Related: List of movies during festive season
BEIJING, Jan. 11 -- Christmas and New Year are over but the biggest celebration of them all, Spring Festival, is still awaited. And so are the gifts, especially for cinema-goers.
Film buffs have been lavished with John Woo's war epic, "Red Cliff", Chen Kaige's biopic on Peking Opera master Mei Lanfang, "Forever Enthralled", Feng Xiaogang's romantic tale, "If You Are the One", and rising director Ning Hao's black comedy, "Silver Medalist".
Poster of Chen Kaige's biopic on Peking Opera master Mei Lanfang, "Forever Enthralled." (Xinhua file Photo)
"Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" and Paul Verhoeven's "Black Book" are two of the seven movies that have added foreign glamour to the "gift package".
But those are just about more than one-third of the 30 films scheduled to hit the silver screen between November and January.
Poster of Feng Xiaogang's romantic tale, "If You Are the One." (Xinhua Photo)
The Christmas, New Year and Spring Festival "season" has for some years been the best time to release a movie. But this season the number of films to be released is double that of the last, and there is greater variety too.
Waiting in the wings are Andy Lau and Shu Qi starrer "Look for a Star", a comedy, "All's Well That End's Well", and a Japanese film about a girl and her pet dog, "10 Promises to My Dog".
"Chinese people are good at saving money, but they really loosen their purse strings during festivals. Many businesses book tickets in bulk, inviting their employees to a film as a bonus at the end of every year," says Huang Qunfei, general manager of Beijing-based theater chain New Film Association Company.
"Plus, 118 new theaters with 600 new screens opened across China last year. They have helped the market flourish, too."
The package may be a "boon" for filmgoers, but it has created a problem for distributors. For instance, when Chen Kaige advanced his movie's release by a week to Dec. 5, he forced a number of filmmakers to shuffle their premiere dates, resulting in a chain effect.
Director Tsui Hark deferred the release of his "All about Women" by a week to December 11 to avoid clashing with "Forever Enthralled". And to rule out a first-week combat from "Red Cliff", Feng premiered his "If You Are the One" on December 18, four days before its original schedule.
Some small budget filmmakers even pulled out of the race, deciding to release their productions after Spring Festival.
Amid all this rush and competition, the greatest beneficiary has been the box office. Feng's love story, for example, raked in 200 million yuan (29 million U.S. dollars) in a record 13 days. Chen's art house biopic, not a popular genre for the season, earned more than 100 million yuan in two weeks.
Even Wilson Yip's action flick "Ip Man" grossed a surprising 70 million yuan.
"The fact that so many movies are released within three months shows that filmmakers and distributors don't want to take the risk of releasing their films during other times of the year," says Huang. "So in the long term, we should create more profitable seasons."
Yin Hong, director of Tsinghua University's Center for Film and Television Studies, corroborates Huang. "Of course it's good for the industry to have more profitable seasons. The summer vacation has become bigger (market for films) in recent years."
Thanks largely to the winter vacation, when gross revenue reached a record 500 million yuan, China registered the fastest box office growth in the world last year. It rose from 3.3 billion yuan in 2007 to 4.28 billion yuan.
But despite the growth, Huang says it is not yet time to open the champagne bottle. "The annual gross revenue is still less than that earned by just one Hollywood blockbuster such as 'Dark Knight'."
"Besides, China has one movie screen per 500,000 people compared with one per 8,000 people in the U.S. A lot of middle and small cities in the country don't have a cinema at all. So there's ample room for growth, still."