Pakistan ends Bollywood movie ban

Columns
Asia / Pacific Roundabout

Major cinema chains and film distributors in Pakistan hurriedly rescinded their self-imposed boycott of Indian films in December last year, which—apparently fueled by nationalistic sentiments—they only had introduced in September after relations between Pakistan and India had sharply deteriorated over the Kashmir conflict.

Kashmir is a vast, mountainous territory straddling the northern parts of India and Pakistan and both countries claim sole sovereignty over it. The conflict has been smoldering since India and Pakistan gained independence from Great Britain in 1947, often leading to serious military confrontations.

Pakistan’s government first slapped a ban on all Indian movies in 1965 following the Indo-Pakistan War, and only lifted it in 2008. But when relations between the two countries soured again earlier last year, Pakistan’s main theatre chains and film distributors unilaterally decided to once more suspend all screenings of Bollywood movies. As Bollywood DVD rentals and online downloads suddenly soared in the ban’s aftermath, the somewhat hasty move by the distributors and operators reportedly had a devastating effect on local box-office revenues.

Indian movies are extremely popular in Pakistan, which only boasts a rather modest film industry of its own. Local newspapers reported that screenings of Indian films have now resumed since Dec. 12, with audiences apparently returning in droves.       

China Film Regulator Releases Official Statistics

China’s film regulator, the State Administration for Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), on New Year’s Eve released the official film-industry statistics for 2016. According to the report, the total box-office revenue earned nationwide in 2016 amounted to RMB45.71 billion ($6.62 bil.), representing a mere 3.73 growth year-on-year, the lowest in a decade. However, urban attendance across the year reached 1.37 billion admissions, an increase of 8.89 percent compared to 2015.

Domestic films accounted for 58.33 percent of total box-office gross, with seven locally produced films raking in more than RMB1 billion each. Three foreign movies also went beyond that threshold. The top-grossing film overall was Chinese fantasy romantic comedy The Mermaid, which earned a total of RMB3.39 billion ($491 mil.). The most successful foreign film of the year was Disney’s Zootopia with a countrywide gross of RMB 1.53 billion ($221.6 mil.). The report also acknowledged that Zootopia became the highest-grossing animated feature ever to be screened in China. The two other foreign films earning more than RMB1 billion were live-action superhero flick Captain America: Civil War, yet another Disney Studios offering, and, surprisingly, Warcraft, a Hollywood production that had dismally flopped elsewhere in the region.

While SAPPRFT tightly controls the number of foreign films that are allowed to be screened in the country, the film regulator in 2016 admitted an unprecedented total of 92 movie imports, most of them from Hollywood. The report also briefly highlighted the overseas box-office gross for local productions, stating that Chinese films had earned a total of RMB3.38 billion ($489.6 mil.) abroad in 2016, a year-on-year increase of a respectable 38 percent.

Overall, China’s film industry produced 772 live-action feature films in 2016, as well as an additional 49 animated features, 67 scientific or educational films, 32 documentaries, and 24 films of non-specified genres. Although ticket sales had slowed down compared to previous years, this did not affect the opening of new movie theatres, the report pointed out. It said that on average 26 new screens per day were launched in the country over the past year, or 9,552 screens in total. China now boasts 41,179 screens, the highest number in the world. Of these, 85 percent are capable of projecting 3D films, the report said.

Long-Awaited Korea Fantasy Blockbuster Is Confirmed

The Korean Film Council (KOFIC), an agency set up by South Korea’s government to promote and support the country’s burgeoning film industry, has confirmed that the first installment of two-part local fantasy blockbuster Along with the Gods is scheduled to be released in summer this year. The second part is expected to hit local cinemas sometime in 2018, the agency said. The highly anticipated movie had been long delayed due to production and financing issues. However, it was recently announced that Chinese studio Alpha Pictures would contribute $2.2 million to the twin movie’s total budget of $25 million and also handle its eventual distribution in China.

Produced by local companies Realies Pictures and Dexter Studios, part one of Along with the Gods will be directed by Kim Yong-hwa, whose portfolio includes domestic hits such as romantic comedy 200 Pounds Beauty (2006), sports drama Take Off (2009) and 3D family film, Mr. Go (2013). However, it is not clear whether Kim Yong-hwa also will be in the director’s chair for part two. The film’s cast will feature some of the most famous names in Korean cinema, including Ha Jung-woo and Cha Tae-hyun as the male leads, as well as Ju Ji-hoon, Lee Jung-jae, Don Lee and Oh Dal-su, among others. The movie is based on a popular web comic of the same name created by Ju Ho-min.

Along with the Gods tells the story of a recently departed man played by Cha Tae-hyun. He meets the Angel of Death (Ha Jung-woo), who escorts him through the afterworld, where he has to successfully complete seven trials within 49 days before he can find everlasting peace. But the deceased’s efforts are hampered by the angel, who becomes too involved in human affairs he evidently knows nothing about.

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