Pics crowd China’s holiday slate

20 movies set to open in Christmas season

It’s shaping up to be a bumper Christmas and Chinese New Year for cinemagoers in China with some 20 movies set to open, causing a scheduling headache for distribs.

The busiest time of year for the growing cinema chains is Chinese New Year, which falls on Jan. 26 in 2009. But even though Christmas isn’t really celebrated in most of China, it has also become a big moviegoing time.

This means a crowded four weeks of new and existing releases in the cinemas.

Jumping the gun are Ma Liwen’s “Desire of Heart” on Thursday, with Guillermo del Toro’s “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” opening the following day.

But December is the big month in a year expected to bring in record B.O. in the expanding Chinese market.

Chen Kaige’s Chinese opera biopic “Mei Lanfang” has moved its opening forward to Dec. 5, forcing other pics to shuffle dates.

Tsui Hark’s “Not All Women Are Bad,” called “All About Women” in China, was due to bow the same day but will now open on Dec. 18 instead, according to distributors PolyBona.

The holiday bestseller is likely to be local hero Feng Xiaogang’s “If You Are the One” on Dec. 22.

Unlike in previous years, no blackout on foreign movies has been announced, freeing Paul Verhoeven’s “Black Book” to bow on Dec. 27, although many Chinese will have already seen the wartime thriller on pirated DVD or illegal download.

The movie to beat during the Spring Festival, as the Chinese call the Lunar New Year, will be the second installment of John Woo’s “Red Cliff,” slated for release in early January (Daily Variety, Nov. 19).

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