Source: China Daily Published: 2019-01-11
China's movie box office reached a record 60.98 billion yuan ($8.88 billion) last year, up 9 percent from 2017, with domestic movies accounting for 62.5 percent of the total, according to the State Film Administration. What new features and trends were visible in Chinese films, and how can domestic filmmakers improve their products in the future?
Filmmakers must work on a wide variety of topics
The box office has set a new record, but it may hit the ceiling at 80 billion yuan in the next few years, as the numbers of cinemas and on-screen movies have nearly reached a saturation point.
Since the number of cinemas in the country is limited, just about more than 20 percent of the movies made can be screened every year. Although the situation has improved with the number of movie screens across China reaching 60,079 from 50,776 in 2017, the average attendance in cinemas has been relatively low since 2008, at times dropping to as low as 15 percent.
Worse, since cinema chains have mushroomed in areas that have seen a real estate boom only recently, they are not free of the bubble that exists in the property industry. Some cinema chains have even gone bankrupt.
So now the need is to ensure the cinemas are used to the optimum level, by attracting more viewers, which would allow more domestic movies to be screened and more filmmakers to face the audience and box office test.
It's worth noting that in recent years, even very expensive films either based on popular novels or showcasing big celebrities have not fared well at the box office. On the other hand, the overwhelming popularity of Wolf Warriors and Operation Red Sea reflect China's growing national power and its gradual rise as a soft power.
Besides, today's youths are interested in movies with realistic topics, which are closely connected to their own life. For example, Dying to Survive, a film on a group of people fighting against cancer, has won excellent reviews, and was the third-highest revenue earner at the box office last year.
The popularity of such movies suggests our filmmakers need to work on a wide variety of topics, instead of banking on stars in a bid to earn profits. The subject, imagination, treatment and technique are more important than even the biggest star for a movie. For example, Dangal, an Indian movie released in 2016, won all-round praise for its subject and treatment both of which were highly relatable to the Chinese people. Dangal also showed that Chinese filmmakers lack imagination, as they are yet to make a film on sports that the people can easily relate to.
Industry may improve with deeper reform
China's record box office in 2018 is the fruit of the development of the cultural industry during the 40 years of reform and opening-up.
Although unpredictable changes in the global situation have lowered some expectations from China's film industry, especially as it could be subjected to new regulations, we could still be confident Chinese audiences would remain as enthusiastic about films and other forms of entertainment. In fact, more people could end up watching films to divert their attention from the growing uncertainties.
Besides, the cultural industry's ability to overcome pressure and adapt to a new environment should not be underestimated, as it could turn a complex and challenging situation into an advantage by exhibiting more creativity and producing better-quality movies.
The United States' box office of $12 billion last year was also a record, but it was achieved mainly by raising ticket prices rather than higher audience attendance.
In contrast, China has enough room to explore the cultural pursuit of middle-income groups and residents of third-and fourth-tier cities to increase box office revenues.
But the box office is not the sole benchmark of judging whether a film industry has improved. Instead, the quality of its development, especially the kind of movies it makes, should be the focus in the next phase of its transition.
Hopefully, further reform and opening-up will help the film industry produce high-quality movies.
Zhang Yiwu is a senior fellow with Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.