(china org) Editor’s Note: The Spring Festival holiday is the best season for China’s domestic productions to make huge profits and set box office records. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, last year’s holiday releases were canceled and cinemas were shut down nationwide for months. This year, theater seating capacity is limited to 50% to 75%, but there is still room for huge box office potential.
Presales for seven blockbusters released in time for China’s week-long Spring Festival holiday had accrued total takings of more than 1.46 billion yuan ($227 million) by the New Year’s Eve, according to the box office tracker and big data platform Beacon, indicating Chinese audiences’ hunger for holiday entertainment.
Topping the bookings chart was “Detective Chinatown 3,” the latest installment in the hugely popular Detective Chinatown franchise. It has already made around 968 million yuan in total, including 690 million yuan for its opening day alone. The movie has set an all-time high for ticket presales.
Thus, if the initial indications are accurate, the Chinese film market, already the world’s largest, will set numerous box office records during the holiday and beyond. At the same time, online films will also enrich people’s life, as many of whom stay put during the festival to help contain the epidemic.
China.org.cn previews blockbusters and online entertainment set for release during the Spring Festival holiday, which will be available in the Chinese market and around the world.
9. Online film and TV season
Smart Cinema USA will work with various distributors to screen a slew of high-quality Asian films in the North American market for the Chinese Lunar New Year. Those to be screened mainly are contenders for the Oscar International Feature Film award, including the Chinese films “Leap” and “Better Days.” Chinese domestic blockbusters and critically acclaimed art-house films, from “My People, My Homeland,” “Warm Hug,” “Legend of Deification,” “The Reunions,” and “Coffee or Tea?” will also be released via Smart Cinema USA during the Spring Festival.
The mobile app, developed by veteran film executive Jack Gao, can turn users’ mobile phones into virtual cinemas to screen theatrical releases and catalog films. The films can be viewed one time on the app with users paying the ticket price, just as people do with brick-and-mortar cinemas. In North America, it is collaborating with American TV brand VIZIO, so audiences can watch films on their TV screens. In China, its Chinese app will present 10 classic and rare catalog films such as Huang Jianxin’s “Samsara” (1988), He Ping’s “Kawashima Yoshiko” (1989), Ge Xiaoying’s “The Street Knight” (1990) and Zhang Yang’s “Shower” (1998).
Other video streaming sites and TV networks also have big plans for the Spring Festival. Arranged by the National Radio and Television Administration, a program titled “Staying put to celebrate Spring Festival” was launched. Partnering with more than 40 major organizations, from IPTV platforms to websites, the program is scheduled to release nearly 10,000 productions. The program is providing a profound array of titles and shows between Feb. 11 and 17. Among the sizable lineup, around 4,000 of the shows will be new content, including the online series “To Be with You” and “Ping-Pong.” In addition, a string of recently-released blockbuster films such as “The Rescue” and “Shock Wave 2,” as well as the Spring Festival galas hosted by local television stations in different cities and provinces, will be shown as part of the program.
8. Two new online blockbusters
China Film Association has been working with three major streaming sites, Youku, iQiyi and Tencent Video, to present 43 domestic productions during the online Spring Festival film season. Notably, there are two new heavyweight online films to debut during the holiday on the three platforms.
“Shaolin Temple: Legend of Debao,” an upcoming martial arts flick directed by Jackie Chan’s close collaborator Stanley Tong and starring Wang Baoqiang, Ni Dahong and Ng Man Tat, features obvious nods to classic kung fu films from the 1970s and 1980s. The producers said this will be an original and pure kung fu film.
The other new film to debut will be the comedy “Dreams of Getting Rich” directed by comedian Song Xiaobao, starring himself alongside Ma Li, Sha Yi and Zhang Yishan. The film tells the story of two rural migrant workers from northeastern China who travel to southern China’s Shenzhen to work. Once in Shenzhen, they encounter a woman and unexpectedly find an abandoned baby, which ignites a hilarious journey.
This year marks the first time that the online Spring Festival film season concept gained official support and recognition from Chinese broadcasting authorities.
A promotional image for the online Spring Festival film season.
7. “Boonie Bears: The Wild Life”
The Boonie Bears are finally returning. This year, many children are looking forward to the seventh installment in the Boonie Bears film series. In the movie, the bear brothers Briar and Bramble, and their human friend Vick, travel to the Wild Land, where humans can transform into animals using special bracelets. However, trouble follows once they discover that some hybrid guests are going wild and attacking one another.
“Boonie Bears: The Wild Life” was supposed to hit screens last year but was delayed to this year due to the pandemic. During last year’s advance screenings, it received positive feedback. Now it’s on its journey again, and its presold tickets (combined with earnings from advanced screenings last year) have already reached more than 60 million yuan as of Feb. 9.
The film will be released nationwide on Feb. 12, Chinese Lunar New Year’s Day. It will also open in Australia and New Zealand on Feb. 18.
6. “Hi, Mom”
“Hi, Mom” is the directorial debut of comedy actress Jia Ling, and is adapted from her 2016 sketch comedy of the same name. The film reflects on how she misses her late mother Li Huanying, who encouraged Jia to pursue her artistic dreams. The film is set in 1981 and depicts her mother’s love story. It stars Jia Ling, Zhang Xiaofei, Michael Chen and popular comedian Shen Teng.
The marketing team of the family comedy is appealing to young people to take their parents to cinemas as a way of showing the traditional filial piety, so that they can laugh together during the family reunion holiday. “Hi, Mom” is leading the blockbuster race temporarily, ranked second on the advance holiday sales chart, with its presale of tickets totaling more than 225 million yuan so far.
5. “End Game”
“End Game” is a comedy-drama starring Hong Kong mega star Andy Lau and comedy actor Xiao Yang. The story follows a ruthless killer, played by Andy Lau, and an actor, played by Xiao Yang, who accidently swap identities, leading to a series of strange events. It is a Chinese adaptation of Japanese cinema hit “Key of Life” (2012) by Kenji Uchida which also spawned a South Korean adaptation “Luck-Key” by Lee Gye-byeok in 2016. The Chinese version is directed by Rao Xiaozhi, the man behind the comedy hit “A Cool Fish.” Lau, as a very prolific star on the big screen and in concert for decades, has a huge stardom in China. He recently starred in “Shock Wave 2” which was one of the most successful films of last year, grossing nearly 1.3 billion yuan. To promote “End Game,” Lau even opened his first social media account on Douyin, which has attracted more than 55 million followers and 100 million clicks on just 9 short videos.
The film will also open in Singapore during the Spring Festival on Feb. 12 and then in more overseas markets such as North America on Feb. 18, and Australia and New Zealand on Feb. 25.
4. “New Gods: Nezha Reborn”
After the animated film “Ne Zha” became the most successful Chinese animated feature of all time, the story of the naughty deity, based on the ancient fantasy novel “Fengshen Yanyi,” became one of the most sought-after mythological subjects for studios. The latest film, also about Ne Zha, is directed by Light Chaser Animation’s director Zhao Ji, best known for the 2019 hit “White Snake.”
Production on “New Gods: Nezha Reborn” was actually started before Bejing Enlight Media’s “Ne Zha” and is so not a copy of that phenomenal animated blockbuster. The story is set 3,000 years after the original Ne Zha story, and the new film focuses on how Ne Zha is reincarnated as a young motorcycle rider in a sci-fi style cyberpunk future. The film has received a lot of positive feedback during advanced screenings, with many praising its impressive special effects that have raised Chinese animation production to another level. Also, there are indications that Light Chaser has an ambition to build another Fengshen Yanyi animation universe of their own.
The film will debut in many overseas markets such as North America, Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore on Feb. 18. It will open in Japan on Feb. 26.
3. “The Yinyang Master”
Adapted from the mobile game Onmyoji, the film centers on the yin-yang master Qing Ming (known as Abe no Seimei in Japan), a genius onmyoji practitioner who lives in a fictional world where monsters and human coexist. The movie is an exotic mix of Chinese and Japanese culture. The novel “Onmyoji” was written by Japanese author Baku Yumemakura and centers around the Chinese legend of the yin-yang master, who specializes in exorcising demons and performing rituals.
Chinese game developer NetEase Games adapted it into a role-playing game (RPG), while working with Huayi Brothers Media and CKF Pictures to produce a feature film directed by Li Weiran and starring Chen Kun and Zhou Xun. “The Yinyang Master” features 2,833 visual effects shots, including 702 digital monsters. Many of the beasts are cute and reminiscent of similar characters in the popular Monster Hunt franchise. The film will mark a great breakthrough in digital character creation for Chinese films.
The film’s overseas distribution rights were acquired by Netflix, but a release date has not yet been set.
2. “A Writer’s Odyssey”
The upcoming fantasy action blockbuster “A Writer’s Odyssey,” is based on writer Shuang Xuetao’s novel “Assassin in Red.” Director Lu Yang spent five years working on the incredible visual effects, using some new technologies that have never been used in any Chinese films, such as virtual shooting technology.
The special effects industry’s leading enterprise MORE VFX, which previously spent 9 months working on the sci-fi epic “The Wandering Earth”, spent 30 months crafting “A Writer’s Odyssey.” Most notably, they created a 15-meter-tall digital celestial figure, “the Red-haired Ghost,” making more than 400,000 hairs on its head, as well as over 900,000 skin follicles on its body. All the special effects were made in China, taking Chinese visual effects to the next level. Visual effects supervisor Xu Jian called the film “the one to revolutionize Chinese film industry.”
However, director Lu said all visual spectacles are just tools, and he made sure he didn’t forget the key to success: the stories and characters. The film stars Lei Jiayin, Dong Zijian and Yang Mi.
The film will not only open in China, but also in North America, Australia and New Zealand on Feb. 12.
1. “Detective Chinatown 3”
“Detective Chinatown 3” is the most anticipated movie of the holiday, taking in more than 500 million yuan just in presales, an unprecedented presale record. 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, but after it came back this year, its presales are even more staggering.
The film is set in Tokyo, where the Chinese detective duo and their friends work with Japanese detectives to solve new mysteries and finally uncover the identity of the mysterious mastermind, “Q.” The film stars Chinese actors Wang Baoqiang, Liu Haoran and Xiao Yang; Japanese actors Satoshi Tsumabuki, Masami Nagasawa, Shôta Sometani, Honami Suzuki, Tadanobu Asano and Tomokazu Miura; as well as Thai kung fu star Tony Jaa. The film is one of a few global tentpole productions shot entirely with revolutionary IMAX digital cameras. The film is also notable for its use of Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World,” for which the production paid a hefty licensing fee.
The franchise is also looking to expand into a larger universe, the first step of which was a new online TV series which debuted on Jan. 1, 2020, as well as more movies planned in the future, director Chen Sicheng announced.
Following on from the original “Detective Chinatown,” the second movie grossed a staggering $544 million worldwide in 2018. How high the third installment can go remains to be seen, but it is clearly the top choice for cinemagoers this holiday.
Distributors will also release the film in 25 countries across the Middle East and Africa during the Spring Festival holiday, such as Yemen, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arab, the UAE, Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, Egypt, South Africa and Senegal. There are currently no release plans for North America and Europe.
Source: China.org.cn, February 12, 2021 by Zhang Rui