China reiterates screen limits for foreign films

Cabinet emphasizes 2002 rule on imported movies

BEIJING -- China's State Council on Thursday reiterated a 2002 rule that limits foreign films to one-third of total cinema screen time, and reminded domestic cinemas to support Chinese films.

In a rare move, the State Council, China's Cabinet, issued the statement regarding China's film industry, normally handled exclusively by the State Administration of Film, Radio and Television.

The time limit is another restriction on foreign films, which already face a quota of 20 per year imported on a revenue-sharing basis.

The move likely comes in part as a reaction to the success of recent Hollywood releases in China, namely "Avatar," "2012" and "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," all of which have been China's all-time boxoffice champion at some point in the last 12 months. Prior to "Transformers's" release in China last summer, James Cameron's "Titanic" reigned as the number one film since 1998.

In October, China Film Group released "The Founding of a Republic," ("Jian Guo Da Ye") a patriotic-themed film celebrating 60 years of the People's Republic of China. The film featured 120 top Chinese film figures, including Jet Li, Jackie Chan and Zhang Ziyi,

"Republic" became the highest-grossing Chinese film in China's boxoffice history, earning 416.4 million yuan ($61 million). It also benefited from a release on the largest number of screens in Chinese film history, no competition from Hollywood product, an extended national holiday period and massive promotion, including a trailer for the film running before every movie in the country prior to its release.

Despite that performance, "Republic" still resides only at China's number four all-time, behind "Avatar," which this past weekend became the first film ever to earn $100 million in China, "2012," and "Transformers."

The State Council's statement also highlights the growing conflict between film regulators and cinema chains. The success of Hollywood product, along with an expansion and improvement of cinema screens and facilities has helped China's boxoffice at least 30% in each of the last six years, with total boxoffice up 44% for 2009, to 6.2 billion yuan ($910 million).
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