3-D helps, but summer BO down in HK

Hollywood, local releases all trail 2008 numbers

HONG KONG -- Boosted by 3-D releases with higher admission prices, Hong Kong boxoffice enjoyed a slight increase of HK$10 million (US$1.29 million) for the first seven months of 2009 compared with last year, but early summer grosses dropped, and this year's biggest earners can’t touch those of 2008.

Hong Kong box office grossed HK$711 million from January 1 to August 5, 2009, a 1.3% rise compared with HK$701 million for the same period in 2008, according to the Hong Kong Kowloon and New Territories Motion Picture Industry Association (MPIA). “3-D is one of the factors behind the rise. There are more 3-D releases this year, and the higher ticket price for 3-D showings resulted in a big boxoffice take,” said MPIA chief executive Brian Chung. Moreover, “films make for relatively inexpensive entertainment in the weak economy, it’s still an affordable leisure activity when people are less inclined to travel abroad,” Chung added.

Local cinemas charge 30% to 50% more for 3-D showings, from HK$60-90 for 2-D films, to HK$90-125 for a 3-D show. 2008 saw only two 3-D films released, New Line’s HK$35 million-grossing “Journey to the Center to the Earth,” distributed by Panasia in Hong Kong, and Disney’s “Hannah Montana/ Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Tour” released by Intercontinental. But there have already been 10 3-D releases so far this year, including 20th Century Fox's “Ice Age: Rise of the Dinosaurs," which grossed HK$32.4 million since its July 1 opening, plus Disney’s Chinese New Year release “Bolt” and Dreamworks’ Easter animation “Monster Vs. Aliens," each raking in about HK$15 million. Pixar’s “Up” is also going strong, taking HK$13.8 million in its first week, since July 30.

However, as much as the combined grosses of 3-D films add up to a rise in total haul, individual films aren’t benefiting from this larger trend.  Even with boxoffice-dominating Hollywood imports leading the pack, summer boxoffice gross has dropped 4%, from HK$184 million to HK$177 million in the period from June 24 to July 31. 

The highest-grossing film so far this year, Paramount’s “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," grossed HK$47.9 million since its release on June 24, closely followed by “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”, which took in HK$43.7 million in three weeks since July 17, up to August 5.

“Transformers 2” has reached the end of its run, whereas “Half-Blood Prince”, still occupying 23 screens, will likely surpass the toy-based action bombast’s take in the coming weeks. However, there’s still a long way to go to reach the HK$57 million record of last year’s summer giant “The Dark Knight," which opened on June 25, 2008, the same slot as “Transformers 2."

The same fate has befallen Hong Kong films. Last year’s highest-grossing Hong Kong film was Stephen Chow’s sci-fi fable “CJ7," which took HK$51 million during Chinese New Year. This year’s highest-grossing local films were also released during the same period, but Mandarin’s comedy “All’s Well Ends Well 2009” took HK$24.7 million, and John Woo’s “Red Cliff II” grossed HK$23.7 million.  (The former took 40 million yuan and the latter took a whopping 260 million yuan in China.) 

The biggest local film this summer so far is Edko’s Aaron Kwok starrer “Murderer," taking HK$11.7 million as of August 5, whereas the Jackie Chan drama “Shinjuku Incident” tallied HK$14 million during its Easter run.

It remains to be seen whether the late summer local releases will exceed their predecessors’ numbers -- Alan Mak and Felix Chong’s thriller “Overheard” and animation “McDull Wudong” were both certified hits in China, each grossing over 60 million yuan ($8.8 million). “Overheard” took HK$7.5 million in its first week in Hong Kong since July 30, and “McDull” is scheduled for Hong Kong release August 13. 

Looking ahead, Universe’s Pang Brothers action fantasy “Storm Warrior," the Peter Chan-produced historical thriller “Bodyguards and Assassins” and Emperor’s Jay Chou desert adventure “The Treasure Hunter” are set for Christmas, but they will be up against such heavyweight Hollywood offerings as James Cameron’s 3-D epic “Avatar” and vampire romance “The Twilight Saga: New Moon."