or censorship of entertainment content, the government plans to merge the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) and the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP). Currently, movie and TV distributors who want to do business in China have to navigate a sea of red tape through SARFT and the merger could help cut that down, but is unlikely to result in wholesale deregulation. SARFT would continue to oversee sensitive content in the media and add the National Copyright Administration under its umbrella. The proposed combination comes as the public is increasingly discontent with a bloated central administration, whose bureaucracy and inefficiency are at odds with a market-oriented economy, The South China Morning Post reported. The proposal, which still needs to be approved, was submitted over the weekend at the National People’s Congress. It’s part of a reform of the cultural sector that began in 2003 and has turned hundreds of former government organizations including publishers and theaters, into companies that operate according to market rules, China Daily notes.
Attention American writers: China is calling. Beijing’s municipal government is launching an international screenwriting competition for U.S.-based writers of all nationalities. The “tale of Beijing” themed contest is open to aspiring and established writers who submit short and feature-length screenplays centered on China’s capital city and its culture. Stated goal of the initiative is to foster artistic collaboration and creative dialogue between China and the US. Unlike many other contests, there is no entry fee for the 2013 Beijing International Screenwriting Competition.
Don Groves is a Deadline contributor based in Sydney.
The Stephen Chow-directed action comedy scored RMB 76.85M ($12.3M) on its opening day February 10 during the Chinese New Year holidays, the biggest first day for a local production in history. Journey To The West: Conquering The Demons took in $93.5M during its first week, a record for any film in the territory — local or foreign — and reached $100M in receipts in eight days, also the fastest ever to the mark. The pic was one of the first two films released by the nascent Village Roadshow Pictures Asia, the Greater China film division of Village Roadshow Entertainment Group. VRPA co-produced the pic with Bingo Movie Development, Chinavision Media Group and Edko Films. It also has grossed $3.1M in Hong Kong, ranked No. 2 behind A Good Day To Die Hard; $2.56M in Taiwan; $2.3M in Malaysia and $1.4M in Singapore. The other VRPA title, Say Yes!, a Chinese-language remake of the 1991 Fuji TV drama 101st Marriage Proposal, grossed $7.5M on Valentine’s Day, a record for a romance movie. Valentine’s Day has become the highest-grossing day in China’s annual box office — this year it hit $32.1M, a single-day record. Village Roadshow Pictures Asia says it’s the first foreign co-producer to capture the top two box office spots in China at the same time. Next up for the company is Man Of Tai Chi, directed by and starring Keanu Reeves.
The Raine Group, a boutique merchant bank with close ties to WME, has partnered with Chinese fund China Media Capital to invest in the sports, entertainment and digital media sectors in China and on an international level. Raine, which recently took a stake in Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s nascent Important Studios, also has investments in Vice, online game developer Jagex, ecommerce platform OpenSky and Zumba Fitness, among others. CMC, an $800M fund, also controls Star China, a joint venture with News Corp. and in August partnered with DreamWorks Animation in a plan to build The Dream Center theme park in Shanghai. CMC chairman Li Ruigang told The Financial Times that investments would initially be focused in China but that he would also seek out global opportunities. He added he’s working on raising a new privately-owned media investment fund. Below is the Raine press release:
NEW YORK and SHANGHAI — The Raine Group and China Media Capital (CMC) today announced that they have formed a strategic partnership to collaborate broadly across the global media landscape. The partnership intends to leverage the industry and geographic expertise of both firms towards select investments in the sports, entertainment and digital media sectors, both in China and around the world. The new partnership will entail exchanging investment strategies, co-investing with each other, sharing resources and developing focused conferences for Chinese and Western media thought leaders.
‘The Following’ Gets Killer Ratings On Sky Atlantic
Kevin Bacon serial killer drama The Following had a solid debut on Fox in the U.S. on Monday and on Tuesday premiered on UK pay channel Sky Atlantic. In the 10PM-11PM slot, the violent horror thriller drew an average of 270,000 viewers for a 1.4% share. The numbers may not sound earth-shattering but they were more than 636% higher than the slot average over the past three months, The Guardian reported. Meanwhile, the premiere of Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes’ reality show about English manses, Great Houses With Julian Fellowes, drew 2.2M viewers on ITV at 9PM for an 8.8% share on Tuesday.