Welcome to China Film File, a weekly brief on the business of movies in China. In this week’s news: shady practices hit the release of Black Coal, China Film Group gains a new peer, and American rapper Eminem shows a soft spot for Chinese film.
This last week saw American import Need for Speed swiftly pull to the lead of the mainland’s box office rankings with a cool take of over $21 million during its first week. While results aren’t in yet for the opening sales of the Golden Bear-winning thriller Black Coal, Thin Ice, it’s probable that the ugly maneuvers pulled by the people behind competing local film Fighting will bring its ticket sales down a few notches.
(Box office results courtesy of Box Office Mojo.)
China’s film industry has found itself in a turbulent state due to controversy sparked by news company Phoenix TV’s investigations into some shady market moves designed to keep viewers away from the Diao Yinan’s award-winning Black Coal, Thin Ice. According to the report, the producers and director of the Chinese-produced action film Fighting aggressively sought to influence viewers away from seeing Black Coal by paying hundreds of bloggers to write negative reviews on various social media platforms. Additionally, the group behind Fighting admitted in the report that they pre-sold over a million tickets in order to sway box office numbers to bury the opening release of Black Coal, Thin Ice.
The whole thing seems extremely convenient for China’s film censors, who win by saying they will release the controversial film but can pass the blame of obscuring the film to the team behind a competing feature. The circumstances are somewhat remeniscent of the burying of another controversial, dark, and foreign award-winning film that showed the gritty underside of contemporary China. Film bureau officials claim the practice of pre-selling tickets is legal but will be “investigating” how much the scam affected ticket sales.
Expectations abound that China’s one and only film distribution organization, the China Film Group, is about to be joined by a second organization. This will be a paradigm shifting development because at the moment, the China Film Group (CFG) is the only authority of China’s film industry with the license to make administrative decisions regarding every facet of the mainland’s film distribution. According to Variety, the China National Culture and Art Corp (CNAC) will receive a license from the government allowing them some degree of shared responsibility over the import and release of films in China.
However, specifics concerning the new distribution of power are still unknown. Previously a lane for importing music, touring, and theatrical shows, the CNAC has received support from China’s Ministry of Culture, along with the enormous state media body The State Administration for Press Publication, Radio, Film and Television. One issue regarding the new delegation of power that will have a major impact on China’s film industry is whether or not the CNAC will be in competition or work in tandem with CFG. Chances are, the CNAC will not act as an industry counterweight, and is only being installed by the government to give the impression of more than one governing film organization—but only time will tell.
Johnny Depp’s upcoming film Transcendence will be the first Hollywood film to simultaneously premiere on the same day in China and the United States. Featuring Depp as a scientist whose soul is uploaded into a supercomputer, the film will be promoted in China by the actor himself on a two-day tour around the mainland.
Amazingly, famous American rappers 50 Cent and Eminem, along with award winning producer Timbaland and Knicks basketball player Carmelo Anthony, were revealed to be among the financial backers for Diao Yinan’s recent Berlinale-winning independent Chinese noir, Black Coal, Thin Ice. According to Variety, the celebs are just some of many of the high-profile clients in the stable of Daniel Victor’s New York-based production company Boneyard Entertainment, a group that co-produced Black Coal with China’s Omnijoji productions. Looking to build on the success of Black Coal, Boneyard and Omnijoji have already slated two more films for the Chinese market into production.
Han Sanping, the charismatic former head of CFG, has officially stepped down after 10 years of chairmanship. The position now goes to new head La Peikang. While this shift has been a long time coming, it’s still uncertain as to what changes the new head La Peikang will make to current policy.