China Film File: Discount Disney, Blockbuster Budgets, And A Mysterious Death

Welcome to China Film File, a weekly brief on the business of movies in China. In this weeks’s news: The Monkey King opens in China, suspicions surround the death of film boss Li Ming, and Disney fights pirates with pirates.

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The Monkey King.

Box Office Report 

This weekend, China’s domestic animation Boonie Bears pulled in $13 million, overtaking Despicable Me 2 for the top of China’s box office turnout. With profits totaling $30 million in two weeks, the television franchise-based Bears has set a new record for China’s homespun animated features.

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(Box office results courtesy of Box Office Mojo.)

Opening this Chinese New Year, 3D blockbuster The Monkey King will have to gross $150 million at China’s box offices just to break even. The massive digital spectacle based on China’s classic tale Journey to the West is expected to play in more than a third of China’s theaters and stars Chow Yun Fat, Donnie Yen, and Aaron Kwok. Expecting a huge theater turnout in order to recap the almost four years of labor invested into the film’s post-production, Monkey King is the third most expensive film ever made in China. Banking on its relationship to China’s own culture, The Monkey King represents the Chinese film industry’s growing efforts to compete with Hollywood’s blockbusters. Continuing the Chinese industry’s ongoing interest in exporting successful features abroad, the film is planned for American release this coming September. Here’s the latest trailer:

Disney has expanded its VOD offerings in the mainland through a deal with China’s You On Demand. Featuring popular titles like Pirates of the Caribbean and many Marvel franchise pictures, the service hopes to compete with China’s rampant piracy by offering film downloads at a low price point of $1 to $3. Currently paving the way for future deals with Fox and Sony, You On Demand already has many deals for content with large studios like Warner Bros. and Miramax.

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Disney looks to compete with China’s rampant video piracy.

The Minions from Despicable Me 2 present a year of the horse holiday greeting:

A recent investigation into the death of Li Ming, the head of Chinese film production company Beijing Galloping Horse, reveals suspicious circumstances. A popular figure in the Chinese film industry with strong ties to director John Woo, Ming was also a producer on Ning Hao’s recent dark comedy No Man’s Land. The investigation, run by French newspaper Le Monde, found that when he died, the media boss was under a state of what is known as “double detention”, a situation where the Communist Party may interrogate a suspect without access to a lawyer. The investigation found that while Li was being held, he was administered a “tranquilizing” agent, however, other reports suggest he suffered from heart problems. Making things even more suspicious is that Li’s body was returned to his family under the condition that his autopsy is strictly forbidden, and the majority of stories and social media chatter regarding this incident have been blocked on China’s internet.

Li was a close friend of Li Dongsheng, a high-ranking police officer and vice minister for public security that was sacked earlier this year as a result of the government’s anti-graft campaign. While the truth of this situation will probably stay unknown, it is very possible that Ming’s “accidental” death was more than coincidence, as he was only one of many high-profile entertainment business figures being investigated in government probes.

Three Chinese films set outside of polished first-tier cities will screen at this year’s Berlin Film Festival. Hoping to reveal the artsier, grittier side of China’s cinema will be Ning Hao’s No Man’s Land, Diao Yinan’s Black Coal, and Lou Ye’s Blind Massage. As if making a good film wasn’t hard enough, the perpetual issue of Chinese independent cinema always seems to revolve around maintaining artistic integrity in light of China’s strict film regulations.

While last week’s Film File brought up CRI English’s complex interview with director Ning Hao, this lucid interview with Blind Massage director Lou Ye, holds another interesting take on censors and bringing Chinese films abroad. The other film showing in Berlin, Diao Yinan’s thriller Black Coal, has already been acquired for worldwide distribution by Fortissimo Films, and from the clip below, looks to be quite compelling.

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