HONG KONG - In "American Dreams in China", Cheng Dongqing is giving a lecture in an abandoned factory in Beijing. Snow falls through the damaged roof and a power cut sends students reaching for their flashlights.
The movie, about how young Chinese in the 1990s tried every means to learn English so they could study overseas, is part of a boom in domestic productions that is outpacing foreign films at the box office in China - the world's second-largest market after the United States and Canada.
Revenues remain far smaller than in North America, but China looks set for another record year as screens are added rapidly, cinemas expand into more cities and themes switch from martial arts to depictions of ordinary people.
"The past half year has seen the Chinese audience identify with and feel proud of their own lives," Peter Chan, the director of "American Dreams in China", said in a recent newspaper interview.
"They want to watch their own lives in the cinema, watch realistic themes."
Based on real stories from Yu Minhong, founder of New York-listed New Oriental Education & Technology Group Inc , and his partners, "American Dreams in China" raked in more than 100 million yuan (S$20.7 million) in its first three days.
The fifth-highest-grossing film in China this year, it has helped total box office sales reach nearly 11 billion yuan in the first six months, according to the government agency that tracks all forms of media.
"This is a big boost to the market and it set the tone for the year-round revenue to exceed 20 billion yuan," said Kady Yang, senior analyst at entertainment consulting firm EntGroup.