China's Spring Festival box office triumph
By Yuan Yuan  ·  2024-02-26  ·   Source: NO.9 FEBRUARY 29, 2024
Audience members enjoy a movie at a cinema in Guiyang, Guizhou Province on February 18 (XINHUA)

Competition at China's Spring Festival box office took an unexpected turn this year, with a record-breaking eight movies premiering during the eight-day celebration, but half withdrawing from the race midway.

Despite the withdrawals, the box office soared to unprecedented success, amassing over 8 billion yuan ($1.1 billion) from the sales of 163 million tickets during the holiday, which ran from February 10 to 17 this year. 

According to data from film tracking site Dengta, as of February 16, the Chinese mainland film market this year had garnered box office revenues exceeding 10 billion yuan ($1.4 billion), provisionally placing China at the forefront of the global single-market box office rankings.

The screen victors 

The seasoned producers of the four films that managed to hold on for the entire Spring Festival holiday are no strangers to the seasonal cinematic competition. The box office crown was claimed by YOLO, an acronym for "you only live once." The film depicts how an overweight woman embarks on a journey of self-improvement through boxing and ultimately sheds 50 kg.

Jia Ling, director and lead actress of YOLO, is no novice to box office success, having previously topped the Spring Festival charts in 2021 with her directorial debut, Hi, Mom.

In the days leading up to YOLO's release, the buzz on domestic social media was dominated by Jia's own transformative weight loss journey for the film. To create surprise, Jia refrained from public appearances and television shows while the movie was in production. She initially gained 20 kg to authentically portray the character's initial state before undertaking the challenge of losing 50 kg, mirroring her character's boxing-driven transformation.

The dramatic reveal of Jia's final appearance in the film left audiences astonished, and the discussions about her new look and weight loss journey surged across social media platforms once again after the movie's release. Many viewers expressed that Jia's dedication and transformation have inspired them to set their own goal and work hard to achieve it.

Jia emphasizes that the theme of weight loss is not the central focus of her film. "The essence of the movie is about overcoming personal limits," Jia explained during an interview with media after the movie's release. "Although the protagonist does not clinch victory in the boxing ring, her true triumph is realized by stepping onto the stage and achieving her own objectives."

Hot on the heels of YOLO is Pegasus 2, the eagerly anticipated follow-up to Pegasus. This sequel humorously chronicles the adventures of a driving instructor and a novice racer as they tackle the final iteration of a rally.

The original Pegasus debuted during the 2019 Spring Festival holiday and was a box office hit, raking in 1.726 billion yuan ($243 million) and becoming a highlight of director Han Han's career.

The animated feature Boonie Bears: The Wild Life, securing the third spot in the box office rankings, perpetuates the success of the Boonie Bears franchise. Having released a new film for every Spring Festival for the 10 years since 2014, the series has become a staple of the holiday's cinematic lineup.

Article 20, directed by the esteemed Zhang Yimou, claimed fourth position. The film derives its title from the corresponding section of China's Criminal Law and delves into the complex theme of justifiable defense. It encourages a deeper understanding of this legal principle to deter unlawful acts.

The film is Zhang Yimou's third cinematic contribution to the Spring Festival holiday lineup. His film from the previous year, Full River Red, achieved the highest box office revenue during that season's festivities in 2023.

Holiday moviegoers pose for a selfie in front of a film poster in Qianxi, Guizhou Province, on February 18 (XINHUA)

New trends 

Of the four films that made their debut and then withdrew, The Movie Emperor, a satirical comedy starring celebrated Hong Kong actor Andy Lau, was among the first to announce its premiere during the Spring Festival holiday. However, after debuting on February 10, the film retracted its release from the screening lineup on February 16.

"The departure of these four films signifies a market correction within the holiday film season," Sheng Yanhong, a film critic based in Shanghai, said during an online film forum on February 20. "The lucrative box office of the Spring Festival holiday has enticed numerous films to join the fray. However, producers should assess more carefully whether their films are truly a good fit for this particular season."

She elaborated on the evolution of the Spring Festival film market. Prior to 2013, it was common for cinemas in China to close during the holiday, as moviegoing was not traditionally considered a leisure activity. This all changed with the release of Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons, directed by Hong Kong's Stephen Chow, in 2013. The film's staggering success, earning 1.2 billion yuan ($167 million), heralded a new era for the film industry, transforming the Spring Festival holiday into a prime season for new releases.

"The competition among films during the Spring Festival holiday has intensified especially in recent years," she said. "However, the essence of the holiday—family reunion—sets a clear theme for successful movies during this period. To resonate with audiences, films need to be suitable for different ages and contribute to a joyful atmosphere."

Dong Xuan, a respected film commentator from Beijing, offered his perspective on the cinematic landscape during the Spring Festival holiday. He suggested that not all films, particularly those of a more artistic nature, should vie for a spot in the Spring Festival lineup.

"Cinemas are predominantly filled with families throughout the Spring Festival holiday," he told Beijing Review. "The Boonie Bears series is a good choice when I take my 8-year-old son to the cinema. However, for more artistic films, I prefer to watch them in a quieter setting, away from the holiday bustle."

Another factor contributing to the bustling theaters this year has been the reduction in ticket prices compared to the previous year. Dong also highlighted an emerging trend in film promotion. "We're seeing a new phenomenon where directors and actors engage with audiences through livestreaming events to market their movies," he said.

Looking ahead, Dong anticipates a maturation of the movie market, where films of various genres will find their niche and secure their own segment of the market, catering to the diverse tastes of moviegoers. "This evolution bodes well for the future of cinema, promising a rich tapestry of film offerings for audiences to enjoy year round," he said.

Copyedited by G.P. Wilson 

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