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Race for Spring Festival blockbusters starts Friday

(china org) Presale tickets for Spring Festival movie blockbusters opened on Friday with “Detective Chinatown 3” taking the lead.

The week-long Spring Festival holiday, starting on Feb. 12, is usually the busiest and the most lucrative movie screening season in China. This year, it will begin with the release of seven titles, all domestic productions, on the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year.

According to box office tracker Beacon, presales started at 8 a.m. on Friday morning, and by noon the much-anticipated “Detective Chinatown 3” had skyrocketed up the box office presale chart with an intake of nearly 15 million yuan. The takings saw it greatly surpass the takings for comedy “Hi, Mom,” which only racked up 2.5 million yuan.

The film’s total gross takings now sit at over 23 million yuan when combined with box office revenue that it took in last year without screening. That’s because the film was originally scheduled to hit theaters during 2020’s Spring Festival, but due to the COVID-19 outbreak, it was postponed to this year. Before the cinema shutdown last year, “Detective Chinatown 3” took in more than 200 million yuan in presale tickets alone, an unprecedented record. 

A box office analyst explained to China.org.cn, even though most presale tickets from last year’s release were refunded, several million were left unreclaimed and so will count towards the film’s total box office takings. 

As the sequel to the 2018 comedy hit “Detective Chinatown 2,” which grossed 3.4 billion yuan ($526 million), “Detective Chinatown 3” already has a staggering number of more than 11 million users who have expressed interest in seeing the film via Taopiaopiao and Maoyan, two major Chinese ticketing platforms.

The other six films billed for same-day release in the holiday blockbuster race are the time travel comedy “Hi, Mom” starring popular comedians Jia Ling and Shen Teng; “Assassin in Red,” a novel-based fantasy thriller film starring Lei Jiayin and Yang Mi; the mobile game-turned fantasy film “The Yinyang Master” starring Chen Kun and Zhou Xun; “End Game,” a comedy-drama starring singer and actor Andy Lau and comedy actor Xiao Yang; “New Gods: Nezha Reborn,” a new animated film from Light Chaser Animation, the same production company behind the successful 2019 animated feature “White Snake;” and “Boonie Bears: The Wild Life,” the new installment in the hugely popular domestic animated comedy franchise and which was also originally scheduled but eventually canceled during last year’s Spring Festival.

China’s box office maintained robust growth into 2021 after scoring a record high for New Year’s Day earnings. The total box office revenue in the first 10 days of 2021 exceeded 2 billion yuan, up by more than 730 million yuan year on year. 

The market’s total earnings in 2020 were 20.4 billion yuan, making China the biggest film market in the world and eclipsing the North American market, which was forced to shut most of its cinemas due to the ongoing pandemic. Last year’s top 10 earners on the Chinese market were all domestic productions, led by “The Eight Hundred,” which had the highest takings in the world in 2020, according to official figures. 

Despite the large domestic line-up for Spring Festival, cinema managers and audiences remain worried about the prospect of what a potential outbreak may mean for screenings, and they won’t be able to rest assured until the Lunar New Year actually arrives. That’s because bitter memories still recount how even on the last day, things can change, with all Chinese theaters having to shut down last year on Lunar New Year’s Eve.

Currently, as the coronavirus continues to spread abroad, and with some clusters and sporadic cases being reported domestically in some areas of China, the situation has intensified the need for preventing inbound cases and a potential domestic resurgence. In turn, this has led to discussion online about the possibility of partial or even total cinema shutdown in the days and weeks to come. Some resurgent localities have in fact already shut down cinemas or ordered venues to abide by reduced capacity screenings, limiting theater seats between 75% to 50%.

But with effective prevention and control measures in place, cinemas will function as an essential entertainment activity for people during the holiday, especially as tens of millions of migrant workers will be unable to return to their hometowns during the Spring Festival holiday. 

“We will offer more colorful cultural and sports-related activities so that people who stay during the holiday can feel at home and enjoy a good New Year’s celebration,” said Zhao Chenxin, secretary general and spokesperson of the National Development and Reform Commission, at the State Council’s inter-agency task force briefing on Jan. 27. “There will be many high-quality movies released during the Spring Festival holiday.”

“We will also encourage art and theater troupes and groups in low-risk areas to increase performances in spacious venues and conduct online broadcasts under the premise of effectively preventing and controlling the epidemic,” Zhao said, “We will guide local satellite TV stations to arrange and broadcast a series of TV series, shows, galas, documentaries, and cartoons, etc. of various themes and genres to meet the needs of people of different ages.”

Source: china.org by Zhang Rui

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