Four pics will be screened in format over remainder of the year

BEIJING

Imax is expanding its links with China’s Huayi Bros., which will release four of its movies in the giant-screen format during the remainder of this year.

Pics are Hong Kong multihyphenate Stephen Fung’s actioners “Tai Chi 0″ on Sept. 27 and “Tai Chi Hero” on Oct. 25; the latest by Chinese helmer Feng Xiaogang, “Back to 1942,” at a date still to be confirmed; and Jackie Chan’s “Chinese Zodiac” on Dec. 20.

Three more are planned next year.

“We are delivering on our promise to present more local-language titles in Imax for Chinese audiences to enjoy. We believe this strategy will also create opportunities for Imax to export these films to other large markets, such as Southeast Asia and North America,” said Imax topper Richard L. Gelfond.

Imax is expanding strongly in the booming market. It has 86 commercial theaters in the Greater China area, and Gelfond expects to have 22 more by the end of the year.

Chinese auds have embraced Imax in a big way. “Dark Knight Rises” took $4.5 million and “The Amazing Spiderman” took $2.5 million at Imax screens in their first two weeks.

Gelfond said, “In China we get a smaller percentage of the box office but our attendance per screen is higher — last year it was almost double that of the U.S.; this year it’s a bit closer.”

Exec explained that the country’s import quota restricting the number of foreign films that unspool is leaving gaps in the schedule. “A definite part of the Huayi tie-up is that we have flexibility to program Chinese films in those gaps,” he said.

“For us, China is a win-win situation. We were always in China for the long term. For Hollywood to grow here, senior executives need to come. To build long-term relationships here you have to build trust,” he said.

The recent introduction of a rival bigscreen format, Dmax, backed by the state-owned China Film Group, does not worry him.

“There are copycats everywhere. The Imax consumer proposition is strong enough. Imax is always organic, and whatever the copycats do, within a year we’ve eclipsed it. Quality control and technology are at the core of what we do,” Gelfond said.

A high level of brand awareness in China is also a factor.

Gelfond said Imax is mulling shooting documentaries in China and will eventually shoot features using the Imax camera.

Imax and Huayi Bros. began their partnership with Feng’s “Aftershock,” the first Chinese pic in Imax format, which grossed over $102 million with an Imax per-screen average of $53,000.

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