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China’s distribution market — dominated by the state-run China Film Group — is tightly controlled, with around 24 film licenses granted every year, mostly to very small operators.

China’s system allows for these imports to be released on a revenue-sharing basis and sets China Film as the sole legal importer of movies. A further 40 films per year can be imported on a flat-fee basis. Quotas and other restrictions to China’s distribution sector are the subject of an ongoing formal U.S. complaint to the World Trade Organization.

Chinese B.O. rose by nearly one-third last year to 2.62 billion yuan ($336 million), compared with $256 million a year earlier, according to the Film Bureau. The addition of 366 screens over the same period was a big factor, although B.O. is still relatively small in the absence of multiplex chains.

Cheap, widely available pirated DVDs and illegal movie downloads remain bitter battles for suppliers.

China Film Group
Topper: Han Sanping, managing director
B.O.: n/a
Top pic: “Transformers” ($37 million)
In brief: Eight of the top 10 movies in China this year have been distributed by China Film, and seven of the top 10 movies in China this year have been foreign productions. “Spider-Man 3” has taken nearly $19 million; “Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix,” $18.3 million; and “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” $16.5 million. CFG is, effectively, the film business in China. As well as being the country’s largest distrib, it controls the Beijing and China Children’s film studios, operates seven circuits with 400 theaters, has the country’s sole film import license and controls national movie channel CCTV-6.

Polybona
Topper: Yu Dong, managing director
B.O.: n/a
Top pic: “Protege” ($8 million)
In brief: PolyBona is sometimes called the Chinese Miramax because it is independent of China Film and its founder, mover-and-shaker Yu Dong, has a strong personality, not unlike the Weinsteins. Yu has broken all kinds of ground in the last six or seven years: Outfit has distributed nearly 100 domestic and Hong Kong co-produced films, such as “Confession of Pain,” “The Myth,” “Initial D” and “The Peacock,” capturing more than 20% of the overall market share for four years running. PolyBona is looking to increase its role in distributing movies imported from Europe and other parts of Asia in the next few years. Last year, it successfully distributed several imported films, such as “Daisy” (Korea), “Sky Fighters” (France) and “Sinking of Japan” (Japan). Founded in 1999, PolyBona merged in November 2003 with China Poly Group, which is the wealthy business conglomerate wing of the Chinese military, the People’s Liberation Army, to form PolyBona Film Distribution.

Huaxia
Topper: Liu Shusen, deputy general manager
B.O.: n/a
Top pic: “Shooter” ($3.2 million
In brief: In June 2003, Huaxia became China’s second distrib after it was set up to help meet China’s requirements under membership of the World Trade Organization, which the country joined two years earlier. Its name is an old one for China and began life by releasing a couple of B movies acquired on a flat-sales basis.

Note: 2007 B.O. through Sept. 30