If you need further proof that China is gradually losing interest in Hollywood sensationalism in favor of homegrown films, the latest piece of evidence comes in the form of a coming-of-age tale called Tiny Times. In preparation for its official release on Thursday, the Chinese drama will have a sneak preview tonight, Wednesday evening, on over 600 screens in 60 cities across China. Ambition is high, given the huge reception it received at its world premiere at the Shanghai International Film Festival. The anticipation is that Tiny Times will sell out in every single screening.

 

001fd04cf34a128abf2a3aIf you’re curious about that title, it’s not a film about a newspaper for short people, so stop asking. Tiny Times is the story of four female university graduates trying to find their place in life as adults. The film is an adaptation of the best-selling novel of the same name, and is directed by its author, Guo Jingming. Tiny Time’s central protagonist is Lin Shao, played in the film by Mini Yang Mi, who faces real-life challenges of securing a job and dealing with overbearing bosses. What young adult, Chinese or America, couldn’t relate to that?

 

The appeal to young adults is unmistakable, which is exactly the demographic the people behind Tiny Times are looking to capitalize on. The Chinese youth market is undergoing near-constant metamorphosis, as evident in a recent statistic that suggested that the average age of a typical moviegoer in China went from 25 to 21 in the span of three years. With the changing environment in China’s movie-going crowd, their advertising methods must also adapt to survive. Billboard advertising was thrown under the bus in favor of Weibo, of which Guo has almost 20 million followers, and other social media outlets. In other words: Billboards are for your grandpa!Tiny-Times-8

 

According to Guo, young Chinese moviegoers are “impulsive” and “really, really need to see the film the moment it’s available.” If his assertion of China’s youth is correct, tonight’s Tiny Times is likely to perform as expected. It’s not difficult to see the parallels between this sneak preview and the widely popular midnight showings of countless summer blockbusters in America. That being said, they clearly got the idea from us. You’re welcome, China. You’re welcome.

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No, it’s not a wacky sit-com premise that I’m certainly not writing a pilot script for. Let me explain . . .

 

the_great_gatsby_trailerPrime Focus, the Indian VFX major, Hong-Kong’s AID Partners Capital, and Chinese partner Zhejiang Jingqi Wenhua recently forged a joint venture to bring Chinese film/TV to India. At the Shanghai International Film Festival, Prime Focus announced that it would be opening a new office in Beijing later this year. Prime Focus, which is based in Mumbai, already has offices in Los Angeles, Vancouver, New York, and London.

 

Even if the name “Prime Focus” doesn’t sound familiar to you, you’ve most likely seen their work without realizing it. The VFX Company has collaborated on numerous Hollywood projects like The Great Gatsby, which opened the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, where they provided 3D conversion and archive footage colorization. Prime Focus was also responsible for the 3D conversion of the 1987 Academy Award-winning film The Last Emperor, which also screened at Cannes. Two of this summer’s major blockbusters, World War Z and White House Down, were both given Prime Focus’ 3D treatment. Their past credits include Men in Black 3, Wrath of the Titans, Star Wars: Episode one – The Phantom Menace, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the list goes on and on . . .world-war-z-poster-banner

 

The CEO of Prime Focus, Ramki Sankaranarayanan, recently remarked, “We are all set to bring the best of Prime Focus to China, one of the largest content markets in the world.” Sounds like someone tipped him off that China has become the second largest film market in the world. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll be waiting by the mailbox for my check.

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the-croods-2It looks like Django Unchained will have some company in the Chinese cinema’s discard pile, because DreamWorks’ The Croods was pulled from theaters in China two weeks before its run would end. Don’t worry; it wasn’t because Chinese moviegoers found the movie too violent or sexual, at least one hopes no one found it to be. This time around, the reason the animated blockbuster was pulled has to do with the local competition and their cry for fairness.

 

Initially, when The Croods first opened in China, its run would start on April 20 and end May 21. However, the film performed greater than anticipated and was extended to June 24. The move to milk the animated feature at the Chinese box-office ignited the wrath of domestic filmmakers. The original plan was, after The Croods ends its run in May, China would showcase its own animated movies on June 1, also known as China’s Children’s Day.

 

The-Croods-wallpapers-11When the Hollywood CGI film was granted an extension, Chinese filmmakers rallied together to form what is known as “the protection of domestic product month.” Their intent was to ensure that Chinese cinemas would not be saturated with foreign product, allowing their own work would not be thrown under the bus by major Hollywood competition. This event mirrors last year’s “protection month,” which took place in July 2012 and ensured the release of The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spider-Man were pushed to August for the same reasons. History has a way of repeating itself.

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django-unchained-4It’s been a long, arduous road for Django Unchained to get a release in China, but unlike the film’s protagonist (it’s Django, in case you missed that) the film dies a horrible death in the hands of the Chinese moviegoers. Sony jumped over a lot of hurdles, specifically China’s intense censorship agenda, in order to get a re-release in China. However, despite their flexibility with China’s government censorship, Quentin Tarantino’s latest film has only made $2.5 million since its May 12 release in China.

 

If you haven’t been following the Django vs. China saga, allow me to bring you up to speed. After a very successful run all over the world and grossing over $400 million globally, Django Unchained released in China on April 11. In a bizarre 180, the film was ordered by the Chinese government to be removed from theaters only a few seconds after it was screened. The details as to why the film was pulled are hazy, though some believe one or two Chinese officials saw the film and demanded that it be evacuated from the theaters. Although Django already underwent editing and more editing to make it acceptable for a Chinese release (i.e. trimming the violence and cutting the nudity), it was not allowed back in theaters until it was completely sanitary for the eyes and ears of China’s audiences. After some additional nip-tucking, Django Unchained was ready for round two with China on May 12, only to go down swinging.

 

So why did Django bomb after fighting so hard to stay in Chinese theaters?django-unchained-29

 

At least one of many things could have contributed to the demise of the ultra-violent Western’s China tour. For starters, there was heavy competition for Django in China’s box-office from Hollywood (Iron Man 3, Oblivion, The Croods) as well as China’s homegrown goods (So Young, American Dreams). In addition, the first screening of the film was pirated and streamed on the Internet so, when faced with the choice of having to pay to watch the goody-two-shoes version or seeing the naughty version for free, many chose the latter. It’s interesting to note that Django Unchained is Quentin Tarantino’s first film to be released in China (if you’re wondering why, watch just one of his films and get back to me). For his own sake, hopefully this setback won’t deter him from attempting the same feat with future projects. Better luck next time!

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4220xtylnjiazkIf you aren’t familiar with the name Jia Zhangke, you should be. The Chinese director recently won Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival for his hyper-violent entry A Touch of Sin. By now you’re very aware of the rising film market that China presents, and in case you forgot, it’s currently the second largest in the world. Unfortunately for China, it doesn’t offer much in the way of globally accepted creativity. Last week, we reported on the Beijing International Screenwriting Competition, which sought American writers for film projects involving China’s capital city. With Jia’s win at Cannes, China’s film industry may finally be getting the global recognition it desperately wants/deserves.

 

Jia is known for being socially relevant in his films: The World (2004), Still Life (2006). As a result, much of his earlier work was produced without the official approval of the state. In addition, Jia has yet to have an official release in China, even after co-producing his films with the state-backed Shanghai Film Group.

 

Acting as a dramatization of real life events, A Touch of Sin follows the accounts of four storylines that intersect at various points in the film. a-touch-of-sinEach story is based off of recent and controversial news in China: a miner who attempted to bring down the corrupt leaders in his village with a shotgun, an immigrant who took up armed robbery, a sauna receptionist who stabbed a patron who tried to buy sex from her, and a young man who killed himself in an iPhone factory. There is also a fare amount of references to the Wenzhou train accident back in 2011, an incident that killed 40 people and was covered-up by Chinese authorities. When news of the cover-up broke, a scandal erupted which lead to a series of censorships in the Chinese social media and press.

 

In an interview following his Best Screenplay win, Jia explained that, unlike his previous work, A Touch of Sin has already been confirmed for an official release in China. Not only that, but Jia is confident that the Chinese government won’t completely censor it. He makes a bold assumption here, considering China’s vast censorship agenda when it comes to its films, as well as the violent content and social/political commentary of his latest film. Jia hopes that A Touch of Sin will be a first step in changing China, and goes on to say, “Corruption is the most talked about issue in China. It’s a subject that the Chinese government and Chinese society can no longer afford to face.”

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feature-filmIf you were looking to capitalize on your creative writing skills and enter the China based screenwriting competition, I’m afraid you’re too late. The Beijing International Screenwriting Competition, held by the Beijing International Creative Industry Corporation, officially announced its 15 winning contestants. The winners will be flown to Beijing where they will receive their cash reward of $1000, along with a chance to participate in producing their films.

 

In case you missed it, the Chinese government announced in March that they would be holding a script-writing contest seeking entries from American writers looking for a chance to see there work have a shot at getting filmed. For those willing to submit, the contest would accept feature-length or short-film scripts. The only catch, however, was that each story would take place in (or otherwise involve) Beijing. The idea of a Chinese writing competition targeting American screenwriters came about after the limited release of Lost in Thailand in the U.S. box-office. While Lost became the highest grossing domestic film in Chinese history, it had a dismal opening in America, and was immediately pulled from theaters. The competition was initially announced on March 4, with the deadline for feature films in April 7 and short-films in April 20.

 

The Grand Prize winners who submitted short-film scripts, seven in all, will not only be jetting to Beijing for their cash reward, but will also have the opportunity to work directly with the Chinese filmmakers charged with bringing their work to life. The details for such a collaboration have not yet been finalized, though it is already determined that each film will have a budget of $10,000. Once they’ve achieved their final product, each short-film will be shown on LeTV, the Chinese equivalent of YouTube. Fortunately for all writers involved in the contest, they will retain ownership of their work after the final product is shown, meaning they can take their films to various festivals if they wish. As for those fortunate enough to submit a winning feature-length script, they will stay in Beijing to compete for the Grand Prize of $15,000.

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974c8211d0e94fca9214ca0923cc8521For the past two weeks, Iron Man 3 has been a box-office juggernaut that continues to siphon money from moviegoers across the globe. The third installment of the Marvel/Disney spectacle hasn’t lost much momentum, even amidst stiff competition from The Great Gatsby and Star Trek Into Darkness, all of which are in 3D. Even with a strong opening in China, and grossing over $1 billion worldwide, the Chinese box-office has found a new object of cinematic desire: American Dreams in China.

 

Spanning from the 1980s to the early 2000s, American Dreams in China (directed by Peter Chan) follows three friends as they attempt to build a school in China that teaches English. The main characters (Cheng, Meng, and Wang) have ambitions to go to America to find their fortune, but realize that it isn’t possible due to relationship difficulties and being unable to attain a study visa. When all three hit bottom, they team up to co-found New Dream, a school for Chinese citizens who want to learn English. As it is with most rags-to-riches stories, success comes with a price, and the three risk being torn apart by their business endeavor. It is alleged that American Dreams is based off of a true story, which may have contributed to its success.

 

While Iron Man 3 holds steady after earning $13.5 million last week in China, American Dreams raked in more than $16.3 million since it opened on May 17. If that doesn’t sound like a major accomplishment, it took Oblivion over a week to earn the same amount of money during its run. According to speculation in the Chinese film industry, American Dreams is expected to outperform Iron Man 3 in the Chinese mainland. While China has shown a fondness for Hollywood blockbusters, the country has a newfound affinity for their domestic films. For some perspective on the matter, the top two grossing films of all time in China are Avatar and Lost In Thailand.

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Zhang YimouMost of us are well aware of China’s one-child rule, the nationwide policy to prevent overpopulation by limiting families to producing a single offspring.  Intentionally or not, Zhang Yimou, the acclaimed director of Hero and House of Flying Daggers, has brought notoriety to the population-controlling rule by having as many as 7 children with 4 different women. If these reports are to be believed, Zhang could find himself the center point in a massive controversy.

 

China’s one-child policy has roots that date back to the first half of the 1900s. While under the leadership of Mao Zedong, the people of China were encouraged to multiply as much as they desired to overcome infant high mortality rates and low life expectancies of the time. Mao also believed that the higher the population, the stronger his country would be. As a result, China’s population increased to nearly a billion in the 1970s. After the exponential population increase, the Chinese government forged the one-child rule, and began enforcing it later in the same decade.

 

While there are exceptions to China’s policy on reproduction, generally it will only allow a second child before you are cut off from all breeding privileges. Zhang allegedly has had 3 children with his current wife, Chen Ting, one child with his first wife, Xiao Hua, and 3 more from two unidentified women. Though an offense like violating the one-child law is hardly punishable by imprisonment, it is typical enforced with a heavy fine and loss of work-related benefits. If the reports of Zhang’s reproductive habits prove true, he could be facing a fine as big as 160 million yuan, or 26 million in U.S. dollars.

 

Since news of the popular director’s extended family hit China, its people have been hitting up social media to point out how a rich and famous individual could so blatantly undermine a law that applies to every Chinese citizen. Weibo is on fire with users who are openly irate that someone with fame and fortune could easily maneuver around China’s laws and go unpunished. Assuming Zhang is the father of 7 children and suffers no legal consequences for his unlawful multiplication, it would hardly be the first time a public figure to be granted amnesty in the midst of controversy. If you disagree, look up anything Lindsay Lohan has done in the past 10 years.

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Tang Wei & Wu Xiubo

Tang Wei & Wu Xiubo

The homegrown, Seattle-set romantic comedy is now the tenth highest-grossing domestic release ever in the country.

 

HONG KONG – Having generated widespread critical praise since its release on March 21, Finding Mr Right has consolidated its place as the breakout hit of the first half of 2013 by becoming the tenth highest-grossing homegrown release ever in China.

 

Having topped daily box-office charts every day for the past three weeks, the film’s grip on pole position will be under challenge this week, however, with the onslaught posed by another domestic romantic comedy, A Wedding Invitation, as well as Hollywood import G.I. Joe: Retaliation, which opened strongly in China on Monday.

 

Xue Xiaolu’s romantic comedy, which revolves around the budding Seattle-set romance between a feisty material girl (played by Tang Wei) and a down-and-out doctor-turned-driver (Wu Xiubo), took another $12 million (74.5 million yuan) from Apr. 8 to Apr. 14 to arrive at a total of $76.1 million (471 million yuan) by the end of Sunday, according to figures released on the state-backed China Film News blog.

 

This latest total has seen Finding Mr. Right outdo Founding of a Republic, the 2009 propaganda blockbuster about the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, in the overall top-ten box office rankings in Chinese film history. The film is expected to leapfrog Feng Xiaogang’s 2010 rom-com If You Are The Oneby the end of Monday, as only $0.4 million (2.5 million yuan) separates the two films, according to the latest figures made available on Sunday.

 

Continuing on a strong run of domestic releases, the weekly box office standings are dominated by homegrown hits, which have capitalized to a certain extent on the sudden withdrawal of Django Unchained from Chinese screens on Apr. 11. Having raked in an impressive US$9.9 million (61 million yuan) since its release on Apr. 12, A Wedding Invitation – another romantic comedy starring mainland Chinese actor Bai Baihe and Taiwanese star Eddie Peng, and directed by Korea’s Oh Ki-hwan – came second in the rankings, followed by Guan Hu’s The Chef, The Actor and The Scoundrel (US$8.8 million/54.5 million yuan, with a total of $40.4 million (250 million yuan) and Johnnie To’s Drug War(US$7.8 million/48 million yuan, total $21 million (130 million yuan).

 

Oz The Great and Powerful came a distant fifth in the weekly rankings, adding just $4.7 million (28.8 million yuan) to a Sunday total of $25.9 million (160 million yuan). Hollywood’s hopes for a game-changer would lie with G.I. Joe: Retaliation, which topped the daily box-office charts on Monday with earnings of $5 million (31 million yuan), according to statistics released on the authoritative dianyingpiaofangba microblog.

 

PHOTOS: China Box Office: 10 Highest-Grossing Movies of All Time

 

“Avatar” (James Cameron, 2010), $221.9 million

 

The success of James Cameron‘s Avatar announced China’s arrival as one of the world’s most vibrant film markets — and also one of the most unpredictable. Opening in the first week of January 2010, the 2D version of the movie was pulled early from cinemas by government authorities to make way for better performances by domestic productions. China’s 3D infrastructure was also not nearly as developed then as it is today. Nonetheless, the film was the biggest cinematic event in Chinese history.

 

“Lost in Thailand” (Xu Zheng, 2012), $202.1 million

 

Actor-turned director Xu Zheng’s comedy, about the misadventures of three Chinese men in Thailand, is not just the highest-grossing Chinese-language film ever – it’s probably the most profitable by a wide margin (the film was reportedly made for just $4.8 million). Thanks to the huge earnings of the film, producer Enlight Media is now the second biggest domestic studio player by revenue in the Chinese market, behind only Huayi Brothers.

 

“Transformers: Dark of the Moon” (Michael Bay, 2011), $173.6 million

 

Michael Bay’s white-knuckle robot-on-robot fight-fest opened in China a month after it bowed everywhere else in the world — reportedly to allow Beginning of the Great Revival, the domestic film commemorating the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party, all the exposure and screens it needed to break box-office records. The result: Transformers eventually took three times as much as Revival.

 

“Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons” (Stephen Chow, 2013), $166.8 million

 

Hong Kong comedy actor-director Stephen Chow first established a cult following in mainland China with his 1990s adaptations of the same classic Chinese novel that serves as the basis of Journey to the West. Those popular early efforts — the A Chinese Odyssey series — are nothing compared to Journey in financial terms though. Even though Chow doesn’t appear in this effort,Journey passed the 1-billion yuan threshold ($160 million) in China in just 16 days, four fewer than Lost in Thailand took to reach that milestone — which serves as something of a marker for definitive blockbuster status in China.

 

“Titanic 3D” (James Cameron, 2012), $152.4 million

 

Titanic 3D enjoyed the highest opening-weekend performance in China ever and stunned industry watchers when it generated more revenue in the country than in the U.S. Not that Chinese moviegoers got to see the film in full, though: censors cut the Kate Winslet nudity scene. Some Weibo users (China’s version of Twitter) joked that local officials must have been worried audience members “may reach out their hands for a touch and interrupt other people’s viewing.” That online joke was misreported in the West as an actual government statement, and given coverage as such from the Guardian to the Colbert Report.

 

“CZ12″ (Jackie Chan, 2012), $141 million

 

At the same time that 58-year-old Jackie Chan scored the biggest box office hit of his career, he made one gaffe after another in the press, from publicly advocating curbs on civil rights in Hong Kong, to dissing his career-making Rush Hour films (calling them the movies he “most dislikes”),  to suggesting that the U.S. is “the biggest corrupted country in the world” (sic).

 

“Painted Skin: Resurrection” (Wuershan, 2012), $113.3 million

 

The sequel to Gordon Chan’s first Painted Skin project held down the title of biggest Chinese film ever for five months before the Lost in Thailand juggernaut came along. But the film’s short reign wasn’t short of controversy, as many commentators noted that the film benefited from a decision by government authorities to delay the release of The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises to give Wuershan a competition-free run in the box office.

 

“Let the Bullets Fly” (Jiang Wen, 2010), $108.8 million

 

The commercial success of Let the Bullets Fly stems very much from Jiang Wen’s audacious, no-punches-pulled critique of contemporary China and its discontents, as the film takes aim at both rampant corruption at the top and cowardly indifference among the masses (at the time of the film’s release, many rumors circulated about censors trying to pull the film from its record-breaking run). Jiang’s film Devils on the Footsteps (2000), a dark satire which questions nationalism, remains banned in China.

 

“Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” (Brad Bird, 2012), $108.5 million

 

The M:I franchise stumbled in China a bit during its last installment — the country’s censors objected to MI3‘s depiction of Shanghai as a city filled with indifferent citizens and ugly laundry lines — but Tom Cruise’s latest assured all was well for the IMF team in the far East: the film topped the China box-office for three straight weeks. And proof that Chinese viewers take their popcorns movies seriously, during the film’s release an online article exploring the scientific plausibility of Cruise’s suction gloves was a viral hit on Chinese social media.

 

“Aftershock” (Feng Xiaogang, 2010), $108.2 million

 

Feng Xiaogang’s gripping chronicle of a family recovering from a devastating earthquake in northern China in 1976 – which left more than 300,000 dead – was China’s first Imax production. The shaking opening sequences of utter chaos only served as a prologue for the film’s main narrative, though: many critics have attributed Aftershock’s to the way in which it is actually more of an allegory for the country’s surge towards prosperity.

 

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Shopping in various street brands stores in the US has become a must for outbound travelers from China. Most of Chinese people are so surprised to see their middle-class brands are sold a lot cheaper in America.

The price of a pair of regular Levi’s jeans is around $60 and they often offer discounts. However in mainland China, such jeans is always like around 600 RMB (about $100)and rarely on sale. GAP, sells the same items using the USD price times the exchange rate of RMB in China. A pair of GAP’s jeans will probably cost you around 500 RMB and there is no 70% off sale as in the states. Most surprisingly, there is a huge price difference of Coach products between China and US. I just found out that a Coach handbag is selling at $198 in its American online store while in its Chinese online store the price of the same product is 2500 RMB (about $397), which is doubled. No wonder many Chinese students would fill their suitcases full of Coach handbags when they go back to China.

 

It is well known that Chinese consumers are willing to pay a premium for recognized brands. Being western brands, they will always have a certain cachet with the Chinese consumers. The China market is not familiar with such brands, which gives them a chance to build a new image with high-end label when they enter the market, hence the price increased. These brands would choose some high-end stores when they entered the China market to present their high-end images, and so their prices are higher than those of mid-range Chinese products. As the China market is booming and the need for foreign brands of Chinese people is getting stronger and stronger, American brands just quickly go there for money.

 

Many Western brands have ambitious plans for China. Especially in mainland China, US street brands’ consumers are expending so fast, there’s still much room for these brands to grow. In GAP 2012 annual financial report, the first special note on forward-looking statements is its international expansion, including opening additional GAP stores in China. GAP aimed to have 45 stores in Hong Kong and mainland China by the end of the 2012. Coach, on the other hand, will not only open around 30 new stores this year in mainland China, but also strongly promote its E-commerce business in 2013.

 

However, there are still some problems coming up. One thing is that many US street brands fall into a middle-class image trap: the product is fairly expensive in China but carries little prestige. Customers buy their clothes because they want to present themselves as middle class people. But anything in the middle is struggling: they trade up or trade down. Most Chinese middle class people believe that they are on their way to becoming the rich, so a lot of them start to chase low-entry-level luxury goods. The other challenge is design. Chinese consumers’ needs and preferences can possibly differ from Americans’. For example, GAP’s product is considered too bland compared to its price, people expect to get more; and it isn’t considered trendy or up-to-date enough. American brands need to have a better understanding toward their Chinese customers.

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