Distribution, screens step up

BEIJING — Chinese B.O. rose by nearly one-third last year to 2.62 billion yuan ($336 million), compared with $256 million a year earlier, according to the country’s film bureau.

A big factor driving the strong performance appears to have been improved distribution. There were 366 new screens added last year, director-general of the China Film Bureau, Tong Gang, was quoted as saying in the Xinhua news agency.

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

Tong said an early draft of a bill aimed at boosting biz in China, the Cinema Law, had been completed. As the biz is largely state-controlled in China, the document is expected to carry a lot of weight in giving the film sector a lift.

Last year was a big year for historical martial-arts epics: Zhang Yimou’s $45 million “Curse of the Golden Flower” is shaping up to be the biggest Chinese movie of all time, while two pics in a similar vein, “The Promise” and “The Banquet,” also performed well last year despite critical reservations.

Tong said domestic blockbusters put in a strong perf, but he said they suffered from too-similar themes and simple content.

Zhang Hongsen, China Film Bureau VP, said chopsocky pics were considered a safer bet by investors in China, hence their popularity.

Zhang said this year the Film Bureau considered medium-budget movies critical for the success of the biz, adding that his office would explore “more opportunities and methods of filmmaking with producers of these smaller-budget films.”

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