The invisible hand guiding Chinese box offices

By Wu Jin
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, July 10, 2013
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Chinese coming-of-age drama "Tiny Times," generally disliked by film critics, has created much excitement due to its box office success; it has grossed over 400 million yuan (US$65.20 million) in the 11 days since its premiere on June 28, 2013.

The movie's domineering release across 20 Chinese cities, including Shanghai, Suzhou and Jinan, has taken over cinemas in full force.

In stark contrast then, action movie "Seven Assassins," rated slightly better than "Tiny Times" according to viewer feedback on China's online database for movies and TV products, shows a frail ability to attract audiences since premiering on June 9, 2013.

According to China Business Journal, a Chinese business newspaper, prominent Chinese director Jia Zhangke sarcastically suggested on his Weibo -- China's Twitter equivalent-- the rampant release of "Tiny Times" has distorted the Chinese film market.

According to the newspaper, "Tiny Times" was invested in by over 10 companies, including Dasheng International Media (Beijing) Co., Ltd. and which both operate in the film distribution sector.

"A film without marketing will bear no good fruit," Zhang Zhao, chief executive officer of, said.

"And it would be too late for the filmmakers to consider distribution after they already finished the whole filming process."

An Xiaofen, president of Dasheng International Media (Beijing) Co., Ltd. couldn't agree more with Zhang. "Not a company, no matter how capable it is, can singly make a film [succeed in box offices]," she said.

"The investors' list for a film is usually very long. It is not only because the [joint investment] can lower the risks [of a film], but also because it can make all the parties share the resources."

Despite the film distributors' relentless support in joining hands with filmmakers, some filmmakers are quite unhappy with the cooperation. According to China Business Journal, the filmmakers, taking most of the risks in producing and promoting a film, are the most vulnerable party and usually get the least returns compared with others involved.

"Film directors and producers don't have much of a say in film distribution. It is the distributors who decide how often the film should be released," film marketing expert Wang Yong explained.

"The bosses [of the distributing companies] can decide on the timetable of a film… And cinemas are in no way to defy them."

光辉岁月7 Assassins(2013)预告海报 #05

A recent dispute between the filmmakers of "Seven Assassins" and the Enlight Media Group, one of China's largest privately-owned media and entertainment companies which is also responsible for the promotion of "Seven Assassins," illustrates the conflict on both sides.

Xiong Xinxin, the film's director, voiced his complaints at the recent Straits Film and TV Festival by saying that several man-made reasons were to blame for the unsuccessful release of "Seven Assassins," hinting at the irresponsibility of Enlight Media Group.

The film's team afterwards published an open letter online, blaming the Enlight Media Group for their failure to promote the film full-scale. "It did not use the promotional material in the appropriate places, it failed to get film insiders organized to watch the movie and it arranged an awful time to release the film," the letter read.

However, Enlight Media Group fiercely refuted the attack. "How much does everybody think we need to be paid for a movie with an investment hitting 70 million yuan?... Actually, we only get 7 million yuan for promotion and we have spent less than 4 million so far… After watching the rough cut, I don't think the film is worth the promotion," said general manager of the film distribution division of Enlight Media Group Chen Hongli.

"Without Enlight Media Group's promotion, [the box office revenue of] 'Seven Assassins' would have been more miserable… All cinemas hope to release movies which can make them fat returns," Chen protested.

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