Date
19 February 2019
Stephen Chow, shown here with actress Cecilia Cheung, sold 51 percent of his movie company PDAL to Shanghai New Culture Media Group for 1.3 billion yuan in 2017. Photo: CNSA
Stephen Chow, shown here with actress Cecilia Cheung, sold 51 percent of his movie company PDAL to Shanghai New Culture Media Group for 1.3 billion yuan in 2017. Photo: CNSA

China’s new year box office shows dominance of local production

The New King of Comedy, directed by Stephen Chow, raked in 430 million yuan (US$63.69 million) in three days of the week-long Lunar New Year holiday from Feb. 5, taking the fourth spot in the box office rankings and trailing behind homegrown movies Wandering Earth, Crazy Alien, and Pegasus.

It shows that mainland directors and actors are starting to hold sway in the nation’s 60 billion yuan commercial movie market.

Financially, Chow is still enjoying great success. Two years ago, Chow sold 51 percent of his movie company PDAL to mainland-listed Shanghai New Culture Media Group (300336.CN) and pocketed 1.3 billion yuan.

The deal includes a pledge from Chow that PDAL will earn at least 1.04 billion yuan between 2016 and 2019. Otherwise, Chow has to cover the difference. The New King of Comedy might help Chow hit the benchmark.

Previously, The Mermaid and Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back, released in 2016 and 2017 respectively, grossed a combined 5 billion yuan.

But those two movies are probably not enough to help Chow reach the target given that he had introduced several joint investors for both movies. The New King of Comedy, given its low budget and decent earnings, should make up for the shortfall.

Cost-wise, it only took director Yau Lai-To 30 days to shoot the film. And since the movie is about a bit player who struggles to become part of the main cast but keeps on failing, most of the performers in the movie are fresh actors.

Leading actor Wang Baoqiang took a stake in the movie instead of taking any pay.

No wonder, Shanghai New Culture Media Group had announced that The New King of Comedy only cost 50 million yuan to make, the typical budget way back in the 1990s.

The movie is expected to surpass 2 billion yuan in the box office.

Hong Kong’s pop culture used to have great impact on the mainland. But things have been changing since China’s economy took off.

Chow’s films are still popular, yet local directors are catching up fast and beginning to dominate the mainland market.

Crazy Alien, Wandering Earth, and Pegasus are directed by Guo Fan, Ning Hao and Han Han, who were born in 1980, 1977 and 1982 respectively.

While Chow’s appeal is more about nostalgia, younger generations, especially mainland Millennials, find it hard to have an emotional attachment to such things. The new generation of mainland directors can better connect with them and appeal to their taste.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb 8

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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RT/CG

Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist

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