China Film File: Box Office Breakthrough, Australian Co-Productions, And Zhang Ziyi

Welcome to China Film File, a weekly brief on the business of movies in China. In today’s news:  China’s 2013 box office total tops 20 million RMB, Shanghai’s Hippo Animation studio inks huge deal with Australian firms, and Zhang Ziyi wins Best Actress at this year’s Asia Pacific Screen Awards.

No Man's Land.

No Man’s Land.

China’s box office draw for this year has topped 20 million RMB ($3.27 billion)With a few major releases like Jackie Chan’s Police Story 2013 and Feng Xiaogang’s Personal Tailor still coming before the end of the year, estimates for 2013’s box office total currently fall at 23 million RMB. With China’s homespun films currently in the lead, this week’s box office results see the runaway success of nihilistic thriller No Man’s Land, which has continued to surpass the earnings of popular gangster film The White Storm since it’s release last Tuesday.

Box office results for this week (courtesy of Box Office Mojo):

Screen Shot 2013-12-13 at 3.58.13 PM

Australia’s animation industry is barreling into the Chinese market with seven planned Chinese co-productions and a $50 million production fund. With intentions to create internationally marketable family features, Australian firms Vue Group and ZAC Films have struck a deal with China’s Shanghai Hippo Animation to commence work on three animated films to be created in English, then subtitled for the Chinese market.

“We might also look into some other potential live action and animation combined together. Merchandizing and theme parks are also a possibility. We are two hungry animals and we can combine our film-making forces together and look into international territory, and it might change the industry completely.”

-Hippo’s President, Kerr Xu

Shanghai Hippo’s Animen: Triton Force.

Continuing the Chinese government’s attempts to assert its own variety of ideology and historical narrative, a documentary film on lessons to be learned from the downfall of the Soviet Union is being shown at government meetings. Produced by a former Chinese general, the documentary re-orients the blame for the USSR’s collapse to corrupt government individuals including Mikhail Gorbachev and calls for officials to tighten party discipline and reinforce government power. Coincidentally, the film is being shown alongside the announcement of a new National Security Committee in China, modeled on America’s own NSC, that will give China’s current leader Xi Jinping more control over foreign policy, domestic security, and the military.

One of China’s biggest stars, Gong Li has signed to play lead in director Zhang Yimou’s upcoming Cultural Revolution drama The Return. A former romantic partner and longtime collaborator of Zhang’s, Gong is a figure of major presence in China’s 20th century cinema culture and was the lead in Zhang’s first success, Red Sorghum. In contrast to many recent Chinese starlets that dream of Hollywood, Gong’s attitude on choosing roles is outspokenly one of pour l’art, saying in a recent interview, “I don’t want to play an irrelevant role in a Hollywood production just for the sake of it.”


Gong Li.

Held in Australia, this year’s Asia Pacific Screen Awards culled almost 40 films from all over the east including India, Australia, and Japan. While China was a definite force in terms of nominations, only two major prizes went to Chinese films this year, with best actress going to China’s Zhang Ziyi for her role in Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmaster and Lu Yue for his cinematography in historical epic Back to 1942.


Zhang Ziyi in The Grandmaster.




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