Multiplexes help box office boom

Malaysian middle-class spending more

Malaysia has come late to the B.O. party compared with Singapore or Korea, but since the start of the new millennium, the country has been a consistent theatrical growth story.

Development has come as a result of two factors: multiplex building — the present number of cinema screens only returns the country to its 1997 peak, but the stock is significantly improved — and its middle-class population’s expanded discretionary spending.

U.K.-based consultant Dodona Research says admissions climbed from 12.8 million in 2003 to 27.9 million in 2006 and that in Asia, only Korea has grown faster.

Roughly half of total B.O. is realized in capital Kuala Lumpur and its suburbs, but the seven major exhibs are now reaching beyond the biggest cities into smaller towns — and as they do, releases are getting wider.

“Blockbusters would go out on 50 prints five years ago and 70 prints two years ago. Now they go (out) on 100, and we may soon hit 120 prints,” says Golden Screen Cinemas g.m. Irving Chee. “But we are happy to do so when the business is doubling.”

Chee points to more prints to more areas, greater choice and still-modest ticket prices as major weapons in getting auds to see movies in cinemas rather than on pirate DVDs. A cut in entertainment tax helped chains keep tickets, at around $2.50, within range of the discs.

Local film production has also become significant in terms of volume, if not in budget, with homegrown movies up from 11 in 2001 to 28 in 2006, according to the National Film Development Corp, also known as Finas.

Headed by superhero movie “Cicakman,” local pics accounted for one-seventh of total B.O. last year for a gross of MYR29.7 million ($8.8 million).

The trend has continued this year with the $440,000 Metrowealth-produced ghost story “Jangan pandang belakan” (Don’t Look Back), breaking a 12-year-old record to hit $1.9 million in five weeks.

Country’s mixed ethnicity is another boon; accordingly, Chee. Indian, Chinese, Hollywood and Malay pics all work. And in November, when “Azhagiya tamizh magan” topped the chart, Malaysia was the only country worldwide to see two Tamil-language movies in first and second places.

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