'Star Wars' saga to make China debut during 18th SIFF

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Asia / Pacific Roundabout

Audiences at the 18th Shanghai International Film Festival (SIFF) are in for a treat, as the festival’s organizing committee and Walt Disney Pictures have announced that all six Star Wars films will be shown as part of this year’s program lineup, including Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. The special screenings will be particularly exciting for local movie enthusiasts and diehard fans of the franchise, as episodes IV, V and VI have never before been released in China. The Star Wars marathon was arranged to whet the appetite of local audiences ahead of the feverishly anticipated latest installment, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which is scheduled to be released in the country on Dec. 18, 2015.

Running June 13-21, this year’s SIFF also is the largest ever, further cementing the festival’s status as one of the region’s most important movie showcasing events. Anticipating even more audience members than in 2014, the festival organizers have designated 45 screening locations (up from last year’s 35 venues), comprising 1,200 screens and being spaced out across 17 city districts. A total of 300 movies will be screened to the public over the course of the nine-day event.Jackie Chan’s achievements as an actor, producer and director are being celebrated during a special “Jackie Chan Action Movie Week.” The festival’s posh opening ceremony saw nearly 400 local, regional and international stars walking down the red carpet, including Gong Li, Ziyi Zhang, Fan Bingbing, Jackie Chan, Aaron Kwok, Leon Lai and Eddie Peng.

A record-setting 2,096 films from 108 countries were submitted for SIFF’s various competition sections, more than in any previous year. Of those, nine films are nominated for the festival’s top trophy, the Golden Goblet, including Sunstroke by Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov; Salut D'amour by renowned Korean director Kang Je-kyu, and Where the Wind Settles by Taiwanese director Wang Tung. This year's Golden Goblet Award Jury president is famed Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev, who will collaborate with Chinese director Cai Shangjun, Chinese actress Hao Lei, Hong Kong producer Shi Nan-Sun, South Korean screenwriter Hui-jae, French director Felipe Maitreya and American producer Ron Yerxa. Another 15 films are nominated for the Asian New Talent Award, including a crop of wave-making Asian films such as Teenage Babylon, End of Winter and 13. The Asian New Talent Award Jury is made up of South Korean director Han-Min Kim (president), as well as Taiwanese director Yi Zhiyan, French producer Nicholas Robert, Malaysian actress Angelica Lee and Chinese actor Huang Xuan.

Taiwan Reforms Motion Picture Act

Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture has announced that the country’s government has passed substantial changes to the Motion Picture Act, the most extensive revision since it was introduced in 1983. According to the Ministry, the Act has been adjusted to give Taiwan’s film industry more freedom and foster a climate for diverse cultural films, but also to more effectively promote the industry’s further development.

Removed were some of the Act’s restrictive provisions such as banning movies perceived by the authorities as “harming the nation’s interests, image and dignity” and barring individuals “convicted of corruption and fraud-related crimes from entering, influencing or engaging with the industry.” Also scrapped was a section which required theatres to routinely show political propaganda or public-service announcements before the main film.

Although it does not give clear guidelines on how to achieve it, a section was added which encourages the establishment of a streamlined, nationwide box-office revenue reporting system that would help studios to more accurately gauge how well their productions have been received by audiences. Another new section calls for increased efforts at film preservation and restoration.

Tax exemptions for local start-up production companies were extended from previously five years to 15 years. Foreign productions shot in Taiwan likewise will enjoy additional tax credits. But the amended Act also gives authorities the right to “impose a temporary ratio system to protect domestic films when necessary,” which effectively means that the total number of screens showing overly successful foreign movies can be curtailed in favor of screening local films.

Bollywood’s PK Scoops China B.O.

With China’s audiences starving as—apart from the currently running Avengers: Age of Ultron—no further major Hollywood releases are on the horizon in the immediate future, an Indian blockbuster has come to the salvation of local movie fans. The Rajkumar Hirani-directed Bollywood comedy PK managed to set a new record for Indian movies in China, earning a reported RMB31.8 million ($5.2 mil.) from roughly 1.05 million admissions during its opening weekend, May 22-24. It also accounted for some 12.2% of all movie screenings nationwide over the same period. The movie, whose Chinese version was shortened by about 14 minutes due to censorship, stars heartthrob Amir Khan as an alien visitor to Earth who takes on a horde of fanatical religious cult members in order to find a way to return home.

In comparison, Indian musical romantic comedy Dhoom 3 (2013), which was released in China in July 2014 and also featured Khan in a co-starring role, had only raked in RMB19.8 million ($3.2 mil.) across its entire theatrical run. Meanwhile, Avengers: Age of Ultron comfortably maintained its number-one spot, grossing RMB173 million ($28 mil.) during its second weekend. At press time, it had already earned a staggering RMB1.3 billion ($210 mil.) in ticket sales since its debut 13 days earlier, effectively making it the fourth highest-grossing movie of all time in China, with audience numbers so far showing no signs of abating.

For inquiries and feedback, contact Thomas Schmid at thomas.schmid@filmjournal.com.