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Cinema's warm summer
Release Date 2019-09-05
Resource China Daily
Author Xu Fan


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Now foraying into overseas markets, the runaway hit Ne Zha is the top contributor to China's box-office bonanza this summer.


After a relatively slow first half, the box office in China is catching up, thanks to a combination of Hollywood and domestic hits.


Despite predictions that it would be a lackluster box-office season due to a first half slowdown, the summer has just concluded with a happy ending.


Official statistic shows that the summer-usually a lucrative period lasting from June to August-raked in 17.65 billion yuan ($2.46 billion), surging 1.6 percent year-on-year, according to China Movie Data Information Network. The box office figure represents a record high for the past five years.


Nearly 130 new films were released during the three months. Among them, 21 films saw their box-office receipts surpassing 100 million yuan, and five blockbusters earned more than 1 billion yuan each.


Theater admissions climbed to 500 million, slightly more than 496 million recorded during the same period in 2018 and surpassing 474 million in 2017 by a considerable margin.


Although tickets are becoming more expensive, bigger screens-which charge higher prices-are preferable.


A report from Beacon-a movie data tracker affiliated to Chinese tech giant Alibaba Group-shows the average ticket price rose to 35.32 yuan per person this summer, 2.4 percent higher than last year.


Maoyan's film-revenue tracker finds that Imax China's box-office takings rose 18.2 percent this summer, compared to the same period last year, marking the best performance ever for Imax.


The biggest surprise of the summer was the domestic dark horse, Ne Zha, an animated retelling of a well-known figure in Chinese mythology. It was the top contributor to the box office bonanza.


Exploring modern topics such as parenting and self-control through an ancient tale with exquisite animation, the story about a rebellious hero has become a runaway hit, grossing a whopping 4.74 billion yuan as of Tuesday.


An even more unexpected surprise is that Ne Zha recently overtook sci-fi epic The Wandering Earth to claim the spot for second highest-grossing film of all time in China's box-office charts. This happened shortly after it supplanted Disney's Zootopia as the country's top-performing animated release to date at the beginning of August.


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Actor Huang Xiaoming stars as a heroic firefighter in the real event-adapted film The Bravest, which has grossed 1.65 billion yuan to be the second highest-grossing film in the summer.


In addition to its domestic screening extending to two months (the usual theater run rarely extends past a month), Ne Zha has also made a foray into eight other countries: Vietnam, Indonesia, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Britain and Singapore.


Annie Walker, founder of Well Go USA Entertainment, which exclusively distributes Ne Zha in North America, says the movie is performing well and has pulled in more than $1.16 million in its opening weekend with a limited run across 66 Imax theaters in the US and Canada.


The film's run will be expanded to at least 130 screens, with some rolling out in 2D format on Friday, she adds.


Following the phenomenal hit of Ne Zha, the second-highest-grossing film this summer is actor Huang Xiaoming's latest effort, The Bravest, which has earned 1.65 billion yuan, turning out to be his best performing film in recent years.


Based on the real-life events surrounding a pipeline explosion in Northeast China's port city of Dalian in July 2010, the tear-jerking film concerns a group of elite firefighters who battle a massive inferno that has put all the residents of the city in peril.


Huang, who stars as one of the firefighters, says he feels encouraged to see the movie has attracted a significant number of theatergoers.


Noting that The Bravest "is the first film of its kind that focuses on firefighters"-a rarely-covered subject for domestic filmmakers-Huang says the movie reveals the human side of those firefighting heroes, depicting them not only as heroes who always rush into the most dangerous situations when a disaster takes place, but also as ordinary people with real-life flaws.


From learning how to quickly put on their firefighting gear, to rope climb dozens of meters high above the ground, Huang and the other actors were trained for more than a month by a domestic squadron of real firemen.


The big-budget film also constructed a life-size replica of the Dalian port's oil tank storage area in a studio located in Hebei province, covering an area of 50,000 square meters and using 50 fire engines. Instead of generating images by computer, much of the blaze and explosion in the film are real and were re-created on set.


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Actor Huang Xiaoming stars as a heroic firefighter in the real event-adapted film The Bravest, which has grossed 1.65 billion yuan to be the second highest-grossing film in the summer.


Rao Shuguang, president of the China Film Critics Association, says The Bravest has raised the bar for Chinese disaster films, signifying the domestic industry has improved in producing big action sequences.


Aside from Ne Zha and The Bravest, four other Chinese films-The White Storm 2: Drug Lords, Looking Up, Line Walker 2: Invisible Spy, and My Best Summer-have squeezed their way into the top 10 highest-grossing films of the summer, outnumbering foreign titles.


However, Hollywood is still the most powerful rival for domestic filmmakers.


Following Spider-Man: Far from Home, which grossed 1.41 billion yuan, making it the third highest-performing summer movie, Fast &Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is now the fifth highest-grossing flick and Disney's remake The Lion King sitting in the seventh place.


Japanese Oscar-winning animated classic Spirited Away, which grossed nearly 490 million yuan, is the only non-Hollywood film in the top 10.


"Summer vacation is one of the most lucrative box-office seasons in China. Unlike a few years ago when Hollywood imports were the most popular, domestic theatergoers now have diversifying tastes and have become more discerning," says Rao.


"This summer has been a good lesson for local filmmakers, giving hints about the direction they can shift focus and efforts to," he adds.