Jia Zhangke's 'Mountains May Depart' Will Compete at Cannes; Passes Censorship Board in China on April 16, 2015


by Jonathan Papish

China's acclaimed film director Jia Zhangke will premiere his next movie, Mountains May Depart (山河故人) at next month's Cannes Film Festival where it will compete for the Palme D'Or, the annual festival's top award. This will be Jia's fourth feature to open at Cannes after Unknown Pleasures (任逍遥) in 2002, 24 City (二十四城记) in 2008, and A Touch Of Sin (天注定) in 2013. Jia took home the award for Best Screenplay in 2013 and was a member of the main competition's jury last year.

Mountains will span 30 years and take viewers from rural Shanxi province in the late 90s to a future Australia in 2025. It's the coming of age story of a young girl, Tao'er, and follows her relationship with her son over the years as he emigrates to Australia with her ex-husband and acclimates to a different culture.

Jia's films are characterized by a minimalist/realist style that employs many long takes which linger on the landscapes and subjects of a contemporary Chinese society always in flux. Accordingly, they have played very well on the international film festival circuit ever since Jia's first feature film The Pickpocket (小武) screened at Berlinale in 1997. However, they have mostly passed by domestic Chinese audiences who over the years have craved action packed popcorn flicks -- as evidenced by the popularity of Furious 7 this week -- over more arthouse fare. Despite this, there is still a devoted Chinese following to Jia and his films which tackle sensitive topics not often seen in mainstream Chinese cinema.

Those sensitive topics sometimes strike a nerve with Chinese censors as well. The buzz from A Touch of Sin winning Best Screenplay at Cannes in 2013 excited mainland fans who were expecting to see it in their own cinemas. The film had even received an October release date, but by December it was clear the story -- ordinary citizens pushed to take drastic and very violent measures because of corrupt low level officials -- had worried government censors. With little fanfare, A Touch of Sin was released for free on Chinese video streaming websites shortly after.

Shortly after the announcement that Mountains May Depart would debut at Cannes this year, Jia took to Weibo to let his Chinese fans know they could also expect to see it at home. "Mountains May Depart passed censorship without a hitch," he wrote to his 160 million followers on the Chinese equivalent to Twitter. When he was asked in an interview today about a release date, he said that the domestic distributor hadn't settled on a date yet, but he hoped for sometime this year.

When asked about his expectations for the box office, Jia, an independent filmmaker at heart, said: "I just hope for a smooth release. Anything related to the market, I'll hand over to the market to decide. As director, it's my job to present a high quality film, nothing more." 

Weekly Chinese Box Office Preview: 'Furious 7' Poses Daunting Challenge For Latest Youth-Skewing Flick on April 14, 2015


by EntGroup Consulting, Phil Contrino and Jonathan Papish

If Ever Since We Love (万物生长), an adaptation of the 2005 popular novel by the same name from Feng Tang, was opening during any other weekend this year it would surely finish in first place. As it stands, the local title will face tough competition from Furious 7 (速度与激情7).

Universal's Furious 7 is on track to become the highest-grossing film of all time in China after posting a record-breaking first day total of more than $62 million and racking up $92.76 million as of Monday. It's possible that the racing flick could be the first film to hit $400 million in China, an important milestone. Furious 7 performed very well during its second weekend -- the global haul is now over $800 million -- and we expect it to stay strong in China as well.

According to EntGroup's EFMT Marketing Index, Ever Since We Love has the highest awareness and intent to purchase levels of any new release this week. International star Fan Bingbing, who recently topped the list of Chinese actresses in "fan support", "commercial value", and "box office appeal", is likely the main cause of such high interest. In addition, former Super Junior boy band member and star Han Geng also has a strong fan base. We expect a solid second place finish.

Hailed as China's Catcher In The Rye, the novel followed a young medical student growing up in mid-nineties Beijing and captures a period that many twenty and thirty something city dwellers look back on with nostalgia. Younger crowds have been flocking to so called "lost youth" films often adapted from novels, television series, and even songs. Major recent hits aimed at this demographic include So Young ($114.8 million), Fleet of Time ($95 million) and the Tiny Times series which has grossed $211.29 million over three films with a fourth on the way.

Studios are competing to buy up rights to these lucrative intellectual properties that have massive built-in fan bases and franchise building power. Ever Since We Love is actually the first novel in a three part series, and although subsequent films have yet to be announced, a solid opening weekend can guarantee future movies.

Mortdecai (贵族大盗), Johnny Depp's latest star vehicle, will try to soften the blow of weak global numbers by opening in China. While Depp certainly has a strong following in China, expectations are low for the slapstick comedy.

Five other homegrown titles also open this week: Time Is Money (十万伙急), Gun Transit (枪过境), Murmur of the Hearts (念念), Scary Road is Fun (陌路惊笑) and The Queens (我是女王). All of them will have a tough time competing in a crowded market.

China Box Office Weekend Actuals: 'Furious 7' Breaks Single Day Record; 'Kingsman' Third Highest Grossing Imported Film of 2015 on April 13, 2015


by Jonathan Papish

China's EntGroup reports that Fast & Furious 7 (速度与激情7) raced to $62.69 million on its opening Sunday, smashing the single day record of $35.88 million previously held by Transformers: Age of Extinction (变形金刚4). The latest installment in the action series also scored $8 million in midnight screenings from Saturday night, more than double Transformer 4's $3.38 million. 

Despite a Sunday opening, Furious 7 accounted for 64% of China's total box office take this weekend and 90% of Sunday's total thanks to a wide release that saw the film playing on nearly 2 out of every 3 movie screens in the Middle Kingdom. 

In second place, Jacky Wu's Wolf Warriors (战狼) dropped 54% to grab $15.59 million, raising its cume to $69.53 million after 11 days of release. The majority of Warriors total came on Friday and Saturday ($12.83 million) before Furious 7 appeared on screens.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (王牌特工:特工学院) climbed up a spot to third place this weekend with $7.83 million, 53% off last week. Colin Firth's action flick has now grossed $74.93 million after its third weekend which makes it the third highest-grossing imported film of 2015 behind The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies ($123.1 million) and Big Hero 6 ($84.55 million).

The rest of the top ten for this weekend is below.


UPDATED $68.6 Million Opening Day For 'Furious 7' and $8 Million in Midnight Screenings Break Records in China on April 11, 2015


SUNDAY UPDATE #2: Universal reports Furious 7 grossed an estimated $68.6 million on opening day, the highest box office, widest release and biggest attendance ever in one day in China.

SUNDAY UPDATE #1: EntGroup now reports Furious 7 took in $8.04 million from Sunday midnight screenings. 

Early estimates show Furious 7 smashed the box office record for midnight screenings in China early Sunday morning. The film sped to $7.4 million, more than double the previous record of $3.38 million set by Transformers: Age of Extinction which also went on to become the highest grossing film in China's box office history. Stay tuned to for weekend actuals and a full global report tomorrow morning.

Wanda Cinema's Revenues Up 33% in 2014; Added 369 Screens on April 10, 2015


Jonathan Papish

According to its first annual report after going public in January, Wanda Cinema Line had operating revenues of $860 million, a 32.7% increase over 2013. Box office revenue accounted for $660 million, while net profits were $129 million, both 33% percent year-to-year growth. 

Wanda's cinemas were visited by 102 million moviegoers in 2014 and it's the first movie chain in China to break the 100 million mark. Wanda's market share is now 14.2% and is China's top cinema in terms of revenue, number of visits, and market share for the 6th consecutive year.

The report attributes the company's revenue growth in 2014 to cinema expansion. Forty new movie theaters were built in 2014, adding 369 screens and bringing Wanda Cinema's total to 182 cinemas with 1,616 screens across China.

In addition, Wanda Cinema Line saw a 200% increase in online ticket sales in 2014, accounting for $193 million in its sales revenue. The company now has the world's largest cinema member club with over 26 million members.

Wanda's surge over the past year can be attributed to China's stellar box office growth in 2014, up 36% to $4.8 billion. China's burgeoning middle class in urban areas are seeking out more entertainment and leisure activities and now have the disposable income to buy movie tickets. "Chinese people are developing a habit of watching movies in cinemas, propelling the fast development of theater chains," said Wanda's financial report.

At present, Wanda Cinema Group is clearly the market leader but rivals China Film Stellar (中影星美), Guangdong Dadi Cinema (广东大地) and Shanghai United (上海联合) are quickly becoming heavy contenders. Last week, China Film Stellar and Guangdong Dadi each had 1.73 million visits to their theaters, and Shanghai United had 1.4 million compared to Wanda's 2.4 million visits. Wanda's rivals have yet to release their 2014 financial reports.

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