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China takes H’wood hiatus

No new foreign films will unspool this summer

SHANGHAI — This year, it’s not Stateside execs who are jittery about the disappearance of Hollywood fare from China’s exhib slates, but local filmmakers, who fear competition from the backlog of blockbusters that will be released in September.

No new foreign films will unspool in China during the crucial summer period for the second year running.

“War of the Worlds,” distribbed by United Intl. Pictures and due out Aug. 11, has been delayed by two weeks, according to CRI Online, the Web version of China Radio Intl., because of the national celebration of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Several Hollywood films will play until the end of July — including “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and “Batman Begins.” After that, there will be no foreign pics until Aug. 25, when UIP confirms “War of the Worlds” will go out.

Sony’s “Stealth” has been given a September slot, and BVI has had nothing approved for August or September.

U.S. distribs get roughly four pics a year into China under its quota system of 20 foreign films a year, and BVI has already unspooled “The Incredibles” and “National Treasure.” It’s hoping to get a slot for “Herbie: Fully Loaded,” but hasn’t had clearance yet.

Last summer, Zhang Yimou’s “House of Flying Daggers” played uncontested for about a month in a successful bid to boost local B.O. It was the first year since the import of foreign pics began in 1994 that a local film took the lion’s share of revenue.

This year, Hong Kong director Tsui Hark’s “Seven Swords” will get the same preferential treatment when it rolls out across China.China’s media regulator, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (Sarft), denies that any sort of ban exists.

“The government has not controlled the release dates of foreign films for many years,” said Mao Yu, Sarft’s director of publicity. He said release dates were set according to commercial considerations by China Film Group and Hua Xia, the country’s only distribs for foreign features. However, both entities are partially state controlled.

Meanwhile, execs from local production companies are privately grumbling about what they see as an embargo. Local films that won’t have the benefit of the protected August window will go head to head with more foreign films in September.

Seasonal embargos are not new.

“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” was the first imported film to play over the Chinese New Year, normally reserved for domestic movies, when it unspooled in January 2002.

Jack Ledwith, U’s VP of intl. distribution, said plans to release “King Kong” in China in December could change, as the country will be honoring the 100th anniversary of local filmmaking — and may protect that period from foreign film releases.

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