As one of the most crucial periods in China's film calendar, summer is set to see the country's domestic films thrive.
The Chinese box office is expected to stand at between 13.1 and 16.6 billion yuan (1.94 to 2.45 billion U.S. dollars) this summer, according to a prediction of GF Securities.
It would be a rise of 20.6 percent year on year should the box office reach 15 billion yuan, it said.
Some 49 of the 60 movies scheduled for release in China this July and August are domestic films, and four of them have already entered the top five in box office sales over the past week. Domestic films are ready to carry the country's film market on their shoulders for another summer.
RIDING ON MOMENTUM
Boasting big budgets and glamorous casts, a number of domestic films are attracting tremendous attention from the Chinese public.
"The Founding of An Army," a film in honor of the 90th anniversary of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), is one of them. It stars more than 50 first-tier Chinese actors and actresses playing historical figures of the late 1920s, and will hit the screen this Friday.
"I will watch the film because of those stars," said Bao, a 30-year-old moviegoer. "The history and changes of China that the film is based on have also raise my interest in it."
"Wukong," a magical fantasy released on July 13 that received more than 100 million yuan of investment, is another example.
It took a whole year to finish the 1,750 special effects shots, which accounted for 78 percent of movie, according to the production team, led by director Derek Kwok.
As of Sunday, the film's sales had already surpassed the 6-billion-yuan mark, topping all other domestic films that have been released this summer, according to Maoyan, a major film database in China.
"I think films of high quality definitely have a place in the market, especially good domestic ones," said Zhu Dawei, vice president of China Film Stellar Theater Chain.
DEMANDING AUDIENCE TURN DOMESTIC
On Tuesday night, moviegoer Wang, chose to see "Wukong" instead of "Despicable Me 3," which was being screened at the same time.
"Imported films are far away from our lives, and I need to read the subtitles to understand them," Wang explained, adding that she chose "Wukong" due to the popularity of the novel, a prequel to the Chinese myth of the Monkey King.
Domestic movies are easier for Chinese audiences to understand, which give them an advantage over international fantasy and adventure films, Zhu Dawei added.
"Hollywood movies are better at stunning visual and audio effects," Li, a film lover told Xinhua, noting his lack of interest in Hollywood blockbusters, including "The Fast and Furious" franchise.
With over 8,000 cinemas and 40,000 screens nationwide, the film industry has found that Chinese audiences are becoming more diverse and harder to cater to, especially for Hollywood productions, who usually receive more than half of their box office sales from the Chinese market.
The blockbuster "Transformers: The Last Knight" is a case in point. Released in late June, with much expectation, the film only scored 4.9 out of ten points on Douban, a popular movie rating platform in China.
GLIMPSE OF A MATURE MARKET
While Hollywood blockbusters are struggling to live up to expectations, domestic dark horses were stepping up to fill the void.
"Paths of the Soul," a film documenting the pilgrimage of a Tibetan family, has received wide acclaim since its Chinese premiere on June 20.
"Truthful and unadorned, the film shows us the happiness people are blessed with when they have faith," a user named "Lemon" commented on Douban.
As of Sunday, the film had raked in more than 98 million yuan, a strong performance for a low-budget film.
"Domestic movies targeting niche markets are gaining momentum in China, which is a good sign for the industry," said Yin Hong, a film industry analyst and professor with Tsinghua University.
"These niche markets are characteristic of a mature and sophisticated market that can meet the diversified tastes of moviegoers," said Yin.
But for a genuinely mature film industry to materialize, a lot still needs to be accomplished.
"Many high-budget Chinese films lag behind in storytelling and other respects," said Yin. "Apart from investment and financial revenues, Chinese films need to improve in their artistic sense."
"I expect more originality in domestic films, which is a significant way to improve their quality," said Bao, a moviegoer.