Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Newsbites: China Fails to Make the Oscars, Asian Film Award Nominees, and Mainland 2011 Box Office Results

Wei Te-sheng's Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale made the short-list of Oscar nominees, but failed to gain a final nomination.
It’s been a disappointing result for China in the Oscar sweepstakes this week, with no Chinese titles making the nominee list for best foreign film. The complete list of nominations was announced on Tuesday (24 January). The mainland’s hopes were pinned on Zhang Yimou’s new epic about the Nanjing massacre, The Flowers of War, starring Christian Bale. As reported in the last Newsbites post, the film was the highest grossing domestic title in China last year, but it failed to even make the short list of Oscar nominees.

Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale, directed by rising star of the Taiwan industry Wei Te-sheng, made the shortlist but failed to gain a final nomination. You can see the complete list of Oscar nominees here.

Asian Film Award Nominations
China has done better in the nominations for the Asian Film Awards, presented annually by the Hong Kong International Film Festival Society. Nominations were announced earlier this months and Greater China featured strongly. Tsui Hark’s 3D martial arts film Flying Swords of Dragon Gate picked up seven nominations, while The Flowers of War and Warriors of the Rainbow each picked up six nominations. All three films have been nominated in the Best Film category.

The Taiwan-produced You Are the Apple of My Eye, mentioned in my last Newsbites post as the surprise 2011 box office hit in Hong Kong, also picked up two nominations: Michelle Chen is in the running for best actress and Ko Chen-tung for best newcomer. You can see a complete list of the Asian Film Nominations here. The award winners will be announced on 19 March.

2011 Box Office
China Media Monitor Intelligence has been tabulating Chinese box office figures this month, which unsurprisingly show strong growth. According to CMM-I China’s total box office for 2011 was RMB 13.115 billion (around US$2.079 billion), an increase of just under 29 per cent on 2010’s figure. China’s film market is now the world’s third largest in terms of box office, behind the U.S. and Japan.

Takings for domestic titles still lag behind imports, however, despite the protectionist and censorial restrictions mainland China places on foreign films. The top three earners in China for 2011 were all U.S. blockbusters: Transformer 3 (RMB 1.09 billion/US$ 172 million); Kung Fu Panda 2 (RMB 600 million/US$ 95.1 million); and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (RMB 460m/US$ 72.9 million).

The top domestic films lagged way behind the highest grossing U.S. titles, with The Flowers of War pulling in RMB 467 million (US$ 74 million), and the Communist Party’s ode to itself, The Founding of a Party aka Beginning of the Great Revival making RMB 423 million/US$67 million. It should be noted, however, that there were widespread reports of box office figures for Founding of a Party being artificially inflated through various scams.

Christian's prayers were answered, with Flowers of War coming in as China's top-earning domestic titles of 2011.
You can see the full figures for the highest grossing foreign films here and highest grossing domestic titles here. CMM-I has also tabulated the highest earning regions in China in terms of box office here.

New Doco on Ai Weiwei
Artist and filmmaker Ai Weiwei has been in the news a lot this past year, and now filmmaker Alison Klayman has unveiled a documentary about the man entitled Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry. According to The Wall Street Journal the film debuted last Sunday (22 January) at the Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. The L.A. Times carried a long report about the screening here.

Youku-Fox Deal to Stream Movies Online
Finally, The Guardian carried an interesting piece this week about a deal between the popular Chinese video-hosting site Youku and 20th Century Fox, to stream 250 films online through a pay-per-view platform. The deal is set to bypass China’s filmic censorship regime, which only applies to cinema releases and films broadcast on television, as well as protectionist measures which limit foreign imports to 20 titles a year. As we noted in a post earlier this month, Tudou cut a deal with Sam Voutas to release Red Light Revolution online earlier this month, similarly by-passing the censorship apparatus. Red Light’s producer Melanie Ansley is quoted in the Guardian piece:

“I think the internet offers a place for stuff that takes a little more risk. Some of the comments from viewers of our film say ‘how did this get past the censors? I can’t believe that I’m watching this, that this is up on Tudou’. I don’t know what the tipping point is, but thinking practically there will be a day when [the government] will move in. But when that day is none of us know.”

Releasing a small independent title like Red Light Revolution online is one thing, but it will be interesting to see how the authorities react to the Youku deal with Fox. It will also be interesting to see whether Chinese viewers will be prepared to pay for online content when piracy is so rife, and DVDs can be procured anyway for less than RMB 10 (less than US$ 1.50) each.

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