China might loosen reins

Government OKs more day-date pix

BANGKOK — The Chinese government has signaled it’s willing to allow more U.S. films to debut in the country day-and-date with domestic.

The authorities are responding to Hollywood concerns that the long gap between pics’ U.S. and Chinese launches aids pirates, who control about 95% of the market.

An exec from China Film Group’s film import/export division is in Los Angeles working with the studios on faster releases in China, the CineAsia convention was told Thursday.

Conveying that news, T.J. Green, Warner Bros. Intl. Cinemas’ Shanghai-based VP of operational development and special projects, said “The Day After Tomorrow” and “Troy” both benefited from bowing in China on the heels of domestic debuts.

“Day” grossed 81 million yuan ($9.7 million) and “Troy” fetched $8.4 million, trailing only “House of Flying Daggers” ($18 million) and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” ($10.3 million) as the top earners in China this year.

China Film Equipment prexy Frank Fu estimated China’s B.O. this year at $145 million and said the country produced 200 movies and telepics.

Green said the CFG rep in L.A. also is working with the studios on determining the kinds of films that suit the Chinese market.

Hollywood execs are occasionally bemused when niche or limited appeal pics are approved for release in China.

In a seminar Green said the nation of 1.3 billion people has 5,045 screens, but only 2,200 play first-run fare and 95% of those cinemas are in poor condition.

The market has only 90 purpose-built multiplexes, he said, and on average, the Chinese go to the movies far less than once a year.

Noting that Warners’ cinemas are boosting box- office takings, he said its theaters in Tianjin and Nanning have increased receipts in those cities by 57% and 184%, respectively.

At the Imax cinema in Shanghai, “Spider-Man 2” grossed more than $200,000, making it the highest-grossing site in China, according to Imax exec VP Larry O’Reilly.

Producer Thomas Chung, who co-produced “The Touch” and “Silver Hawk” in China, praised the help and cooperation he received from local authorities and said it’s much easier to film on the mainland than in Hong Kong.

But he warned producers not to change scripts after they’ve been approved by the authorities in China, noting that at least one H.K. film was banned in China for flouting that rule.

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