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China branches out with ‘Tree’

Zhang Yimou's 'Hawthorn Tree' opens Pusan

Chinese helmer Zhang Yimou’s drama “Under the Hawthorn Tree” will open the 15th Pusan Film Festival in South Korea today after tickets for the pic sold out online in 18 seconds.

It’s a potent symbol of the influence Chinese film now exerts outside its own borders.

Jiang Defu of the China Film Group, which basically runs the biz in China, says investment in movies, as well as the importance of the country’s box office, are making major waves in the wider industry.

China’s B.O. boom continued unabated last year, with revenue up 44% to $910 million, largely based on a sharp rise in the number of screens in what’s potentially the world’s biggest market.

The Pusan fest is seen as a great way to grow the Asian slice of China’s film export coin.

“There has not just been growth in the amount of film production — there were 450 more last year than the year before, and that will rise again this year — but also there is a rise in the number of screens. The film market in China is booming, and this boom will influence the whole Asian film market more and more,” said Jiang.

Qian Zhongyuan of the Forbidden City Film Co. believes influence and maturity are growing.

“In recent years there have been a lot of good movies produced in China of high quality, and they have an important percentage of the Asian film market,” said Qian.

The choice of Zhang as the flag-bearer at Pusan is significant as he is the only mainland Chinese helmer to have won the hearts of arthouse auds that make up Chinese cinema’s traditional support and made inroads into Western B.O.

Helmer Feng Xiaogang’s quake epic “Aftershock” will also unspool at Pusan. Pic will represent China in the foreign-language category at the Oscars.

Chinese filmmakers will figure highly at the Pusan fest’s four day Asian Film Market, devoted to promoting innovative business models to film professionals around the world.

“This is a win-win situation,” said Forbidden City’s Qian. “Our target is to bring Chinese movies to the international market and, at the same time, bring excellent foreign producers and film crews to China to join us in making movies, to share the cake together.”

The Pusan fest ends October 15.

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