China launches first-ever film law

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Asia / Pacific Roundabout

Although China has by now matured into the world’s second-largest film market behind the United States, the country’s film industry surprisingly had so far gone largely unregulated. Until most recently, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) was the sole body overseeing film studios, distributors and cinemas alike and also was responsible for movie censorship. But there had not existed any dedicated legislation for the industry until the country’s very first film industry law entered into effect on March 1, 2017.

The new law, which already had been passed by the National People’s Congress, China’s legislative assembly, in November last year, reportedly is the result of several years of legislative research and deliberations. It is hoped to be an effective tool for addressing persistent problems plaguing the industry, such as bureaucratic red tape in script and shooting approvals, and that it will also strengthen copyright protection. Furthermore, the new law is expected to help eradicate cases of box-office fraud that have frequently rattled the industry in the past. For example, in March 2016, SAPPRFT suspended the operating license of a major local distributor after it had been discovered that the firm had purchased tens of thousands of tickets for its own domestic action movie Ip Man 3 in order to artificially inflate the film’s box-office results.

The need for a dedicated film law became increasingly imperative in recent years as China’s industry grew by leaps and bounds, with box-office revenues mushrooming more than 45-fold since around the turn of the century. While the nation’s theatres accounted for a combined gross of only about RMB1 billion in 2003, that figure had ballooned to almost RMB46 billion ($6.6 bil.) in 2016. This development is not only due to rapidly expanding domestic film production utilizing much higher budgets than before and thus delivering vastly improved production values, but can also be attributed to the increased quota of foreign movies allowed to be screened locally. Prior to 2003, China had severely restricted the annual number of foreign films that could be shown but has since increased that quota considerably.

Korean Box Office Sees Record Growth in January

The Korean Film Council (KOFIC) has released the country’s box-office report for January 2017, announcing record growth across all statistical parameters. According to the report, 23.25 million movie tickets were sold in January 2017, 6.34 million—or 37.5%—more than during the same month last year. Domestic films recorded 12.68 million admissions, a month-on-month increase of 5.04 million, while foreign movies attracted 10.57 million moviegoers, up 1.3 million, or 14%, from January 2016.

In terms of revenues, the growth was even more remarkable. Total box-office sales in January 2017 generated $167 million, up $49.6 million from the same month last year and corresponding to a rise of 42.3%. Of this figure, domestic films earned $91.6 million, a month-on-month jump of $38.55 million (+72.6%), while foreign films raked in $75.3 million—$11 million, or 17.3%, more than in January 2016.

KOFIC said in its report that the “power locomotives” primarily driving the fantastic results were two domestic films, action comedy Confidential Assignment and coming-of-age drama The King, both of which were released on the same day, Jan. 18, each luring more than four million film fans into theatres.

Korea Anticipates Big-Budget Domestic Film Year

Korean movie fans apparently are eagerly looking forward to a year of several domestic films whose individual production costs should finally rebut the outdated notion that all Asian movies generally are made for peanuts. According to the Korean Film Council (KOFIC), the local film with the largest budget to hit theatres from Seoul to Busan this year is going to be Bong Joon-ho’s Okja, which cost a respectable $52.2 million to produce, primarily financed by online movie giant Netflix. In comparison, Bong’s The Host (2006) was made for a mere $9.57 million.

Meanwhile, audiences are also feverishly awaiting Kim Yong-hwa’s two-part fantasy action film Along with the Gods, which utilized a combined budget of $26.1 million. Also gearing up for its release is Ryoo Seung-wan-directed historical drama Battleship Island, which recounts a tragic episode from Japan’s colonial occupation of Korea and cost $19.1 million to make. In addition, Steel Rain, based on a popular web comic of the same title, is revving up its engine at the start line. The lightweight among the lot, political drama A Taxi Driver, may have chewed up only about $8.7 million but is nevertheless touted as a “must-see.”

KOFIC reported that movie fans are already wagering that several of these big-budget productions are going to surpass the magic threshold of 10 million admission tickets, a figure that in 2016 was only achieved by one single domestic film, Train to Busan. After an astonishing month-on-month box-office increase in January (see above), this unprecedented surge in large-budget films is nothing less than vivid testimony that Korea is steadily maturing into a regional film market to be reckoned with.

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