Revenues up 45% in year's first quarter

China’s film industry continues to soar, boosted by a sharp rise in ticket sales at theaters in China’s booming cities.

B.O. revenues were up 45% in the first quarter of this year to more than 1 billion yuan ($140 million), the China Film Group said.

Some 32 million people went to the movies in the period, up 35%.

Chinese biz is looking so healthy that ticket sales are on track for a record $722 million this year, the group reported on its website. This compares with 2007’s total B.O. of $470 million.

Domestic movies accounted for more than 61% of the revenue. The biggest hit of the quarter was Stephen Chow’s sci-fi pic “CJ7,” which took in $29 million.

The dramatic growth in China’s B.O. shows why the majors are so keen to get a foothold in the country, despite rigorous censorship, regular blackouts of foreign movies and a limit of 20 revenue-share imported movies per year.

However, foreign pics continued to put in a strong performance.

The biggest foreign movie was Columbia TriStar’s “The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep,” which made $9 million at the box office, followed by “10,000 BC,” which earned $8.8 million. “National Treasure: The Book of Secrets” took in $8.6 million.

Taiwan warbler Jay Chou’s “Kung-Fu Dunk” had B.O. of $16 million, while “An Empress and the Warriors,” with Hong Kong stars Kelly Chen and Leon Lai and kung fu star Donnie Yen, took in $6 million.

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