Davids mount challenge to state-run Goliath

China

BEIJING — The state-run giant China Film dominates distribution in the Chinese market, but there are signs that smaller niche players are starting to make their presence felt in what is a fast-growing industry.

“Overall, the China film market is growing fast, and independent distributors are playing a more important role in how producers make decisions and at the sales stage,” says Cindy Mi Lin of Infotainment China Media.

More and more Chinese are watching pics on the bigscreen, despite the ongoing allure of cheap, widely available pirated DVDs and illegal movie downloads.

In April, Washington complained to the World Trade Organization about widescale piracy in China, which could ultimately make it harder for Chinese auds to find fake Hollywood product on the streets and online. This could be a boon for legal distributors.

While box office receipts are rising strongly in China, it’s from a low base, and B.O. is still relatively small in the absence of large multiplex cinema chains.

Finding the market tough, Warner’s international unit has pulled out of the biz and sold out to its Chinese partners, so it remains to be seen if those partners can open up the exhibition market successfully.

Tong Gang, director-general of the China Film Bureau, says a sharp rise in new outlets last year — 366 new screens were added — is driving an improvement in the market.

Another private distributor is PolyBona, which is sometimes called “the Chinese Miramax” because it is independent of China Film, and its founder, Yu Dong, has a touch of the Weinstein panache in dealing with the industry. PolyBona is looking to increase its role in distributing movies imported from Europe and other parts of Asia in the next few years.

BOX OFFICE OVERVIEW

Top Film 2006:
“Curse of the Golden Flower,” $31 million
Total B.O.: $336 million
Total number of releases: 330

Recent Pickups
“Spider-Man 3,”
“Casino Royale,”
“The Devil Wears Prada,”
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”

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