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Number of imported films in China reaches record high
   2016-11-09 10:44:45    Global Times      Web Editor: zhangjin

Director of American fantasy film 'Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children', Tim Burton, attends a press conference on Tuesday, November 8, 2016 in Beijing. He is promoting his upcoming film, which is scheduled to hit Chinese theatres next month. [Photo provided to CRIENGLISH.com]

Chinese moviegoers will be spoilt for choice this month, with over 50 films, some of which are highly anticipated, from home and abroad hitting the cinemas in the month.

November will see the release of 12 foreign films, including Doctor Strange, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Allied, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, taking the number of imported films in the Chinese market to a record high of 39 this year. The number was 34 last year.

Some domestic films are also highly anticipated, like I am not Madame Bovary, directed by Feng Xiaogang and starring Fan Bingbing, which has already won awards at Toronto International Film Festival and San Sebastian International Film Festival, and was nominated for many other awards. 

Even though most Chinese audiences are already used to overseas blockbusters flushing into the Chinese market in recent years, the cinematic booty of this month is still quite unprecedented.

Growing imports

Marvel Studio's new blockbuster Doctor Strange which features global heartthrob Benedict Cumberbatch is already in cinema to kick off the frenzy, followed by Ang Lee's Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, comedy Keeping Up With the Joneses, Disney's Moana, and Indian thriller Fan starring Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan.

Some industry insiders believe the fierce competition in November comes from the sagging situation of China's movie industry this year. As China's box office reached 44 billion yuan ($6.49 billion) in 2015, many had expected the number to continue growing to 60 billion. Yet, so far it looks like breaking the 50 billion mark will not be easy.

Only 24.6 billion yuan was collected at box office in the first half of 2016. By the end of October, the number rose to 38.9 billion.

October's box office totaled a meager 3.4 billion yuan, which is 800 million less compared to a year ago. Meanwhile, October became the fifth consecutive month of declining box office. 

In such a sagging situation, many hope imported films would help.

Film industry analyst Jiang Yong told the Beijing Daily that more blockbusters are needed to boost China's film market as only two months are left in the year. And imported films are no doubtmost likely to fill the gap.For example, Zootopia wasn't highly anticipated at first but then rose to the No.1 spot at box office due to its positive reviews.

"At least the box office needs to grow by 10 percent over last year, so it needs more imported films to generate the revenues," Jiang said.

Shi Chuan, a professor at Shanghai Theatre Academy, prefers to see this as a stress test. "The agreement between China and the US on imports of certain number of US films will expire next year, and it is possible China's film market will see the imports of more films, or may be there will be no quota limitations on imported films at all."

He foresees two possible changes when the market is more open. There will be more imported films, and more companies will have the rights to distribute imported films and share the box office income. Currently, there are only two companies with such rights, China Film Corporation and Huaxia Film Distribution.

Success of local films

Although imported films are showing strong momentum and domestic films are facing much stronger competition, "we are confident to face the challenge," said Rao Shuguang, secretary of the China Film Association, cited by the Beijing Daily. He believes the rise in imported films is not as terrifying as many think, going by the situation in 2015. In 2015, domestic films took around 60 percent of all box office and it was the first time that imported films took less than 40 percent share of China's film market.

This year, there were successful films like Marvel's superhero blockbusters and Zootopia, but also poorly received films like Ben-Hur, which got less than 180 million yuan.

Shi shares a similar view. He believes domestic films have improved both in quantity and quality. But Hollywood films, which were considered invaders in the market, remain mostly the same.

Ever since the first Hollywood film that was released in China, The Fugitive (1994), audiences have gradually become familiar with the mode and clich¨¦s of Hollywood films in the past 20 years, their outstanding sound and visual effects, action scenes and fancy cast.

"Although it's also partially due to the quota limitations, but the assembly line work of Hollywood will bring fatigue among the audiences," Shi said.

He also noticed a trend that audiences in small cities prefer domestic films.

Last year, almost 70 percent of the box office of imported films came from first and second-tier cities. As more cinemas open in small cities and towns, the viewership of domestic films will continue to grow.

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