'American Hustle' to Open in China in March as Hollywood Movies Chase Mainland Market

Francois Duhamel/Annapurna Productions
"American Hustle"

The expanded quota system is good news for Hollywood films, but a strong raft of offerings by local companies means the domestic business should be strong too.

David O. Russell's caper hit American Hustle will get a Chinese release in March, as the first quarter of 2014 looks set to include a scattering of big-name Hollywood movies in the world's second-biggest movie market.

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According to data gathered from movie website Douban.com and sources within the exhibition industry in China, early 2014 is going to be a busy time for Hollywood in China. Official box-office data for last year shows sales of $3.6 billion, making China an increasingly attractive market for Hollywood filmmakers.

All the more so since 2012, when the quota system was expanded to allow 34 overseas movies into China every year on a revenue-share basis, although this figure is not written in stone and includes enhanced format films such as 3D or Imax movies.

The animated movie Saving Santa opens on Jan. 25, which may be a bit late for Christmas, but China marks its biggest annual holiday, Lunar New Year, on Jan. 31 and the movie is clearly aimed at that particularly festive audience.

Animated turkey movie Free Birds is due to open on Jan. 31, while February is shaping up to be a busy month, starting with the Finnish reindeer movie Niko 2: Lentäjäveljekset on Feb. 2, followed three days later by Frozen on Feb. 5.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug opens on Feb. 21, followed a week later by the retooled Robocop on Feb. 28, while the Jason Statham-starring Homefront is also expected to screen in China in February.

As well as American Hustle, March will also see Stuart Beattie's fantasy I, Frankenstein.

China is also expected to show X-Men: Days of Future Past, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Rio 2, George Clooney's The Monuments Men, The Maze Runner, Ridley Scott's Exodus and Night at the Museum 3, according to Douban.com.

Other big movies expected later in the year include Wally Pfister's Transcendence, expected in April, James Cameron's DeepSea Challenge in May, the sci-fi thriller Autómata in June, then The Expendables 3, which has proven a very popular franchise in China, opens in August.

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Domestic movies more than held their own in 2013, taking $2.12 billion in box office, and there is growing interest in the mainland in Chinese films after a rise of 54.3 percent for homegrown films last year.

This year is also expected to be a strong one with some big projects due from the country's top directors. Actor-director Jiang Wen, who made his name in Zhang Yimou's Red Sorghum and whose Let the Bullets Fly was a smash in 2011, taking $116 million, is back with the second in that trilogy, Gone With the Bullets. Set in Shanghai during the 1920s, Gone With the Bullets again stars Jiang and comedy actor Ge You as two adventurers who become involved in a beauty pageant.

There are high expectations for Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien's martial arts epic Nie Yinniang, which is based on an ancient Chinese legend about a female assassin in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907). The movie features Taiwanese actress Shu Qi, who dazzled in Stephen Chow's Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons in 2013, playing the lead role of Nie, who is kidnapped by nuns as a child. Hou spent more than seven years preparing the movie.

Hong Kong director Ann Hui will present Golden Age, a biopic of the Chinese writer Xiao Hong, while John Woo is planning to present the disaster movie The Crossing toward the end of 2014.

Zhang Yimou is taking the scale of his movies down a notch or two with Return, an adaptation of Yan Geling’s novel The Criminal Lu Yanshi, featuring Chen Daoming and Gong Li.

Also expected in 2014 is Shanghai-born Hollywood veteran Mike Medavoy's project, an adaptation of Chinese novelist Bei La’s The Cursed Piano, a story about Jewish refugees seeking assistance in the city during World War II, directed by Barry Levinson, written by Ronald Harwood and lensed by Wong Kar Wai's frequent cinematographer Christopher Doyle.