China in 2016: Top 10 Box-Office Hits

January 5, 2017

China’s domestic box office in 2016 finally saw its dramatic slowdown, grossing 45.7 billion yuan (US$6.5 billion), only up 3.73% from 2015 if calculated in Chinese money, but downward from 2015 if calculated in US money (this is because Chinese yuan depreciated quite a bit against US dollars in 2015). The industry talk about China capable of taking over the United States to become the largest film market in the world may quiet down for the time being. As Chinese economy slows down, we’ll probably never see the kind of dramatic growth we witnessed in the past several years or decade again.

Hong Kong-based filmmaker Stephen Chow's sci-fi fantasy "The Mermaid" was China's box-office champion in 2016, grossing US$527 million or 3.4 billion Chinese yuan.

Hong Kong-based filmmaker Stephen Chow’s sci-fi fantasy “The Mermaid” was China’s box-office champion in 2016, grossing US$527 million or 3.4 billion Chinese yuan.

Despite this slowdown, more cinemas and screens were added in 2016. Mainland China now has 41,179 professional screens in total, making it the world’s biggest theater owner.

The following is the list of the Top 10 Box Office Films of 2015 in China (in Chinese yuan/RMB; exchange rate: 1 US$=6.9 RMB):

1. The Mermaid (美人魚;d. Stephen Chow); box office: 3.4 billion yuan;
2. Zootopia (d. Byron Howard, Rich Moore); box office: 1.53 billion yuan;
3. Warcraft: The Beginning (d. Duncan Jones); box office: 1.47 billion yuan;
4. Captain America: Civil War (d. Anthony Russo, Joe Russo); box office: 1.25 billion yuan;
5. The Monkey King II (西游记之孙悟空三打白骨精;d. Cheang Pou-soi); box office: 1.2 billion yuan;
6. Operation Mekong (湄公河行动;d. Dante Lam); box office: 1.184 billion yuan;
7. From Vegas to Macau III (澳门风云3;d. Wong Jing, Andrew Lau); box office: 1.18 billion yuan;
8. Time Raiders (盗墓笔记;d. Daniel Lee); box office: 1.04 billion yuan;
9. Kung Fu Panda III (d. Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Alessandro Carloni); box office: 1.02 billion yuan;
10. The Jungle Book (d. Jon Favreau); box office: 979 million yuan.

Note that Zhang Yimou’s controversial new film The Great Wall starring Matt Damon, which was released in China on Dec. 15, 2016, did not make the list. As of December 31, 2016, it earned 978 million yuan, one million yuan shy of the 10th spot. It has so far passed the 1 billion yuan mark, however. The China-US co-production is scheduled to release in the US market on Feb. 17, 2017.

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CFP: King Hu and Wuxia Films, May 2017

July 29, 2016

King Hu and Wuxia: The Chinese Martial Arts Film as an International Genre

Call for Papers

Center for Cinematic Studies, Shanghai Theatre Academy
The King Hu Foundation, Los Angeles, U.S.A.
May 26-28, 2017

The year 2017 marks the 20th anniversary of the passing of the great Chinese-language martial arts film director King Hu (1932-1997). With the works of Come Drink with Me (1966), Dragon Gate Inn (1967), A Touch of Zen (1971) and the like, King Hu brought Chinese-language cinema to the spotlight of the international film community, and elevated the martial-arts genre to a globally recognized place. Blending elements of Japanese samurai films, Western editing techniques, and classical Chinese philosophy, King Hu nurtured a new school of martial arts films, which would subsequently inspire some of the most well-known contemporary filmmakers, such as Ang Lee, Zhang Yimou, Tsui Hark, and Quentin Tarantino.

Director King Hu's memorial site at the Rose Hills Memorial Park, Whittier, California.

Director King Hu’s memorial site at the Rose Hills Memorial Park, Whittier, California.

To celebrate the legacy of King Hu, and to explore the martial arts film as an international genre, Shanghai Theatre Academy (STA), in association with the Los Angeles-based King Hu Foundation, will jointly host the “King Hu and Wuxia” international symposium between May 26 and 28, 2017 (Registration Day: May 26, 2017), to be held at STA, Shanghai. In addition to exchange of ideas, participants will also get the rare chance to see some of King Hu’s personal items on display, the first such exhibition ever held in the world.

The symposium welcomes all articles and proposals related to the subject. It is particularly interested in the ones that address the theme of “crossing” and “transnational,” such as King Hu as a “border-crossing” or “transnational” filmmaker and the martial arts film as a “border-crossing” and “global” genre that is in dialogue with other global film movements. Please send your articles or proposals to Prof. Shaoyi Sun at shaoyis@gmail.com

Paper/Proposal submission deadline: May 7, 2017.


Book Launch Event on Sept. 12, 2016

July 14, 2016

The Fourth Edition of the groundbreaking work The Movie Business Book, which ushered in a new area of studies in cinema when it was first published, will be released by the Focal Press early next month.

The Fourth Edition of The Movie Business Book (editor: Jason Squire) to be released by the Focal Press

The Fourth Edition of The Movie Business Book (editor: Jason Squire) to be released by the Focal Press

The book was meticulously edited and organized by one of my former mentors at USC School of Cinematic Arts, Jason Squire. Jason’s longstanding research helped establish “movie business” as a distinct area of academic study. His global honors include Visiting Professor, Beijing Film Academy and Master of Entertainment Studies, DeTao Masters Academy, Shanghai. After an executive career of work with United Artists, 20th Century-Fox, and with producer Alberto Grimaldi (Gangs of New York; Fellini Satyricon; The Good, The Bad and The Ugly), Squire joined the USC faculty. He has lectured in China, Japan and the United Kingdom. Media appearances include CCTV-6; China Daily; CNN Money; La Opinion; Le Monde; Los Angeles Times; Marketplace; NHK Japan; Reuters; The New York Times; Variety; Wall Street Journal.

Barnes & Noble at The Grove, Located in The Grove Address: The Grove, 189 The Grove Dr K 30, Los Angeles, CA 90036, U.S.A.

Barnes & Noble at The Grove, Located in The Grove
Address: The Grove, 189 The Grove Dr K 30, Los Angeles, CA 90036, U.S.A.

I feel extremely honored to be invited to contribute a chapter on the Chinese film industry to this brand new edition (more than 90% of the contents are new compared to the previous edition, which is also a reflection of the fast changing nature of the business). To promote and celebrate the publication of the book, Barnes & Noble at The Grove has organized a special book launch event at their Southern California flagship store. So, interested parties, please save the date and show up at the Grove:

Place: Barnes & Noble at The Grove, Located in The Grove;
Address: The Grove, 189 The Grove Dr K 30, Los Angeles, CA 90036; Phone: (323) 525-0270
Time: Monday, Sept. 12, 2016 at 7pm.


The Third Nanjing Forum on Film Art

June 11, 2016
The Third Nanjing Forum on Film Art, held at the Nanjing University of the Arts between June 6 and 8, 2016.

The Third Nanjing Forum on Film Art, held at the Nanjing University of the Arts between June 6 and 8, 2016.

During the Third Nanjing Forum on Film Art, held at the Nanjing University of the Arts between June 6 and 8, 2016, I delivered a keynote speech on the subject of “re-writing Chinese film history”. Titled “Cinema 1927: An Experimental Narration on History,” I called on film historians to draw inspirations from literature and history, and to approach film history not as a linear account of what happened cinematically in a nation-state, but as a globally interconnected phenomenon, in which horizontal interconnection is more important than vertical development. One way to highlight this is to focus on the year 1927, a time when cinema was under tremendous transformation and every major film country, including China, produced landmark films, which made this kind of history writing possible and legitimate.


The First Sci-Fi Film Festival in China

June 10, 2016
A dialogue on sci-fi film at the First Sci-Fi Film Festival held at Shanghai's Science and Technology Association Building on May 27, 2016, with professors Jiang Xiaoyuan (specializing in history of science; on my immediate left) and Jiang Hong (specializing in new media; my far left), during which we talked about "her" and "Ex_Machina".

A dialogue on sci-fi film at the First Sci-Fi Film Festival held at Shanghai’s Science and Technology Association Building on May 27, 2016, with professors Jiang Xiaoyuan (specializing in history of science; on my immediate left) and Jiang Hong (specializing in new media; my far left), during which we talked about “her” and “Ex_Machina”.


China in 2015: Top 10 Box-Office Hits

March 13, 2016

China’s domestic box office once again hit all-time high in 2015. Chinese theatres raked in more than 44 billion yuan (close to 7 billion U.S. dollars) in box-office revenue in 2015, a jump of about 48.7% compared to the 2014 figure. China may be able to take over the United States to become the largest film market in the world in a few years. In addition, domestic films made more money at the box office in 2015, reaching 61.58%.

A total of 686 Chinese films were produced in 2015, and 8,035 new screens were added in 2015, mostly in the so-called second-tier or third-tier cities. Mainland China now has 31,627 professional screens in total.

The following is the list of the Top 10 Box Office Films of 2015 in China (in Chinese yuan/RMB; exchange rate: 1 US$=6.5 RMB):

1. Fast and Furious 7 (d. James Wan); box office: 2.43 billion yuan;
2. Monster Hunt (捉妖記;d. Raman Hui); box office: 2.38 billion yuan;
3. Lost in Hong Kong (港囧;d. Zheng XU); box office: 1.61 billion yuan;
4. Mojin: The Lost Legend (尋龍訣;d. Ershan WU); box office: 1.57 billion yuan;
5. Avengers: Age of Ultron (d. Joss Whedon); box office: 1.47 billion yuan;
6. Goodbye Mr. Loser (夏洛特煩惱;d. Fei YAN, Da-Mo PENG); box office: 1.44 billion yuan;
7. Jurassic World (d. Colin Trevorrow, Steven Spielberg); box office: 1.42 billion yuan;
8. Jian Bing Man (煎餅俠;d. Da Peng); box office: 1.16 billion yuan;
9. From Vegas to Macau II (澳門風雲 II;d. WONG Jing, Aman CHANG); box office: 974 million yuan;
10. Monkey King: Hero is Back (西遊記之大聖歸來;d. TIAN Xiao Peng); box office: 954 million yuan.


My Prediction of the 88th Major Oscar Winners

February 16, 2016

oscars2016

I must first confess that I haven’t watched ALL the nominated films this year, particularly the ones in the “Foreign Language category.” This is partly due to the fact that I was not in the states after the nomination list was announced. Despite this, I managed to watch all the major ones on DVD, and felt comfortable to make the following predictions:

Best Picture:

revenantThe eight nominees are decent and deserve our long-lasting attention. But somehow I felt this year’s candidates are relatively weak and not a single one captures my immediate attention and compels me to vote for it (if I was qualified to vote). The one that stands out is once again Mexican American filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant. To me, this film goes beyond survival and revenge, but captures the poetic and mysterious (sometimes religious) nature of the grand American West. The only odds against it is that the film is oftentimes bloody and violent, the elements that might turn some Oscar voters (particularly the old ones) off.

Best Director:

oscars201503It’s time to write a book about this cinematic genius called Alejandro González Iñárritu, or more generally about the “Mexican Invasion of Hollywood” (represented by the three “Amigos” active in Hollywood: del Toro, Alfonso Cuarón, and Alejandro González Iñárritu), a cultural phenomenon that rivals the “German Invasion of Hollywood” in the 1920s. I vote for Alejandro González Iñárritu, because he is not only a filmmaker, but an artist, a poet, and a philosopher as well. I hope the following won’t affect Oscar voters’ decision: if he wins, this is the second consecutive year Alejandro G. Iñárritu receives the best director and best film trophies.

Best Actor in a leading role:

leonardoFinally this year belongs to Leonardo DiCaprio. The inside joke “Dear Academy, why do you hate me?” should eventually evaporate at the 88th Academy Awards ceremony. Leo deserves to have this golden statue and the Academy owes him a great deal for his continuous contribution to the film community. In this category, Leo’s only rival is Eddie Redmayne, who plays the first transgender person in 1920s’ Denmark in The Danish Girl. But Eddie’s disadvantage is actually to compete with himself, meaning that he has to top his depiction of Stephen William Hawking last year in order to win again, which he didn’t.

Best Actress in a leading role:

brie-larsonIt seems none of the nominees in this category stands out as convincingly as its male counterparts. The various awards prior to the Academy Awards, including the BAFTA, the Golden Globe, the Critic’s Choice Award, the Independent Spirit Award, and most notably the SAG Award, indicate that Brie Larson, the relatively unknown actress and singer in Hollywood, will win this trophy. I liked her performance in Room, in which she depicts a kidnapped mother in a strikingly realistic manner. But I also found Saoirse Ronan’s performance in Brooklyn convincing and captivating. For the sake of prediction, though, I go for Brie Larson.

Best Actor in a supporting role:

mark-rylanceIt should be unanimous and unequivocal: the Oscar goes to the British actor Mark Rylance, who portrays a Cold-War Soviet spy in Steven Spielberg’s new feature Bridge of Spies. I didn’t like the film, and thought Spielberg has exhausted his talent and passion in filmmaking after the WWII epic Saving Private Ryan, and there is always a little contrived American moral superiority when he deals with historical subject. Despite this, there is no denying that Mark Rylance’s performance uplifts this otherwise mediocre film. He is calm, restraint, canny, but at the same time smart, dignified, and understanding. It is strange that, just like last year, the “Best Supporting Actor” is usually the easiest to predict and pick (remember last year’s J.K. Simmons in Whiplash?).

Best Actress in a supporting role:

kate-winsletI am still debating on whom I should pick in this category: Kate Winslet in Steve Jobs or Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl? My intuition tells me that Kate Winslet will probably win this title, and it would be a historical moment if Leo presents the golden statue to Kate, a symbolic reunion of the two after their screen romance in Titanic. Just for this reason, I go for Kate Winslet, although Alicia Vikander’s performance is equally unforgettable as a woman painter in The Danish Girl.

Best Animated Feature:

inside-outI think Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out will win. It caused quite a splash among critics when this animated feature came out last summer. Although it is a little too childish, to be able to visualize a girl’s inside thought and emotion and present them on a big screen is itself a marvelous achievement. This is the primitive form of what I call the “brain screen,” meaning that the camera is no longer mainly interested in the depiction of what happens outside a character’s mind, but of what happens inside a person’s mind. Although it is oftentimes simplistic (only a few emotional elements are represented), this animated feature has at least made the initial attempt toward this direction.

Lastly, some general comments: the 88th Academy Awards mark the triumph of big studios, with the 20th Century Fox, Walt Disney, and Warner Brothers receiving 24, 14, and 11 nominations for each. This year’s Oscars is once again not free from controversies, and chief among them is the lack of diversity in its nomination list, or more bluntly, the “White Oscars” phenomenon as many people dubbed it. My reservation, however, is more concerned with the quality of the nominated films. As I said in the beginning, this year’s candidates are relatively weak and far from artistically outstanding. Maybe my expectation is too high, and let’s just enjoy the show, which will be televised live from the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles on Sunday, February 28, 2016 beginning at 5:30pm PT or 8:30pm ET on ABC.