Pop culture saves cinema

Pop culture saves cinema
A scene from China's top-grossing film in 2013, Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons

China's lowest-grossing film in 2013 earned just 2,000 yuan (S$412) at the box office.

Memories Look at Me-an arthouse film directed by Song Fang and produced by acclaimed director Jia Zhangke about a working woman's trip back home to a small city to spend time with her parents-won acclaim at several overseas film festivals.

But China's cinemas expected little audience interest and, consequently, didn't give it long runs.

Still, it at least made it to theatres. More than half of the Chinese films made last year were never shown in theatres, according to two recent reports by the China Film Association and Film Art Center, which operates under the auspices of the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles.

Altogether, 638 feature films, excluding made-for-television movies, were produced on the mainland in 2013. That's 107 fewer than in 2012.

But only 250 Chinese films, including productions from Hong Kong and Taiwan, and those co-produced by China and other countries or regions, were shown on the mainland's big screens in 2013.

"There were more co-produced films," the reports note.

"Chinese films still have difficulties going abroad, but there were more foreign participants in the country's filmmaking."

The good news is that China's booming film market has set a new record. The films screened in 2013 earned a total of 21.7 billion yuan, compared to 17 billion yuan in 2012. Fifty-nine movies-32 of which were made in China-crossed the 100 million yuan mark. Domestic films claimed a 58 per cent share of the country's film market in 2013-the highest figure since the 2002 reform of the country's film industry.

The industry reports forecast China will have a bigger film market than the United States by 2020.

Seven of China's 10 top-grossing films were domestic productions. The leading film was the fantasy adventure Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons, which grossed 1.24 billion.

Some 23 films, including Memories Look at Me, each brought in less than 100,000 yuan.

The reports cite a survey that finds more than 60 per cent of filmgoers have at least a college degree. Half are office workers, and 70 per cent visit cinemas at least once a month.

About 60 per cent are women. And nearly 54 per cent are ages 25 to 39. About 33 per cent are 18 to 24.

Small-town youth comprise the fast-growing new target market, the reports say.

Less population mobility in second- and third-tier cities provides a captive audience.

The reports cites the youth romance flick Tiny Times and the martial arts film The Four 2 as examples in which this demographic contributed to commercial success. While neither won much critical acclaim, they catered to small cities' audiences.

"New media now have a strong market influence," the reports say.

"More fictional TV network programs have been adapted into films, and online marketing has become crucial."

The reports revealed matinee attendance is low. They suggest daytime scheduling should appeal to the middle-aged and senior citizens of China's graying society.

The reports identified problems that loom amid the boom.

"Today's movies cash in on what's popular, such as comedy and romance, and neglect the artistic aspects of filmmaking. Some are short in storytelling skills. Action movies, especially historical action movies, have declined in popularity. There were many low-budget comedies whose quality was concerning."

The reports also point out the youth-oriented films that have contributed much to the market's lack of strong emotional drive and creativity. They are extremely similar to one another.

For instance, a total of eight films about bachelor's lives were screened around Nov 11, China's "Singles Day".

"If movies with youth themes remain shallow, they will ultimately harm audience's fragile confidence in this genre that is new to China."

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