High-priced 'Flower' opens in Beijing

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BEIJING -- Director Zhang Yimou's "Curse of the Golden Flower" premiered at an expensive gala in China's capital Thursday, while 13 theaters sold out tickets costing 70 yuan ($8.75) each, nearly twice the national average and beyond the reach of most Chinese.

In a move that could help China's foreign-language Oscar hopeful post big numbers at the boxoffice in the holiday moviegoing season, cinemas agreed last week to set high prices for tickets to "Curse," starring Gong Li and Chow Yun Fat, circuit spokespeople said.

A martial arts period piece about the decline of an imperial family, "Curse" reportedly cost $45 million to make. Critics have said it echoes Zhang's previous epic "Hero," which made more than $53 million at the U.S. boxoffice in 2004 and holds China's boxoffice record for a homegrown film at 250 million yuan ($32 million).

More than 1,000 guests were invited to the gala, but Zhang missed it to be in New York, where he is directing his original opera "The First Emperor." Gong Li was with her ailing mother and Chow Yun Fat was was busy shooting another film, Xinhua said.

Producer Zhang, who has worked with director Zhang since 1996, told Xinhua he expects "Curse" to earn 300 million yuan ($37 million) in China and $100 million overseas after its Dec. 22 worldwide release.

Steep ticket prices in China drew a defense of sorts in a blunt editorial in the China Daily. The state-run English-language newspaper said Zhang's film caters to Western tastes in order to recoup foreign production investments in the international boxoffice.
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