China b.o. jumps 31% in 2006

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BEIJING -- Driven partly by improved distribution, China's 2006 boxoffice sales rose to 2.62 billion yuan ($327.5 million), up 260 million yuan ($33.3 million) or 31% on the year, state-run media said Tuesday, citing the director of the central Film Bureau.

Fighting off strong competition from the rampant pirate DVD market here, China's 2006 boxoffice was led by 10 films, with five from Hollywood and five from Chinese filmmakers, Film Bureau director Tong Gang said in a State Administration of Radio, Film and Television report acquired by the Xinhua news agency.

Blanketing China's theaters at the end of the year -- including the 366 screens Tong said were added last year -- was mainland director Zhang Yimou's martial arts period epic "Curse of the Golden Flower," China's contender in the foreign-language Oscar race.

"Curse," starring Gong Li and Chow Yun-fat, topped the 2006 boxoffice, earning 250 million yuan ($31.25 million), Tong said in the SARFT report.

Not yet available on the SARFT Web site, the report did not reveal boxoffice revenues for the top imported films, Xinhua said.

According to data from the China Film Group, the only company allowed to import films into the country, the No. 3 and 4 slots in the top 10 were occupied by Sony Pictures' "The Da Vinci Code" with 105 million yuan ($13.4 million) and Universal's "King Kong" with 102 million yuan ($13 million).

By law, only 20 imported films each year are allowed to share in a percentage of the boxoffice sales they generate.

Finishing No. 2 in China's 2006 boxoffice rankings was martial arts period epic, "The Banquet," starring Zhang Ziyi, which pulled in 130 million yuan ($16.25 million). The Hong Kong co-production by mainland director Feng Xiaogang is Hong Kong's official submission to the Oscars.

The top-earning low-budget film in the territory was director Ning Hao's "Crazy Stone," a co-production from joint venture Warner China Film Hengdian Group. The dark comedy about jewel heist in South China, brought in 23 million yuan ($2.94 million) in ticket sales, more than earning back its three million-yuan budget.

Most films, no matter the size of their budget, never earn back their investment in China due to piracy that the Motion Picture Assn. says cost filmmakers some $2.7 billion in ticket and legitimate home entertainment sales in China in 2005.
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