International Revenue for Chinese Films Fell by Half in 2012 (Study)

Lost in Thailand Film Still – H 2013

Lost in Thailand Film Still – H 2013

While domestic productions dominate the local market, their influence abroad “doesn’t match China’s position as a powerful nation,” said the head researcher of an academic survey.

HONG KONG – Overseas revenue generated by mainland Chinese films in 2012 plunged by nearly half compared to the year before, according to an academic report released in Beijing Wednesday.

Titled “Silver Paper: Report on International Spread of Chinese Movies 2012,” the survey found that only 75 domestic productions were sold overseas last year, generating rights fees and ticket sales of $172.8 million (1.06 billion yuan). The paper was prepared by Beijing Normal University’s Institute for International Communication of Chinese Culture.

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The figure represents a sharp decline from 2011, when 52 films generated $329.4 million (2.02 billion yuan) – a total that was itself frowned upon at the time as a sign of weakening business, given that the corresponding figure for 2010 was $574 million (3.52 billion yuan).

Describing the export of Chinese films as "lackluster," institute chief Huang Huilin told the Chinese press in a briefing that the trend is “worrying.” The report stated that the underwhelming performance of Chinese films aboard is due to an underdeveloped marketing and sales structures, and “serious flaws” in the translation of the film’s titles and the provision of adequate subtitles.

Huang said Chinese films’ general influence overseas still “doesn’t match China’s position as a powerful nation, but it’s slowly increasing.”

Highlighting the presence of Chinese films in the festival circuit -- 112 films were shown in 576 screenings around the world during the year -- the report indirectly confirms the widely-held view for years about the inability for the country’s films to become crossover hits abroad, with the success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) and Hero (2002) now ten years behind us and not having opened the commercial floodgates as industry executives here would have liked.

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The crisis was perhaps heightened during the past year, when domestic commercial films dominated cineplexes and, for the past five months, have taken more than 60 percent of total ticket sales in the country. Spearheading this drive was Xu Zheng’s comedy Lost in Thailand, which generated US$205.4 million (1.26 billion yuan) during its Dec. to Feb. run and has since become the highest-grossing homegrown release ever; unspooling in a limited release in the U.S. in February, however, the film only took $57,397.

Whether the situation will improve in 2013 remains to be seen, as the biggest hits so far in 2013 have been comedies driven by very distinct Chinese cultural narratives. Following on Lost in Thailand are Stephen Chow’s fantasy blockbuster Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons, Xue Xiaolu’s rom-com Finding Mr RightVicki Zhao Wei’s university-life drama So Young and Peter Chan’s American Dreams in China, an adaptation of the rags to riches stories of three cram school moguls in the country.

The only box office hits likely capable of crossing over internationally are those trading in globally known brands, in the form of Jackie Chan (with his action-comedy CZ12) and Wong Kar-wai (The Grandmaster).

The status of known Chinese industry names for the international marketplace was demonstrated in part by the 1,117 questionnaires the institute gave out to respondents from 107 countries as part of the academic exercise, asking participants to provide one key term they associate with Chinese cinema.

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Huang said Jackie Chan was the actor named most frequently (by 101 people), followed by Jet Li and Bruce Lee; Zhang Ziyi was named 21 times, ahead of Gong Li and Fan Bingbing. Zhang Yimou was the director who got named most frequently (32 times), ahead of Ang Lee and Chen Kaige.

According to statistics released earlier in the year by China’s official film regulators, 653 feature films were made in the country in 2012, with 223 securing a domestic release. Twenty of them managed to cross the 100-million-yuan threshold ($16.3 million).