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Chinese admit domestic films are being muscled by imports

November 11, 2012|By David Pierson
  • Hollywood blockbusters "The Amazing Spider-Man" and "The Dark Knight Rises" are advertised in August in central Beijing. The two movies were released on the same day to limit their revenue.
Hollywood blockbusters "The Amazing Spider-Man" and "The… (Adrian Bradshaw / EPA )

BEIJING — Don’t expect Hollywood to win a bigger share of China’s booming film market any time soon.

That appeared to be the message Sunday when a senior film industry official described the woes of Chinese filmmakers in the face of greater foreign competition.

“The dominance of domestic films in the Chinese film market has been shaken,” Tian Jin, vice minister for the State Administration of Radio Film and Television, said at a news conference held for culture ministers at the ongoing 18thNational Congress, a Communist Party meeting that will end with the unveiling of China’s next top leaders.

“The objective reason is that more foreign films in the Chinese film market have dealt a blow to domestic films,” Tian said. “And the subjective reason is that the domestic film industry needs to be more competitive.”

China relaxed some restrictions on imported films this year, allowing 14 additional foreign 3-D or large-format movies and raising the share of profits to overseas studios to 25% from 13%.

“This has brought handsome profits to the American film industry, but at the same time, also posed pressure and challenge to [the] Chinese film industry,” Tian said.

China’s box office reached $2.1 billion at the end of October, more than all of last year, Tian said. But he lamented that the domestic share of box office receipts had shrunk from 53.6% last year to 41% as a result of the rise in imports. Two years ago, Chinese films commanded about 60% of receipts.

“The Chinese film industry … [is] working hard to overcome the apparent difficulties and face up to the challenges to produce more and better films,” Tian said.

(Time ran out at the news conference before reporters could ask about censorship stunting the growth of Chinese films.)

Tian, who was responding to a journalist from Hong Kong’s Phoenix Television, dismissed reports about foreign film blackout periods, also known as a domestic film month.

“There is no such thing and the release schedule of films is purely a market act,” Tian said. “The government will never impose a schedule to any film or release.”

The state-run China Film Group, however, is in charge of importing films, and determines release dates. 

American studio executives were furious in August when they learned superhero blockbusters "The Dark Knight Rises" and "The Amazing Spider-Man” were opening simultaneously.

“Every year we will have several Hollywood films shown in the cinemas, therefore it is quite common and inevitable that several films will be put on show at the same period of time,” Tian said.

That contradicts statements made earlier in the year by at least one of Tian’s colleagues in the film bureau that China was taking protective measures to boost its local film industry.

Several foreign films are in Chinese theaters now, including Disney's "Wreck-It Ralph" and Universal's "The Bourne Legacy." Also planned for November releases are "Legends of the Guardians" from DreamWorks Animation and Ang Lee's 3-D "Life of Pi." But there appear to be no foreign movies on the December release schedule; the latest James Bond film, "Skyfall," which has already opened in dozens of countries, has been tagged with a January release. 

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