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China turns to genre films for box office bloom

2014-07-30 08:42 Xinhua Web Editor: Qin Dexing

With horror flick after road movie, China's domestic filmmaking seems to have found new inspiration for its box office rivalry with Hollywood.

"The Continent," which follows two young men's adventures as they travel across China, was crowned last week's box office champion with 300 million yuan (48 million U.S. dollars) earned from last Thursday to Sunday.

In an industry obsessed with blockbusters, Chinese-language genre films have burst onto the stage.

"Low-budget arthouse, horror, road... we've really made some breakthroughs in genre films," said Rao Shuguang, secretary general of China Film Association.

Rao said behind this phenomenon is an increasingly younger group of Chinese cinemagoers with unprecedented tastes.

Given that ghosts are generally off-limits in anti-superstition Chinese ideology, horror films are rare in China, however, "The House That Never Dies," based on a haunted mansion legend in Beijing, raked in some 330 million yuan in its first 10 days, second only to "The Continent".

Earlier this year, "Black Coal, Thin Ice," a low-budget sleuth noir, won the Golden Bear at the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival. Back home, it recouped four times its cost.

In an effort to protect domestic film, Chinese authorities usually fend off overseas competition by making theaters arrange more screenings for Chinese language films, especially in holidays.

A manager of cinema chain Wanda in east China's city of Nanjing told Xinhua that, as "Transformers 4" went off, there will be no Hollywood movies at her theater until mid-August when "How to Train Your Dragon 2" screens.

According to the Wanda website, only five foreign movies were released in July, including "American Hustle", a 2014 Academy Award nominee.

Some movie critics complain that the success of "The Continent" and "Tiny Times 3.0" - a chick flick released almost at the same time - is largely thanks to the buzz surrounding each of their virally popular directors.

"Tiny Times 3.0," which knocked "Transformers 4" off the top of the box office earlier this month, is directed by Guo Jingming, already one of China's richest writers at 31 years old. The film, the third after its two commercially successful predecessors, was adapted from Guo's own novel.

Han Han, who wrote and directed "The Continent," is also a high-profile blogger, novelist and professional racer who has published many books.

Guo admitted in a previous interview that he cannot exceed other professional directors in filmmaking skills, but claims to understand what the audience wants to see.

Rao Shuguang sees no reason for over optimism.

"Writers-turned-directors, Han Han and Guo Jingming are very good at building successful products, but movies are not just products and I can't see storytelling in their movies," he said.

Rao called upon domestic filmmakers to boost their own professional skills and present films in more varied genres and subject matter.

"Filmmaking is teamwork. We need to foster a large group of talent for every aspect of our film industry," Rao said.

"This might be a turning point for Chinese films," he added.

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