China's 'Revival' Lives on as 'Transformers,' 'Potter' Wait in the Wings

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'Transformers,' 'Harry Potter' and 'Zookeeper' set for late July releases as accusations of box office manipulation plague propaganda film.

BEIJING -- Hollywood's biggest summer blockbusters are on hold while China's Communist Party continued to celebrate, both in a nationwide propaganda blitz, and seemingly, atop the box office.

As Transformers: Dark of the Moon mows down box office records even in adjacent Hong Kong, China-wide release of the film won't happen until July 21, with Beginning of the Great Revival, the propaganda epic that marks the 90th anniversary of China's Communist Party, seemingly given a clear run. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 and Zookeeper are both set for release later in July.

The Transformers release delay is even more stunning considering the second film in the franchise, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, was China's all-time box office champion for a short period in 2009, before first 2012 and then Avatar knocked it from its perch. That film is estimated to have earned $59 million in China.

At least one multiplex chain is being accused of trying to inflate the film's box office numbers.

Revival has a star-studded case, cinemas have been flooded with screenings, Hollywood blockbusters have been banned nd offices and schools have been encouraged to buy tickets in bulk. Its box office total so far is $49 million in its first 19 days.

On Wednesday, Hong Kong's Apple Daily newspaper published Internet photos of three doctored tickets for Revival. The title of the movie was printed, then crossed out and the name of another film was filled in by hand.

Because Chinese box office results are counted by the number of computer-generated tickets, such alterations, if true, would artificially boost the propaganda film and suppress results of the movie the ticket-holders watched.

With the global film industry eager to cash in on China's booming theatrical market, few wanted to discuss the subject with foreign media and risk offending the government by badmouthing a politically important film.

When a reporter called the executive of a Beijing-based multiplex chain that was not implicated for comment, he refused even though he had spoken freely about other topics before.

"I can talk about anything else," said Gao Jun, deputy general manager for New Film Association.

Calls to Jiang Defu, the spokesman for China Film Group, the influential state-owned studio that made Beginning of the Great Revival, went unanswered.

Marketing department employees for Guangzhou-based Jinyi International Cinemas, the multiplex chain allegedly responsible for two of the three doctored tickets published by Apple Daily, deferred calls to other colleagues, who never responded.

Jinyi International Cinemas runs some 400 screens across the country, accounting for nearly $108 million in box office in 2010, according to its official website.

The films written onto the three tickets published in Apple Daily were the Hollywood animated film Kung Fu Panda 2 and Hong Kong director Peter Chan's kung fu thriller Wu Xia, which was released Monday.

Chen Zhe, a China spokesman for Paramount Pictures, which distributed Kung Fu Panda 2, declined comment, as did Derek Ha, a distribution official for Hong Kong-based We Pictures, which made Wu Xia.

However, its director, Chan, told the newspaper he was worried. "I have already complained to the relevant authorities. They are still investigating. I hope it is not true."

The Hong Kong filmmaker has a lot at stake. Wu Xia, which features action star Donnie Yen and Lust, Caution star Tang Wei, is his first film since the 2007 epic The Warlords and took $20 million to make.

By contrast, Kung Fu Panda 2 had already been in Chinese cinemas for 37 days and raked in an impressive $94 million, according to figures up until Sunday from Chinese entertainment research firm EntGroup.

Beginning of the Great Revival stars well-known names such as Chow Yun-fat, Andy Lau and director John Woo. Its box office total so far is likely to jump quickly given the sheer saturation of the film. The movie was screened 64,393 times last week, compared to 26,254 times for Kung Fu Panda 2, according to EntGroup.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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