BEIJING — In what appears to be a savvy case of counter-programming, Berlin Silver Bear winner “Peacock,” made 600,000 yuan renminbi ($72,582) per day for a total of $217,000 for the Feb. 27 weekend, surpassing industry estimates.
In a domestic film industry struggling to find its own formula for box-office success (or even stability), helmer Gu Changwei’s coming-of-age film set in the traumatized ’70s/early ’80s was considered by many to be purely arthouse fare. The weekend’s B.O. performance put the Silver Bear winner at the top of the domestic commercial film heap — outperforming all the Valentine’s Days films put together, for an impressive two-week total of $423,000.
This is also surprising considering its opening on Feb. 18 during the trailing end of Spring Festival season, a sprawling holiday period that usually sees a dramatic slow-down in grosses as people opt to stay home with their families. The Chinese press reports, however, that auds have returned with family members.
Distributor Poly-Bona now has widened the release to 100 prints, up from an original 50 prints. “This kind of arthouse film has never seen this kind of response,” says Poly-Bona general manager Yu Dong.
“Even the specialty film circuits have had to shut down in recent years. Without a special approach to promote these films, they don’t stand a chance.
“The biggest problem is piracy. In your first weekend of theatrical release, someone will steal the film. So we had to promote it without giving it away,” says Yu. “We timed the release to its Berlin Film Festival premiere. We did sneak preview screenings for eight weekends in one theater in Beijing. It helped us build up necessary word-of-mouth — in Chinese, we say ‘a slow fire simmers the meat’ — and we were also able to staff the theater with people to prevent pirates from stealing our film.
“The announcement of winning an award gave the theatrical release a big push, and every news article became a form of free marketing. When people went out on the street to look for pirated copies of the film, there weren’t any! But we presented to them the option to go see the film in the theaters, and experience the film exactly the way foreigners were experiencing it overseas — and it’s worked.
“For example, at the Huaxing multiplex in Beijing, they started with one screening on the first day, then two, and now are up to nine screenings. We now have arrangements with multiplexes across China to leave the film in theaters for two months.”