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  1. #376
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    $1.2 B. wow. I hope the US film market can come back so well

    China’s Lunar New Year box office revenues soar by a third to record US$1.21 billion as cinemas fill up amid travel restrictions
    Strict measures to avoid a return of Covid-19 meant more people stayed put during the festival season instead of returning to their hometowns for family reunions
    Ticket sales were dominated by the comedies Hi, Mom and Detective Chinatown 3, which became the fifth and sixth top-grossing movies of all time in the Chinese film market

    Cheryl Heng
    Published: 6:44pm, 23 Feb, 2021


    People queue to enter a cinema in Beijing on February 17, 2021. Photo: Xinhua
    China’s box office revenues climbed to a record high during the week-long Lunar New Year holiday, signalling a promising recovery of the world’s largest film market from the coronavirus fallout last year.
    Holiday movie ticket sales in China reached 7.8 billion yuan (US$1.21 billion) during the week of February 11 to 17, up 32.5 per cent from the 2019 Lunar New Year holiday, according to Chinese ticketing platform Maoyan Entertainment.
    Ticketing revenue for 2020 was omitted as cinemas were shut between January and July amid the coronavirus crisis.
    The resurgence at the box office may have been powered by stricter travel measures put in place to limit the annual Lunar New Year mass migration, in a bid to prevent a return of Covid-19. People stayed put during the festival season instead of returning to their hometowns for family reunions.
    Some 44 per cent of those surveyed by the Maoyan Research Institute said they watched more movies during this year’s festive season than they did in 2019, citing more leisure time as their main reason.
    More than 40 per cent of theatre screenings were fully booked in the first three days of the festive season.
    Box office sales in the period were dominated by family comedy Hi, Mom and mystery comedy Detective Chinatown 3. The films had raked in earnings of 4.24 billion yuan and 4.1 billion yuan respectively as of Tuesday, making them the fifth and sixth top-grossing movies of all time in the Chinese film market, a whisker behind Avengers 4: Endgame at 4.25 billion yuan, Maoyan data showed.
    Detective Chinatown 3, the third instalment of the popular cop series, led China’s box office in the first few days of the holiday with its strong franchise appeal and marketing buzz.
    But it was inched out of first place by the strong word-of-mouth appeal of comedian Jia Ling’s maiden directorial work, Hi, Mom, a heartwarming story of a daughter who travels back in time to meet her mother.
    The first six days of the Lunar New Year emerged as being among the top 10 highest box office revenue days in China’s film history, even as most theatres were limited to three-quarters seating capacity.
    China took the top spot for global cinema receipts last year, overtaking the US as the pandemic shut American cinemas for longer than their Chinese counterparts. Ticket sales in China came to 20 billion yuan (US$3.06 billion) in 2020, surpassing the US$2.28 billion of receipts in the US, according to data from Maoyan and Comscore.
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  2. #377
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    Wang Jianlin

    Ticking Debt Bomb in China’s $18.1 Trillion Bond Market
    Business
    China Tycoon Who Lost $32 Billion Tries to Salvage an Empire
    By Shirley Zhao, Venus Feng, and Rebecca Choong Wilkins
    March 15, 2021, 12:00 PM PDT Updated on March 16, 2021, 2:31 AM PDT
    Wanda Group’s cinemas, malls hit by pandemic as debt ballooned
    Founder Wang Jianlin’s wealth is now a sliver of its 2015 peak


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    Wang Jianlin used to be Asia’s richest person, busy expanding his Dalian Wanda Group Co. by acquiring trophy assets overseas, all aided by easy credit.

    Now the 66-year-old doesn’t even figure among China’s top 30 richest people, having lost about $32 billion of his personal fortune in less than six years -- the most for any tycoon in that period. As Wang seeks to cut the group’s total debt from 362 billion yuan ($56 billion) and turn his entertainment-to-property empire around, he’s facing skeptical bond investors.

    Braced for a wall of maturing onshore notes peaking this year, some of Wanda’s dollar bonds were among the first to tumble earlier this month, when a broader decline hit the Asian credit market. The selloff, partly triggered by concerns over the looming payments, came as a warning from investors eager to see how Wang will manage to steer his group clear of the debt risks that convulsed peers such as HNA Group Co., China Evergrande Group and Anbang Group Holdings Co.

    “The group’s liquidity is a key consideration for investors,” said Dan Wang, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. A representative for Wanda didn’t respond to requests for comment on the debt risks.

    Wanda’s Wang, who once purchased Spanish soccer club Atletico Madrid as part of the binge-buying and aspired to compete with Walt Disney Co., is still shedding some of those assets. The latest came last week, when Wanda gave up control of AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc., with its stake now representing less than 10% of the world’s largest movie-theater chain. Its chief executive officer said the company would be governed by a wide group of shareholders, and the stock has surged more than 42% in the past three days.

    Despite the disposals following a government crackdown on credit-fueled expansion, Wanda Group’s debt as of June ballooned to the highest since 2017. The pandemic has only added to the woes, dealing a blow to its cinemas, malls, theme parks, hotels and sports events.

    Three Pillars
    Malls and hotels accounted for almost half of Wanda's 2019 revenue


    Source: Wanda Group

    Note: Graphic excludes 7.5 billion yuan in losses from Wanda's other investment activities

    As China stabilizes its economy after containing the virus, the reopening of movie theaters and malls is providing Wang the much-needed time to steady his ship. He’s pressing ahead with a strategy he’s advocated for years, called the “asset-light” model, to reduce leverage.

    That means spending less by cutting back on land purchases. Dalian Wanda Commercial Management Group Co., one of the world’s biggest mall operators that accounts for almost half of the group’s revenue, will stop buying plots starting this year and license its brand to partners instead, the company’s President Xiao Guangrui told mainland media in September.

    No Alternative
    “Wanda had no real alternative to its new asset-light strategy,” said Brock Silvers, chief investment officer at Kaiyuan Capital in Hong Kong, who doesn’t hold any Wanda unit shares or bonds. “The company’s debts were unsustainable.”

    The effect of the pandemic on Wanda has been astounding.

    Movie producer and cinema operator Wanda Film Holding Co. said it may have racked up a record $1 billion in net loss last year. Despite becoming a favorite in the recent Reddit-fueled share rally, AMC warned several times it was near the brink of insolvency and reported its worst-ever annual loss as revenue plunged 77%. Wanda Commercial Management said sales and profit fell nearly 50% in the first nine months of 2020, while Wanda Sports Group Co.’s American depositary receipts were delisted in January after losing more than two-thirds of their value since they began trading in July 2019.


    A closed AMC movie theater in Tucson, Arizona, in June 2020.Photographer: Cheney Orr/Bloomberg
    Even if Wanda’s businesses tide over the global health crisis, there’s no certainty creditors will be kind after the developments at other indebted Chinese conglomerates such as HNA, Evergrande and lately at Suning Appliance Group Co.

    In an offering circular in September, Wanda told investors that the group’s level of indebtedness may “adversely affect” some operations. The conglomerate is also facing tighter credit rules in the real estate sector as Chinese regulators look to curb financial risk.

    Wanda and its units raised about 48.2 billion yuan in local and offshore debt last year, the most since 2016. A part of it was used to pay older obligations as the group needs to refinance or repay about 32 billion yuan of domestic bonds due in 2021.

    While the group’s dollar bonds have almost erased their losses since tumbling earlier this month -- their worst week in almost a year -- credit traders cited concerns over the group’s maturing local bonds and a selloff in some of its onshore notes.

    Wanda Commercial Management’s debt is rated non-investment grade by Fitch Ratings, S&P Global Ratings and Moody’s Investors Service.

    The Good, Bad and the Offloaded
    Businesses are still bouncing back from lockdowns


    Sources: Filings, Wanda Group, Bloomberg

    In his heyday, Wang -- a former People’s Liberation Army soldier -- jetted around in his Gulfstream G550 private plane, paying top prices for assets including a luxury property in Beverly Hills, Hollywood studio Legendary Entertainment and One Nine Elms in London, one of Europe’s tallest residential towers.

    His fortune took a dive as China started to crack down on such expansion and capital outflows. His wealth has shrunk to about $14 billion from a peak of $46 billion in 2015, when he was crowned Asia’s richest person, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

    “Wanda gained surprisingly little from its period of unconstrained investment opportunity,” said Kaiyuan Capital’s Silvers. “The company has since been quicker to shed assets than other conglomerates, but it still has far to go.”

    The asset-light strategy would help generate sustainable recurring rental income for Wanda Commercial Management, the “cash cow” of the group, said Chloe He, corporate-rating director at Fitch. It can also prevent the company from committing heavy capital expenditure and taking on too much debt, she added.

    “This is going to be very helpful for them to deleverage in the future, provided they don’t invest in something else,” He said.


    — With assistance by Emma Dong, Evelyn Yu, Adrian Yim, and Jack Witzig
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  3. #378
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    What is happening to PRC moviemaking right now?

    Mar 15, 2021 11:21am PT
    Alibaba May Be Forced to Sell Media Businesses by Chinese Government (Report)

    By Patrick Frater


    Alibaba Group
    The Chinese government may order e-commerce to entertainment giant Alibaba to sell off or cut back its vast array of media assets. In addition to the company’s too-big-to fail status derived from activities that range from food retailing to electronic payments, China’s government has reportedly become concerned about Alibaba’s ability to influence public opinion.

    After government regulators drew up an inventory of the group’s media assets earlier this year, they have begun negotiations with Alibaba that may lead to disposal of some of its media businesses, according to a Wall Street Journal report citing anonymous sources.

    Alibaba’s media and entertainment portfolio is huge and diverse, though it is almost entirely focused on Greater China. The businesses range from print publishing to video streaming, and include minority stakes in social media firms, cinemas and film production companies.

    One of its most prominent overseas jewels is a minority stake of unknown size in Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Partners, bought in late 2016. Another is its majority stake in the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s leading English-language newspaper publisher, bought earlier the same year.

    In response to the report, Alibaba said in a statement: “The purpose of our investments in these companies is to provide technology support for their business upgrade and drive commercial synergies with our core commerce businesses. We do not intervene or get involved in the companies’ day-to-day operations or editorial decisions.”

    The vast majority of media in China is owned or controlled by the state at some level. That allows central authorities to direct news flow, emphasize favored topics, demonize enemies and exclude information and opinion that does not support Communist Party messaging.

    Social media, with its diversity and speed, is increasingly being seen as a challenge to the China government’s ability to speak with one voice. Over the years, social platforms have been required to do the government’s bidding by employing ever increasing number of staff to censor user comments and user-generated content.

    Despite companies’ compliance, Chinese authorities have also spent several months devising ways to rein in the country’s tech giants. Financial regulatory authorities halted the spinoff and IPO of Alibaba’s financial arm, Ant Group, in late 2020. They have also used the State Authority for Market Regulation to punish tech firms for unauthorized merger and acquisition activity, and in late December Alibaba was given formal notification of an investigation into alleged monopolistic behavior.

    Among Alibaba’s core media and entertainment businesses is Youku Tudou, one of China’s largest generalist video streaming firms. Its Alibaba Pictures unit, which has a separate share listing in Hong Kong, contains film production and distribution businesses as well as Tao Piao Piao, one of two companies that dominate cinema ticketing.

    Alibaba also amassed minority stakes in publisher Yicai Media (37%), video streamer Mango TV (5%), Twitter-like social media platform Weibo (30%), video entertainment group Bilibili (6.7%) and Focus Media (5.3%), China’s top online advertising network.

    It also has stakes in film studios Huayi Bros. Media, Bona Film Group, film financier Hehe Pictures and exhibition chains Dadi Cinemas and Wanda Pictures. Those investments have often appeared to be at the behest of Chinese authorities as a means of using Alibaba’s massive financial strength to shore up the country’s entertainment sector, which is huge but remains in its industrial infancy.

    Alibaba shares are listed in ARD form on the New York Stock Exchange. The company has a secondary listing in Hong Kong. The conglomerate’s market capitalization was around $620 billion on Monday.

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  4. #379
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    $21.5m

    China Box Office: 'Godzilla vs. Kong' Roars With $21.5M Friday
    6:34 AM PDT 3/26/2021 by Patrick Brzeski

    Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

    The monster sequel is pacing slightly ahead of its predecessor 'Godzilla: King of the Monsters,' which earned $20.9 million on its first day in 2019, before finishing the weekend with $70.6 million.
    Warner Bros. and Legendary Entertainment's Godzilla vs. Kong is off to a stomping start at China's huge theatrical box office.

    The Adam Wingard-directed monster sequel pulled in $21.5 million Friday, according to Legendary. The new film is pacing slightly ahead of its predecessor Godzilla: King of the Monsters, which Artisan Gateway data shows earned $20.9 million on its first day in 2019, before finishing the weekend with $70.6 million.

    Local word of mouth for Godzilla vs. Kong is currently looking strong, with the film scoring 9/10 on ticketing apps Maoyan and Taopiaopiao, and 7.1 on reviews site Douban — solid numbers for a Hollywood tentpole. Based on current demand, Maoyan projects GVK to finish its run with approximately $166 million (the ticketing company's early forecasts are often revised considerably, however).

    The monster tentpole's biggest competition this weekend in China is the holdover Chinese New Year blockbuster Hi, Mom and James Cameron's rereleased Avatar. But GVK is easily dominating both screen share and earnings, taking 87.6 percent of Friday's total ticket sales so far, according to Maoyan, compared to about 2.8 percent a piece for Avatar and Hi, Mom.

    It's already abundantly clear, though, that the China market alone will give GVK claim to the biggest international theatrical debut of the pandemic era. Christopher Nolan's Tenet previously had the biggest offshore start of the past year with $53 million. Tenet finished its run in China with a respectable but unspectacular $66.9 million.

    In addition to China, GVK is opening in 38 other offshore markets this week, including sizable territories South Korea, Australia, Russia, Mexico, Taiwan, Indonesia and India, among others (the film doesn't open in Japan, home of Godzilla, until May).

    GVK is launching abroad ahead of its North American release, which will arrive day-and-date in theaters and on HBO Max on March 31.

    As advertised, GVK stars Godzilla and King Kong, with some supporting appearances by Alexander Skarsgard, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Shun Oguri, Kyle Chandler, Demian Bichir and others.

    The film is a co-production of Warners and Legendary. The latter, which is owned by Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group (which also owns China's biggest movie theater circuit), is marketing and distributing GVK directly in China, with Warners handling the rest of the world.

    More to come.

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  5. #380
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    Something crazy is happening with Chinese media right now

    For Americans claiming censorship and media bias, ours is a capitalist economy so it is driven by private enterprise money, not the government. The PRC is communist so it is more likely government. But in all honesty, if I truly understood what was going on, I'd be an international market analyst making big bucks, not a martial arts writer posting on this forum here.

    Wang Zhongjun Steps Down as Chairman of Huayi Tencent Entertainment
    10:09 PM PDT 3/28/2021 by Patrick Brzeski

    China Photos/Getty Images

    The Hong Kong-based holding company has been used by Huayi Brothers, Tencent and other investors to make offshore investments into international films, such as the Russo brothers' 'Cherry' and Roland Emmerich's upcoming 'Moonfall.'
    Chinese movie mogul Wang Zhongjun, co-founder of Huayi Brothers Media, has stepped down as chairman of holding company Huayi Tencent Entertainment.

    Established in 2016, the firm, which is listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange, has been used by Huayi Brothers, Tencent and its other investors as a vehicle to co-finance international films and buy stakes in companies listed outside China. The joint venture was established when its backers took over a Hong Kong-listed shell company that was formerly a retirement home developer in Hong Kong.

    Huayi Tencent's recent investments include the South Korean sci-fi film Space Sweepers, the Russo brothers' crime drama Cherry and Roland Emmerich's forthcoming sci-fi action film Moonfall. The firm also owns a 31 percent stake in South Korean TV drama producer HB Entertainment.

    Huayi Tencent said in a statement Friday that Wang was resigning "as he needs to devote more time to his other business engagements," and that his exit would be effective March 30.

    Huayi Brothers Media, which Wang founded with his younger brother Wang Zhonglei in the 1990s, was previously the largest stakeholder in Huayi Tencent, but the Beijing-based parent company offloaded 13.17 percent of its shares last November, dropping its stake to just 5 percent. The sales were part of an ongoing retrenchment of the brothers' longstanding entertainment empire, which was battered by bad press following a tax evasion scandal that swept the Chinese industry in 2018. The company got a $100 million lifeline from Jack Ma's Alibaba in 2019, and began to see its fortunes recover last year with the $460 million success of its WWII tentpole The Eight Hundred.

    Wang's exit from the Hong Kong-listed holding firm comes at a time of radically diminished outbound investment by China's major entertainment companies. After a gold rush period five years ago, when Chinese firms were bankrolling everything from Hollywood slates to new U.S. production entities (Huayi co-financed an entire slate at STX Entertainment and bought a sizable stake in the Russos' production venture Agbo), investment ground to halt in 2017 amid official discouragement of such dealmaking by Chinese regulators, and its declined further amid the deteriorating diplomatic relations between Washington and Beijing.

    Huayi Tencent's current CEO Yuen Hoi Po, will temporary assume Wang's day-to-day management responsibilities. A new chairman will be elected "as soon as possible," the firm said in a statement. Yuen is currently Huayi Tencent's largest shareholder with a 17.8 percent stake.


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  6. #381
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    Wanda

    I just can't grok what's happening with PRC media titans right now.

    APRIL 20, 20219:27 PM UPDATED 9 HOURS AGO
    China's Wanda raising $3 billion ahead of HK IPO for property management unit - sources

    By Julie Zhu, Kane Wu

    3 MIN READ


    HONG KONG (Reuters) - Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group aims to raise 20 billion yuan ($3.08 billion) for its commercial property management business, before listing the unit in Hong Kong by year-end, two people with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.


    FILE PHOTO: A sign of Dalian Wanda Group in China glows during an event announcing strategic partnership between Wanda Group and FIFA in Beijing, China March 21, 2016. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
    Wanda is targeting primarily private equity investors for Wanda Light Asset Commercial Management Co, aiming for a valuation of 200 billion yuan, said the people.

    Several prospective investors tapped by Wanda and its financial advisors, however, have found that valuation “too high”, one of the people said.

    The conglomerate, owned by Wang Jianlin - once China’s richest person - aims to complete the fundraising by July and file for an initial public offering (IPO) in September, they said.

    Wanda Group did not respond to a request for comment.

    The people declined to be identified as the information is confidential.

    Chinese developers and real estate managers raised a record $10.4 billion in Hong Kong listings last year, showed data from Refinitiv.

    China Evergrande Group, Sunac China Holdings Ltd and Shimao Group Holdings Ltd all floated property management businesses last year. The three are currently trading way above their IPO prices.

    If Wanda sold a 10% stake - as is typical for a sizeable IPO - then a 200 billion yuan valuation would make the float Hong Kong’s biggest for a property manager at least since 2016, surpassing the $1.8 billion November float of Evergrande Property Services Group Ltd.

    The listing plan comes after the unit’s debt-laden parent, Wanda Commercial Management Group - China’s biggest commercial property developer - withdrew a domestic IPO application in March, saying it would revamp its assets and pursue an overseas listing.

    The unit, tasked with managing 368 Wanda Plazas plus 155 under construction, secured 3 billion yuan of investment from the government of the southern city of Zhuhai, the parent said last month.

    One of the sources said the local government would count as a lead investor in the pre-IPO fundraising.

    ($1 = 6.4984 Chinese yuan renminbi)

    Reporting by Julie Zhu and Kane Wu; Editing by Christopher Cushing
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  7. #382
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    Now what?


    What China's Rise to Global Box Office Champs Means for Hollywood's Future

    BY JON JACKSON ON 4/29/21 AT 11:30 AM EDT

    In 2020, the United States fell from its perch as the world's top box office for the first time in history. Theater closures, delayed releases of major films and public health concerns put the entire film industry in a perpetual standstill. China rose up in its place, assuming the crown of global box office champions. Now, many insiders are wondering if Hollywood will be able to regain its previous preeminence.

    With the movie industry on pause, North America's 2020 box office receipts only added up to a total of $2.2 billion—a drop of about 80 percent from 2019's $11.4 billion. Meanwhile, China managed to bring in $3.129 billion in box office revenue throughout 2020. Even though those receipts for China's theaters represent a notable decrease from the country's 2019 total of $9.2 billion, it was still enough of a haul to make China the world's top movie industry last year.


    During the COVID-19 pandemic, China has come out on top as the world's largest box office.
    GETTY

    For a direct and more recent comparison of Hollywood's woes and China's rise, one need only look at the recent opening of Warner Bros.' Godzilla vs. Kong. The monster-movie smackdown earned a considerably robust, COVID-era record $48.5 million at American theaters during its first five days after opening on March 31. So far, it's made roughly $86.6 million in U.S. theaters, though viewership figures haven't been disclosed from HBO Max, where it is simultaneously streaming.

    Over in China, though, where most theaters currently operate with a 75-percent seating capacity, the film opened on March 26 and brought in $70 million in its first weekend alone. The movie has made $183 million in China to date and is projected to make around $5 million more before its run ends there, which would make it (by far) the highest-grossing Hollywood film in China since the start of the pandemic, after Christopher Nolan's Tenet. Currently, Godzilla vs. Kong is the fourth-highest-grossing film of 2021 thus far in China; the top three films are all Chinese titles.

    If the outlook for China's cinema looked comparatively good under the circumstances of the global pandemic, 2021 has already shaped up to be better. As of April 21, China's box office revenue for 2021 had reached $3.09 billion, according to film data provider Maoyan Entertainment. Which means in less than four months, it's nearly surpassed last year's 12-month total of $3.129 billion.

    The pandemic-necessitated shutdown of theaters surely hastened the fall of U.S. box office dominance, with 2020 being an "aberration, an outlier year," Stanley Rosen told Newsweek. Rosen is a political science professor at the University of Southern California, specializing in Chinese politics, society and film. Like many with knowledge of China's movie industry, Rosen predicted this day would eventually come. "They [China] were going to do it eventually, no question about that," he said. "It was just a question of what year."

    All of the experts Newsweek spoke with for this story agree with Rosen's assessment that China's claiming of the movie throne was inevitable. Still, a film expert and history professor at the University of Southern California, Steven Ross, had a more optimistic outlook for Hollywood's future, at least in the short term. "We still have some of the most advanced structures for filmmaking, and we also have a huge pipeline in terms of talent of writers, directors, actors and producers," Ross said. "So, I still think the U.S. is in a position to lead through the good part of the next decade or two in the 21st century. Beyond that, I'm not sure."

    One might wonder, though: How could Hollywood be overtaken by a country whose own hit movies rarely travel overseas? Well, consider the sheer numbers. China has a population of around 1.4 billion people; the U.S. counts about 330 million. Then there's the fact that Chinese companies started to realize how much money could be made from building new theaters, sometimes in unexpected locations.


    A moviegoer enters the AMC Lincoln Square 13 movie theater on March 05, 2021 in New York City. AMC.
    GETTY
    Wanda Group, China's largest cinema operator, has been steadily staking claim in smaller-tier cities such as Chengdu, Shenyang and Wuhan, where many people live in undesirable housing. Starting in the early 2000s, the company began building modern malls with inexpensive restaurants, museums and, of course, movie theaters. This meant "families could come there on Saturday and Sunday and spend all day," film director Scott Morgan explained to Newsweek. Before he founded Creativity First Films studios, Morgan spent decades extensively traveling throughout Asia and more than five years working within the Chinese film industry. He also predicted the country's eventual box office takeover with his 2016 book, The Future of Hollywood-China Film, Media, and Finance.

    The theater-mall model proved successful, and theaters and screens still continue growing in China, while many are closing in the United States. In 2019, China added 9,708 new screens and 1,453 new theaters. Even during the pandemic, the country added 300 more theaters and 5,794 more screens in 2020, which brought its nationwide total up to 75,581 screens. This expansion is continuing in 2021, with China's addition of 2,188 new screens in January and February alone. Before March began, the nation counted 77,769 total screens. The U.S., meanwhile, ended 2020 with 40,998 screens, down 174 from the previous year.

    More people and more screens gives China an edge, but so does the fact that China recovered from the pandemic more quickly. After six months of being shut down, theaters began reopening there at half-capacity in July, before allowing 75-percent capacity by September. (Areas where recent, small outbreaks have occurred caused capacities to drop back down to 50 percent at times, including in Beijing.) U.S. theaters have slowly reopened at limited capacities, though the largest cities have been lagging far behind smaller cities. New York City only finally reopened theaters at the beginning of March, with venues restricting audiences to a maximum of 25-percent capacity per screening.

    "I don't think that their production of films went up," Morgan said of China's film studios and the dramatic success they experienced during the pandemic. "But they were feeling a lot of China pride."
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    Continued from previous post

    That cultural pride looks to have translated into big box office returns for domestic features, a trend that had already been developing in recent years. Thirty-three out of the top 50 highest-grossing films in Chinese history are Chinese films (including several co-productions between China and Hong Kong), with the oldest domestic entries on the list being a few titles from 2015. The other 17 pictures on China's highest-grossing films list are American films: Marvel superhero films, sci-fi action blockbusters like Avatar and entries from the Fast & Furious franchise. Rosen explained that the reason these imports play well there is because little work is required to translate action or animated fare.

    "The most successful [Chinese-made] films have been patriotic films, so the government certainly encourages them," Rosen said. Indeed, the country's—and, thus by extension, the world's—biggest moneymaking picture last year was The Eight Hundred. The historical war drama brought in more than $460 million, nearly all of which was made during its homeland theatrical run. Like with India's Bollywood industry, many of China's biggest hits underperform outside of their home country, where cultural references and topics like The Eight Hundred's take on the Second Sino-Japanese War carry less significance. Often, China's most successful domestic smashes never make it onto foreign screens.

    China has also relied on the help of the West in productions, like when a studio hired the Russo brothers to consult on the 2017 blockbuster Wolf Warrior 2. (That film, incidentally, is currently No. 1 on the country's list of top-grossing movies ever.) The Russos, who have directed some of Marvel's biggest films, also took note and in 2016 launched Anthem & Song, a studio that produces Chinese-language films for the Middle Kingdom market.

    While Hollywood could very well likely bounce back from the pandemic, it will be met by a Chinese movie industry that's been steadily growing for some time. To an extent, Rosen said, this should benefit U.S. films when they travel to China screens. "A rising tide lifts all ships," he said. "So, [Hollywood studios] hope to be lifted with that as well, and I still think really big-budget films should do fine in China."

    Of course, some Hollywood films will have trouble in China, because of certain circumstances and hurdles that need to be cleared. China has a notoriously harsh censorship board, for one. Because of this, Hollywood will often self-censor films with anything politically risky before opening in China, to avoid losing massive ticket sales.

    Take Marvel's Doctor Strange. In the comics, the titular sorcerer has a Tibetan mentor, but that character was reimagined in the film to be Celtic, played by Tilda Swinton. Though screenwriters on the production indicated that the character's race and background were changed to avoid controversy in China, director Scott Derrickson said he didn't want to engage in what he felt was a bad Asian stereotype. (He was accused of whitewashing, nonetheless.) There have also been instances in recent years of American studios blatantly attempting to court Chinese audiences. One such notable example of this is another Marvel flick—the Chinese version of Iron Man 3, which included additional scenes of a Chinese doctor operating on Tony Stark.

    Since it's become more widely known that American studios sometimes tweak films to suit China, it's turned into a political issue. Last year, Congressional conservatives introduced legislation that cut off American producers from government funding if they were found to be changing films to please China. Senator Ted Cruz cited the repeatedly delayed Top Gun sequel on the floor of the U.S. Senate last May. Noting that Tom Cruise's character's leather flight jacket was altered from the original film's version, to remove Taiwanese and Japanese flags, Cruz stated, "What message does it send that Maverick, an American icon, is apparently afraid of the Chinese communists?"

    The fact that the U.S. film industry has been cautious about upsetting China's government, as well as its moviegoing public, isn't entirely surprising. The box office in China has long been the second-largest for American films outside of the U.S., and some big-budget releases face "make or break" consequences when screened in the Middle Kingdom. For example, 2016's Resident Evil: The Final Chapter made only $26.8 million in North America, yet it was considered a hit after it grossed $159.5 million in China.

    But there's also the matter of just getting an American-made movie into Chinese theaters. "There are still quotas in China as far as the amount of American films that can run there," said Peter Newman, a film professor and head of the dual MBA/MFA Graduate program at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. Currently, the country has a quota in place that allows only 34 imported films a year to open in theaters, though there are concessions when a Chinese company co-produces.

    "The policies of the [Chinese] government and the entertainment business change, literally, on a weekly basis," Newman explained. He cited the example of Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained in 2013. Some of the bloodshed and violence in the film was cut to appease Chinese censors, yet the Jamie Foxx-starring Western was then abruptly pulled from theaters on the day of its opening without explanation.

    Then there are national holidays, Rose noted. During those times, "Hollywood and other foreign-language films are not allowed into China. So [domestic films] have a built-in audience." The Chinese New Year is the the country's biggest moviegoing time of the year, and also one when only domestic films are featured. This year's holiday broke all previous records by topping $1.206 billion for the week, surpassing the previous record set in 2019 by 32.5 percent, according to Chinese ticketing platform Maoyan Entertainment. (All theaters were shut down in the country during the 2020 Chinese New Year.)

    Due to the limitations put on American and other foreign films in the market, failures at the Chinese box office are particularly costly, especially when they're films distinctly tailored for the country. The 2016 film The Great Wall is an oft-cited example. The American and Chinese co-production featured a large budget ($150 million) and a famous native director (Zhang Yimou), but was accused of whitewashing due to the casting of Matt Damon in the lead role, and it went on to lose a reported $75 million.

    More recently, Disney pinned great hopes on Niki Caro's live-action Mulan, which opened in China last summer after not being able to screen on American shores. Historical inaccuracies and several other controversies—such as a mostly white production crew—dogged that release, which also underperformed in China.

    Recent Oscar-winner Chloé Zhao also presented a dilemma for China, as well as symbolized the divide between government censors and portions of the Chinese public. Newman, a professor of Zhao's when she attended NYU's film school, said when Nomadland first took home the Golden Globe award for Best Picture and the Beijing-born Zhao nabbed Best Director, China's press heralded her as "something like 'hometown girl makes good.'" Then, a 2013 interview Zhao gave to Filmmaker Magazine resurfaced and quickly changed the narrative. In it, she discussed growing up in China, and characterized it as "a place where there are lies everywhere."


    Chloé Zhao speaks onstage during the 2018 Film Independent Spirit Awards on March 3, 2018, in Santa Monica, California.
    GETTY
    Zhao, of course, made history at the Oscars recently when she became the first Chinese woman and woman of color to be awarded the trophy for Best Director, and her film Nomadland was recognized as Best Picture. However, her home country's government imposed a news blackout with state-run news media outlets, mostly ignoring any mentions of the Oscars or Zhao. China's social media platforms also worked hard at deleting or restricting the spread of news about Zhao's big night, though clever fans blurred her name and turned photos on their sides intentionally to avoid censors.

    Marvel will soon face a major test from China's censors later this year with Zhao's next film, Eternals, a superhero blockbuster starring Angelina Jolie, Kumail Nanjiani and Salma Hayek. Given the financial success that Marvel typically finds in China, the film not screening there could be a huge loss, should it not get by the film censors of The Publicity Department of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. (Newsweek contacted the Chinese publicity agency for comment on this story but did not receive a response as of press time.)

    Needless to say, the stakes and tensions should be high as the box office competition between China and the U.S. ramps up once we're clear of the COVID-19 pandemic. But not everyone is completely writing off a relationship between the two countries' film industries. This is especially true when both countries can benefit financially by working together. "The pot of money is just too big," Newman noted. "I think they're going to keep trying to figure it out."
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    Hi, Mom

    Anyone here seen Hi, Mom yet?

    May 14, 2021 4:07am PT
    Move Over, Patty Jenkins: How China’s Jia Ling Became the World’s Highest-Grossing Female Director


    By Rebecca Davis


    Courtesy Tiger Pictures Int’l
    She may not be a household name anywhere other than her native China, but Chinese helmer Jia Ling has officially overtaken Patty Jenkins as the world’s highest-grossing female director for a single film.

    After an extended three-month run, Jia’s Chinese New Year blockbuster “Hi, Mom,” finally left Chinese theaters Tuesday. It has grossed $838 million (RMB5.41 billion) since its Feb. 12 debut, according to Maoyan data and using an exchange rate of $1 = RMB6.44)

    That sum makes it the 79th highest grossing film in the world of all time, behind Marvel’s “Thor: Ragnarok” ($854 million) and just ahead of Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” ($837 million). It also finished above Patty Jenkin’s 2017 “Wonder Woman,” which earned $823 million. “Hi, Mom” surpassed “Wonder Woman” in early April, 54 days after its release. (Some sources using different rates of exchange may arrive at different totals and rankings.)

    Locally, the title has now surpassed the 2019 animation “Ne Zha” to become the second highest ever grossing film in China, behind 2017’s “Wolf Warrior 2,” which earned $854 million, or $881 million at today’s currency conversion rate (RMB5.69 billion). Jia is now just one of 11 Chinese women who have directed films that grossed over $15.5 million (RMB100 million).

    Incredibly, Jia has hit these milestones with her first feature, on the back of ticket sales from China alone, and amidst a pandemic that left cinemas there capped at 50-75% their maximum capacity.

    “Now that our box office has reached 5.4 billion, I want to thank you guys, but I don’t know what to say,” Jia wrote in one of her first personal reflections since the film’s debut, posted to her Weibo social media account on May 9, Mother’s Day. “All of it was unexpected — unexpected to the point that although I’d been prepared to heavily promote the film, once it came out [and was so successful], I was practically embarrassed to do so.”

    Jia, 39, is known for her prowess as a performer of a popular type of Chinese stand-up comedy, known as crosstalk. She rose to national prominence after appearing in 2010 at CCTV’s annual Spring Festival Gala, one of the most watched TV programs in the world.

    “Hi, Mom” originated as a highly personal theatrical play, written, directed and starring Jia as a reflection and homage to her relationship with her mother, who passed away when she was a girl.

    The film adaptation, hilarious and heart-rending in turn, is also written and directed by Jia, who stars. She plays a fictional version of herself as a woman grieving over her mother’s accidental death who finds herself suddenly transported to 1981, where she tries to befriend her mom and direct her towards a better life.

    The success of “Hi, Mom” has rocketed Big Bowl Entertainment, the company Jia founded in 2016 to produce it, into the position of becoming a major contender in China’s film space, potentially comparable to Mahua FunAge (“Mr. Donkey,” “Goodbye, Mr. Loser”).

    It has also minted a proper star out of lead Zhang Xiaofei, and propelled the film’s one well-known name Shen Teng on to become China’s highest grossing actor, with the cumulative box office generated by his films now beyond the $3 billion (RMB20 billion) mark.

    Surprise Upset
    The success of “Hi, Mom” has been a true underdog story.

    This was an unknown title with a basically little-known cast going into Chinese New Year, the most lucrative but also the most competitive movie-going week of the year.

    Even its own main producer, Beijing Culture, bet against it, selling off most of its stake in the film. The financially troubled firm hedged its risks on the reportedly $62 million (RMB400 million) budgeted film and signed a minimum guarantee agreement with distributors Maoyan Entertainment and Shanghai Ruyi for a reported $232 million (RMB1.5 billion), according to the official Xinhua news agency.

    Then came the surprise.

    While frontrunner “Detective Chinatown 3” — a big budget franchise spectacle starring China’s most viral stars — broke records as expected on day one, “Hi, Mom” surpassed it in single-day sales by day four. Sales for “Hi, Mom” beat “Detective Chinatown’s” cume in just 10 days.

    “It just shows the magic of movies, that you really can’t predict how well something will perform. No one had expected ‘Hi, Mom’ to be as big as it was — including Beijing Culture,” Shawn Yue, a producer on “Detective Chinatown 3,” told Variety in March.

    Given how much China’s cinema programmers are swayed by word of mouth metrics, a big factor in the initial surge of support for “Hi, Mom” was its strategy for gaming an usually fierce ratings war.

    Yue praised the “Hi, Mom” team’s marketing efforts — “they spent a lot of money to ferment their word of mouth,” he admits — but suspects the film also benefited from the pleasure and sense of accomplishment viewers got from propelling it to the top.

    Troves of viewers started rating “Hi, Mom” five stars and “Detective Chinatown” one star, encouraged on perhaps by the thrill of helping “a new David emerge to kill Goliath.”

    “Enough Already”
    Later on, “Hi, Mom” benefited from an unusually long 90-day release, which has made it the subject of online criticism.

    Films in China are typically given a month-long release period that can be extended to two months in the case of unusually high-performing titles. But “Hi, Mom” was given two extensions, making it the first film in Chinese history to reap the benefits of two holiday release windows — the massive February lunar new year and the May 1 Labor Day holiday. It also managed to hit Mother’s Day on May 9 as well, when it was also released for free on various streaming platforms for a limited time.

    “Enough already,” many Weibo commenters said in response to the news of its second extension, chastizing the film for appearing desperately greedy.

    Bloggers scratched their heads incredulously as they considered that “Hi, Mom” alone has grossed more than the entirety of Zhang Yimou’s oeuvre of more than 40 films put together, or Feng Xiaogang in his whole career.

    Jia’s heartfelt Mother’s Day post appears to have smoothed most ruffled feathers, however. “Yesterday I watched ‘Soul’ — a great film — and realized that I’ve been obsessed with certain things in recent years, and had forgotten how to appreciate much of the scenery around me,” she said, explaining her plans to finally learn to ski and spend time catching crayfish in her hometown with friends.

    She concluded with a touching tribute to her muse, her mom.

    “In this world, there once was a person who lived for me… When the person who lived for you in this world is gone, it’s even more important for you to live well in her stead,” she wrote.
    Gene Ching
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  10. #385
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    Opening in Asia a month before the U.S.

    May 18, 2021 12:09pm PT
    Box Office: ‘F9’ Eyes Massive $150 Million-Plus Debut Overseas

    By Rebecca Rubin


    Giles Keyte/Universal
    “F9” could send the box office into overdrive when it debuts overseas this weekend.

    The latest entry in Universal’s high-octane franchise, which opens in Korea, Hong Kong, the Middle East, Russia and China in the coming days, is expected to bring in at least $150 million to $180 million at the international box office. Industry analysts are offering a wide range, which could balloon even higher, because it’s hard to track initial grosses in foreign markets even when the world isn’t rebounding from a pandemic. As different parts of the globe recover from COVID-19 at different paces, it’s especially challenging to forecast box office ticket sales.

    Outside of the U.S, where “F9” is scheduled to open on June 25, moviegoing has nearly returned to full strength. Asian markets, particularly China and Japan, have been a source of optimism after recently ushering in several blockbusters including “Hi Mom,” “Detective Chinatown 3” and “Demon Slayer: Mugen Train.” Hollywood movies, in post-pandemic times, have seen mixed results internationally.

    Among Hollywood films, the Warner Bros. movie “Godzilla vs. Kong” holds the record for the best opening overseas in the pandemic era. It debuted to $121 million from 38 foreign countries. Even if “F9” falls short of expectations, it should easily surpass that benchmark.

    “F9” was initially slated for last summer, but its release was delayed numerous times during the pandemic. A movie like “F9,” which cost $200 million to produce, is engineered for global audiences and requires outsize ticket sales to get out of the red. It would have been impossible to turn a profit if it were released any earlier, since the majority of movie theaters weren’t in operation. Globally, the nine “Fast” movies have earned more than $5 billion at the box office.

    The film will continue to roll out in 62 markets throughout the summer, including Australia (June 17), Latin America and the U.S. (June 25), and the United Kingdom, Spain, France and Germany in July.

    China will be a key territory for “F9.” That’s not just because the country has recently overtaken the U.S. as the world’s biggest movie market and has been less reliant on Hollywood fare to fuel attendance levels. In prior “Fast and Furious” installments, nearly 30% of global box office totals came from China alone. The most recent chapters in the main “Fast” saga, 2015’s “Furious 7” and 2017’s “The Fate of the Furious,” were enormous hits with each making roughly $390 million in China.

    In China, “F9” is currently pacing ahead of competitors in terms of presales and has already sold $10.5 million (RMB66.6 million) worth of tickets for opening day. More than 80.7% of the country’s movie theaters — accounting for roughly 154,000 screens — will be devoted to playing “F9.” Yet it remains to be seen if ticket sales can surpass (or even match) other “Fast” movies in the territory.

    Filmmaker Justin Lin, who directed four prior “Fast and Furious” movies,” returned for the series’ latest lap in theaters. “F9” stars Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, John Cena and Helen Mirren and follows Diesel’s Dominic Toretto and his family as they take on their fiercest foe yet — Dom’s brother. That journey somehow takes them to space.

    So far, “F9” has received mixed feedback. Variety’s chief film critic Owen Gleiberman says the film “gets stuck in franchise overdrive.” That’s saying something, considering the property’s increasingly loony stunts, which don’t even pretend to obey the laws of physics, have become its greatest marketing tool. Yet Gleiberman notes “it goes through the motions with more energy than intoxication.” IndieWire’s critic David Ehrlich gave the film a “C+” grade, but offered that “for the first time in a long time it feels like it’s drifting in the right direction again.”

    After more than a year of movie delays, audiences appear to be less bogged down by plot and more hypnotized by onscreen action when it comes to buying movie tickets. “Godzilla vs. Kong” and “Mortal Kombat” generated promising sales in the U.S. (while being offered simultaneously on HBO Max), though neither inspired notably strong reviews.

    Leading up to the release of “F9” in the States, Hollywood is planning to unveil a range of major titles including “Black Widow,” “A Quiet Place Part II” and “In the Heights.” For theater owners, who have gone months without much to show on the big screen, summer means one thing: it’s finally time to put the pedal to the metal.

    Becky Davis contributed to this report.
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  11. #386
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    F9 $137 M in PRC

    May 23, 2021 9:45pm PT
    China Box Office: ‘F9’ Clocks up $137 Million in its Opening Lap


    By Patrick Frater


    Giles Keyte/Universal
    “F9” roared into the lead at the China box office, where the “Fast and Furious” franchise has repeatedly lapped faster than in North America.

    On its first weekend in China the film grossed $137 million, according to data from consultancy Artisan Gateway.

    That gave it an 83% share of the China weekend box office, a market share figure that was notably stable from its Friday lights out. Total box office in the country was $165 million between Friday and Sunday.

    Some $12.45 million of the “F9” total was earned from Imax screens in China. That was Imax’s third biggest May opening score (behind “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron”) and Universal’s second-best China opening weekend in Imax venues behind “Fate of the Furious.” The giant screen provider calculates that earning 9% of the nationwide box office from just 1% of the screens showing the film, is a franchise-best result.

    The runaway win was achieved despite a mediocre critical reception in China. On the fan review site Douban “F9” earned only a 5.6 out of ten critical rating. On the more generous ticketing platforms Mtime and Taopiaopiao it earned only slightly better scores of 6.2 and 7.8, respectively.

    Artisan Gateway, nevertheless, calculates that the powerful performance was good for overall health of the theatrical economy. Its data shows that the year-to-date box office cumulative is now $3.86 billion, only 6.5% down on pre-COVID 2019. A week earlier, the gap had been 10%.

    Gritty Chinese romance, “Love Will Tear Us Apart” released a day earlier than “F9” on Thursday in order to coincide with (yet another) local Valentine’s Day. It earned $15.6 million on Thursday and a further $15.1 million between Friday and Sunday, good enough for second place in the local chart.

    Previous chart-topper, Zhang Yimou’s “Cliff Walkers” was edged into third place by the two new releases and earned $5.1 million over the weekend. That lifted its cumulative to $164 million since its pre-May Day release on April 30.

    Japanese film “Love Letter” was re-released on Thursday and managed $4.1 million over the weekend and $7.4 million over four days.

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    And people complain about getting banned on Facebook...

    May 26, 2021
    2:58 AM PDT
    Media & Telecom
    Fast & Furious star John Cena apologises for calling Taiwan a country
    Yew Lun Tian

    3 minute read

    Cast member John Cena poses at the premiere for "Ferdinand" in Los Angeles, California, U.S., December 10, 2017. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

    U.S. wrestling superstar and actor John Cena apologised to Chinese fans on Tuesday after calling Taiwan a country during an interview to promote his latest movie "Fast & Furious 9".

    Speaking to Taiwanese television TVBS earlier this month, 44-year-old Cena said Taiwan would be the first "country" to see the latest Fast and Furious.

    China regards Taiwan as its province, an assertion that most on the self-ruled, democratic island rejects.

    "I made one mistake. I am very, very sorry for this mistake," Cena said in Mandarin in a video posted on his account on Weibo, a Twitter-like microblog popular in China.

    "I love and respect China and the Chinese people," he added.

    Cena joins a long list of international celebrities who have incurred the wrath of an increasingly nationalistic Chinese public over their comments about Taiwan, Hong Kong or Xinjiang.

    Companies have also come under fire, with several airlines and hotels apologising to China in recent years for listing Taiwan as a country on their booking websites.

    Cena's apology was not enough for many mainland Chinese netizens.

    "Please use Mandarin to say Taiwan is part of China. Otherwise we won't accept the apology," read a comment left on Cena's apology video that received the most "likes".

    Neither did the apology go down well in the United States.

    "Can someone please help John Cena locate his spine, please?" wrote Matt Karolian, manager of American news website Boston.com, on Twitter.

    U.S. Senator Tom Cotton called the apology "pathetic" in a tweet.

    China's foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said in response that criticism of Cena in the United States did not make sense.

    Cotton's remarks were "just like waste paper," he added, speaking at a regular news conference in Beijing on Wednesday.

    Taiwan's Foreign Ministry declined to comment.

    The movie has been a box office hit in mainland China since its open on May 21.

    Over the last weekend, China accounted for $135 million of the movie's $162 million in revenue, according to U.S. entertainment publication Variety.
    ‘Late Show with Stephen Colbert’ Mocks John Cena’s Apology to China
    The movie star and former pro-wrestler started an international controversy for calling Taiwan a country and then walking the comment back.
    BY RYAN PARKER
    MAY 27, 2021 6:16AM

    John Cena
    John Cena attends 'Playing With Fire' New York Premiere at AMC Lincoln Square Theater on October 26, 2019 in New York City. JOHN LAMPARSKI/FILMMAGIC
    The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on Wednesday mocked John Cena’s recent apology to China after he called Taiwan a country.

    The movie star and former pro-wrestler started an international controversy after making the statement during a promotional interview for his upcoming film, F9 — then issuing an apology (in Mandarin) to China.

    “I made a mistake,” Cena said in his apology video issued Tuesday. “Now I have to say one thing which is very, very, very important: I love and respect China and Chinese people. I’m very sorry for my mistakes. Sorry. Sorry. I’m really sorry. You have to understand that I love and respect China and Chinese people.”

    The Late Show on Wednesday released the “full” apology video, mocking Cena’s decision. “Not only is Taiwan not a country, it is also not even a real place,” read the faux interruption of Cena’s words. “It’s like Zootopia, which coincidentally made $220 million in China.”

    Continued the faux interruption, “And don’t even get me started on Tibet! Always complaining, complaining, complaining about China. I will give Tibet something to complain about.” The video then cut to Cena bodyslamming a digital 14th Dalai Lama (“I call that a ‘Daili-Slam-A,” read the faux interruption).

    The Cena matter highlighted the fraught relationship between Hollywood and China. Entertainment industry figures, including professional sports players, have been criticized for comments perceived as political. And Hollywood studios have been criticized over claims that they shape content to avoid offending Chinese government censors.

    Watch the Late Show video below.

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    Our newest article - Free from KungFuMagazine.com

    Chollywood Risen. READ F9: THE FAST SAGA Cruising Back into Theaters by Gene Ching



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    Bw & prc

    Jul 9, 2021 4:35pm PT
    ‘Black Widow’s’ China Delay Rings Alarm Bells for Hollywood

    By Rebecca Davis


    Jay Maidment / Courtesy of Marvel Studios
    The U.S. film industry is heaving a sigh of relief that “Black Widow” is poised to become the highest grossing domestic debut of the post-pandemic era, marking America’s return to moviegoing in force.

    The Scarlett Johansson-starrer is projected to earn around $80 million in its North American opening weekend, beating out “F9” last month. It will also premiere in 46 overseas markets, bringing in an expected $50 million.

    China, however, isn’t on the roster.

    The picture for “Black Widow” is far from rosy in the world’s largest film market, where politics are proving once again to trump profit, and piracy may destroy its box office odds before it manages to reach Chinese shores.

    Although China’s censorship authorities approved “Black Widow” for release back in March, Marvel has yet to offer any indication of a release date for the key territory. (Hong Kong, meanwhile, was actually one of the first territories in the world to release it on July 7, thanks to its Asia time zone.)

    A belated China release could spell trouble. Disney Plus does not operate in China. When the streaming service released the film online for a $30 fee in other territories Friday, it unleashed an easily pirated, high-definition version of the film that reached Chinese consumers within hours.

    Popular on Variety
    “From today on, all kinds of pirated versions of ‘Black Widow’ will begin to spread rapidly,” one film blogger wrote in resignation. “Even if it is released theatrically later, this will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the box office.”

    As of Friday morning, Variety found scores of pirated videos and torrents already available on unauthorized Chinese file sharing and streaming sites, although their initial origins are unclear. On certain illegal sites powered by online gaming ads, many are available to stream for free without any registration or download procedures via a single click.

    Many pirated copies are listed as 1080p HD or 4K quality, or equipped with Dolby Atmos sound. Most come already outfitted with Chinese subtitles, which are often created by groups of fast-acting volunteers or fans before the official translation is released.

    On one of the major fan-generated subtitle websites, at least nine different versions of Chinese “Black Widow” subtitles were available on the front page alone. They can be downloaded separately to pair with different versions of the pirated film. The site declares that “subtitles are only used for language learning purposes; the copyright belongs to the film production.”

    The same piracy issue plagued Disney’s $200 million live-action “Mulan” in China, tanking hopes that the China-set retelling of a classic Chinese folk tale with an Asian cast would become a breakout hit there. It garnered a lackluster $23 million opening weekend and $41 million cume, albeit with significant capacity restrictions on cinemas due to COVID-19.

    Death Sentence for ‘Black Widow’ in China?
    From a purely economic point of view, China’s delay of surefire commercial hit “Black Widow” makes little sense, particularly since its box office has been on the downswing since June, when it hit a record monthly low.

    The country notched a number of box office records earlier this year off local holiday blockbuster hits, but rescheduled Hollywood tentpoles and a diminishing pool of moneymaking local productions have slowed business down. The film industry’s political obligations for July are slowing it further.

    Generally, Beijing tends to program Hollywood blockbusters sparingly in the key moviegoing month of July to carve out space for local productions. This year, its resistance to scheduling foreign films has been exacerbated by the critical 100th anniversary of the ruling Communist Party’s founding on July 1. The occasion has been accompanied by an ongoing, months-long period of militant censorship across all media that will last through the end of the month and likely into fall.

    With those factors in mind, local reports have long been predicting a death sentence for “Black Widow’s” China prospects.

    “The possibility of a simultaneous release is approaching zero. In this special [July] tribute month, even ‘main melody’ [propagandistic] movies like ‘Chinese Doctors’ are facing strict censorship, let alone Hollywood films,” a blogger wrote pessimistically in June.

    Beijing considers it politically paramount for the Party’s propaganda tribute films to reign over their competitors this month. Though the melodramatic titles were widely promoted, they have unsurprisingly not proved popular enough to drive Marvel-level ticket sales.

    China’s major July titles are the political history films “1921” and “The Pioneer,” which have grossed just $58 million (RMB376 million) and $15.4 million (RMB100 million) so far, respectively, since their July 1 debut. The most commercial blockbuster of the bunch is the Bona Film-backed pandemic blockbuster “Chinese Doctors.” It had a muted $14.4 million opening Friday, taking what would have been “Black Widow’s” slot had it opened day-and-date with the U.S. and emerging a poor substitute.

    Unverifiable local reports speculate the “Black Widow” may not release in China until mid-August, when there may be a sudden influx of Hollywood films that could end up cannibalizing each other’s box office.

    Disney did not respond to a request for comment on the movie’s release date circumstances or piracy concerns.

    Release Date Limbo
    The “Black Widow” situation highlights the growing challenges Hollywood is facing in the post-pandemic era, as Beijing and Washington view each other with growing suspicion and new digital distribution models upend decades-old practices.

    Increasingly, foreign films are finding themselves in release date limbo or unexpectedly pulled due to China’s ever-changing political winds and local programming priorities. (For instance, censors approved Pixar’s “Luca” in late May, but it has yet to set a debut.)

    When theatrical windows of at least three months were still observed, digital or Blu-ray releases did not heavily impact a film’s China box office, since imports are only allowed to play in Chinese theaters for one to two months anyway, no matter how successful.

    If Hollywood’s pandemic-era embrace of previously unthinkable modes of online distribution are here to stay, piracy will be a growing problem. It will become increasingly important for films seeking to guarantee the strongest possible China sales to release there before other territories or open simultaneously with their streaming debut.

    A growing number of tentpoles with guaranteed Chinese audiences have already taken this approach, such as “Avengers: Endgame,” which gave China a two-day head start on the U.S., or “F9,” which was prompted by the pandemic to premiere an unprecedented full month ahead of domestic.

    Locking in a China date has grown increasingly difficult as bureaucratic processes and priorities grow stricter and more opaque, meaning that companies may have to initiate censorship review processes even earlier.

    Warner Bros.’ “Dune” may avoid a “Black Widow”-esque conundrum. Had the film debuted Oct. 1 as originally planned, it would have run into China’s highly political National Day holiday that same day, when it would have been elbowed out of a day-and-date release and put off for perhaps the next two weeks in order to give new nationalistic blockbusters time to sell.

    Whether or not the decision to move it to Oct. 22 was intentionally made with the China market in mind, it bodes well.

    “Maintaining good relations to secure release dates, combatting piracy, and deploying strong tactics to shore up word of mouth will be the most critical tasks for Hollywood revenue-share films going forward, particularly for films planning to release simultaneous both in theaters and online,” a well-regarded local film industry outlet said. “Otherwise, more and more revenue-share films will repeat the mistakes of ‘Mulan’ and ‘Black Widow,’ bringing down Hollywood’s China profits.”
    threads
    Black-Widow
    Chollywood-rising
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
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