Beijing premiere ushers in 'Assembly'


BEIJING -- Director Feng Xiaogang unveiled his modern civil war film "Assembly" on Tuesday in the 10,000-seat Beijing Olympic boxing venue to an audience of students, dating yuppies and star-gazing middle-class Chinese overflowing into the aisles.

The film's Chinese premiere came during one of the government-imposed blackouts that bar Hollywood blockbusters from competing with domestic movies. Last week, Hong Kong director Peter Chan's "The Warlords" enjoyed the same shelter at the boxoffice and earned $1.6 million in its first day in China.

Four Hollywood blockbuster films, led by "Transformers," have dominated China's boxoffice this year, each earning more than 100 million yuan ($13.5 million) and well outearning domestic films.

Zhang Mei, a recent university graduate, did not think the ban so bad. "It's OK, because every year there are so many Hollywood films that come to China. So in December, we get to see only our movies. We get to focus on these special movies," she said.

The "Assembly" premiere stretched to four hours, beginning at 7 p.m. and featuring the film's stars: Zhang Hanyu, Deng Chao, Yuen Wenkang and Tang Yan. Also in attendance was China's most famous comic actor, Ge You.

Boy and girl bands, opera singers, a female dancing squad draped under a blood-red silk curtain, and goose-stepping young men dressed as soldiers took turns entertaining the crowd for 90 minutes before the screening began. At one point, part of an overhanging stage decoration broke off and nearly hit the live orchestra below.

Guests entering the venue, the Beijing's Workers Arena -- which in August will host boxing events during the 2008 Olympic Games -- were walked through a metal detector, presumably to bar video cameras, the tool of the trade for China's widespread movie pirates.

The film's premiere marks the 10-year anniversary of China's so-called genre of New Year films. In China, where many cannot afford movie tickets, viewers long have been in the habit of going to the cinema only once a year.

"These tickets, up here, they cost about 600 yuan ($92) I think. But the VIP tickets, those are expensive. Over 1,000 yuan ($135)," an older man sitting in the nosebleed seats said. The film will premiere nationwide Thursday, with average tickets costing 80 yuan ($10.83).

Starting with "Dream Factory" in 1997, Feng has been the unrivaled king of the New Year film at the boxoffice, earning record-breaking sums from late December through the Lunar New Year in late January and early February.

"Assembly," shot in the winter along China's border with North Korea, screened Tuesday with help from a sound and projection team brought in from the U.S. to wow the audience in the sports stadium at the edge of the central business district of China's capital.