Record-breaking Chinese pic gets large-screen treatment

Megascreen exhib Imax has spent the past several months beefing up its presence in China, and with the recent success of local Chinese production “Aftershock” debuting with more than $640,000 on 12 Imax screens, the company’s aggressive rollout seems to be paying off.

“Aftershock” from Huayi Bros., China’s largest privately owned media group, opened Thursday with a record-setting $23.5 million in that territory.

It’s the first non-U.S. commercial film, as well as the first mainstream Chinese pic, to get the Imax treatment, pulling in an average of $53,000 per Imax screen.

Imax said local productions like “Aftershock” allow it to make money at the Chinese box office when it has no Hollywood titles available. China’s quota system allows only 20 foreign films to release each year.

“The early results of this effort bode well for us, as Imax explores converting other local content in China and elsewhere,” said Imax CEO Richard Gelfond.

During the past month, Imax announced deals for 11 Imax locations in China, bringing the country’s Imax total to 65 theaters by the end of 2014.

This year, Imax has signed on for a proposed 114 new theaters worldwide, compared with 35 in 2009.

“The need to foster relationships with exhibitors that have extensive experience with mixed programming is essential as we begin to explore the business of adding mainstream Chinese films like ‘Aftershock’ to our slate,” Gelfond added.

Directed by Chinese helmer Feng Xiaogang, “Aftershock” is based on a true story about a woman who could save only one of her two children during the 1976 Tangshan earthquake and the aftermath of that decision. With an estimated $22 million budget, pic is a sizable investment for China, receiving funds from China Film Group and the municipal government of Tangshan (Daily Variety, June 1, 2009).

“Aftershock” beat Han Sanping’s “The Founding of a Republic,” to become China’s highest opener at the box office. Imax plans to add three more screens to its Chinese run in early August.

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