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Homegrown smash hits

Raymond Zhou
Updated: Jul 23,2015 10:01 AM     China Daily

[Photo/China Daily]

Weekly takings reach 1.76b yuan as 5.1 million flock to cinemas to see made-in-China movies.

The boom at China’s multiplexes is almost taken for granted, but it is not every week that several records are shattered-and by three domestic releases.

The weekly box office gross of 1.76 billion yuan ($283.36 million) for July 13 to 19 is a record, and a tidal wave of moviegoers over the weekend meant that many theaters reported full capacity.

The sight of swarming crowds outside the nation’s cinemas, and even occasional scalpers, was something not witnessed since the early 1980s.

Last week’s attendance of 5.1 million people was the highest since 2000. However, it may not be a record because cinemas attracted huge audiences in the 1980s when ticket prices were a fraction of what they are now.

July 18 saw receipts of 420 million yuan and July 19 brought in 402 million, surpassing the single-day benchmark of 383 million yuan set only three months earlier. What truly surprised industry analysts was that two movies that debuted one day apart both ended up as commercial and critical winners. Monster Hunt grossed 662 million yuan in its first four days, while Jian Bing Man generated 427 million yuan in its first three days.

“This could not have happened four or five years ago,” said Suo Yabin, a professor of film studies at Communication University of China. “Now the market can accommodate two or three hit movies at once.”

Monkey King: Hero Is Back was the week’s third winner. In its second week of release, it raked in 370 million yuan, adding to its first-week take to reach a total of 467 million yuan and making it the new champion of domestic animated movies. It has a chance of unseating Kung Fu Panda 2, with 608 million yuan, as China’s all-time most popular animation film.

All three movies received favorable reactions from critics and the public alike, in sharp contrast to previous hits that were deemed to be pandering to an unsophisticated audience.

The movies all have rags-to-riches back stories. Monkey King, in its first week, was squeezed by two youth-oriented features with supersized built-in audiences-Tiny Times 4 and Forever Young-to less than 10 percent of screens. It was saved and turned into a sleeper hit by word-of-mouth alone.

Monster Hunt was produced by Bill Kong of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fame and directed by Raman Hui, who was behind Shrek the Third. It was set to premiere during the Lunar New Year, but male lead Kai Ko was arrested on a charge of drug use, and this led to the movie being denied a public release. Kong made a hard decision-to invest an additional 70 million yuan and reshoot it with another actor.

Jian Bing Man is the directorial debut of Da Peng, a webisode maker who made his name by portraying himself as a loser. The new comedy about the making of a superhero film makes clever use of his underdog image and a parade of celebrity cameos. The jokes and gags are very local and unlikely to be matched by US competitors.