Movie industry roars back with robust recovery

By Xu Fan | China Daily | Updated: 2023-03-10 07:26
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Monkey King toys are displayed at an event in 2020. YUAN KEJIA/FOR CHINA DAILY

Record revenues in the wake of the Spring Festival holiday signal a turnaround for the sector. Xu Fan reports.

Matt William Knowles, an actor from the United States who has played in many Chinese movies and TV series, is increasingly busy, thanks to China's revitalized film industry.

Opening with a record-breaking Spring Festival box-office bonanza in January, the domestic movie market is seeing a strong recovery after a slowdown that resulted from the COVID-19 outbreak.

As of March 1, the country's total box-office receipts had reached 14 billion yuan ($2 billion), almost half last year's 29.9 billion yuan, according to Beacon, a film information aggregator.

The month following the Spring Festival holiday is traditionally considered a slow time because of the lack of major movie releases. However, the period from Jan 28 to Feb 26 grossed 5.96 billion yuan, the highest for the month since the pandemic started, Beacon said.

That means Knowles is receiving more job offers. Currently juggling two projects, the veteran actor has been traveling between Shanghai and Baishan, a small city in the northeastern province of Jilin, spending a few days at each location while shooting the two different tales.

One is director Yao Xiaofeng's spy series Chang Feng Po Lang (Braving the Wind and Waves), in which Knowles portrays a German military consultant. The other is Winter and Lion, a drama set during the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea (1950-53), in which he plays an American officer.

"The acting opportunities are definitely increasing since the market has awoken," he said, adding that he received many calls about new roles a few months ago while he was filming for director Xu Zhanxiong's Xing Chen Da Hai (The Ocean of Stars), a movie about a group of patriotic students at Shanghai University.

"China's film industry is back in full force. It is not opening slowly at all — it is booming again," Knowles said.

For most industry insiders, the Year of the Rabbit has hopped off to a promising start. Statistics from the China Film Administration, the top industry regulator, show that the domestic market raked in 10 billion yuan in the first month of the year, making it the highest-grossing January of all time.

With China optimizing its pandemic policies toward the end of last year, the late-January Spring Festival holiday became the first opportunity for a raft of big movies to vie for the attention of ready-to-return film enthusiasts.

Almost 68 percent of the January takings came during the weeklong Spring Festival holiday, which saw the release of several movies, most featuring big budgets and stellar casts.

Propelled by the popularity gained during the holiday, iconic director Zhang Yimou's historical suspense Full River Red has earned 4.47 billion yuan so far, putting it at the top of this year's box-office charts. Director Guo Fan's sci-fi The Wandering Earth II, a prequel to the original movie, has taken second spot, followed by the animated feature Boonie Bears: Guardian Code in third, while spy thriller Hidden Blade is fourth.

The two other festival movies are Deep Sea, an experimental animated feature that explores the inner world of a girl with depression, and Five Hundred Miles, a comedy about a young man who accidentally exchanges his soul with a notorious lawyer.

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