Photo taken on Jan. 23, 2023 shows people at a cinema in Xi'an, northwest China's Shaanxi Province. (Xinhua/Li Yibo)
by Zhang Yunlong
BEIJING, Jan. 31 (Xinhua) -- Buoyed by robust Spring Festival holiday ticket sales, China's 2023 box office hit 10 billion yuan (1.48 billion U.S. dollars) on Tuesday -- the earliest date the milestone figure has ever been reached.
This is a significant achievement that made immediate headlines online, especially given that China's whole-year 2022 box office total was 30.07 billion yuan, according to data from the China Film Administration.
Domestic titles released during the Spring Festival, which fell on Jan. 22 and marked the beginning of the Chinese lunar new year, led the January chart, according to online platforms such as box office tracker Maoyan.
Topping the chart was the twist-filled "Full River Red," Zhang Yimou's first foray into the "suspense plus comedy" genre, with approximately 3.43 billion yuan, or 34 percent of the total.
It was immediately followed by Guo Fan's "The Wandering Earth II," a prequel to the 2019 sci-fi blockbuster "The Wandering Earth," which pulled in about 2.79 billion yuan.
Third was the animated film "Boonie Bears: Guardian Code," the newest installment in one of the longest-running movie franchises in China. It grossed 1.04 billion yuan.
Three other titles, namely spy action flick "Hidden Blade," animated fantasy "Deep Sea," and comedy "Five Hundred Miles," secured respectable earnings from 326 million yuan to upward of 640 million yuan each.
American movie "Avatar: The Way of Water," the much-anticipated sequel to the 2009 American sci-fi hit "Avatar," came in fourth with over 688 million yuan generated this month, which brought its China box office total since Dec. 16, 2022, to 1.64 billion yuan.
RECORD JANUARY REVENUE
Tuesday's milestone achievement means China's box office ends this January with a record high revenue for the month.
The Spring Festival this year came earlier than usual. Unlike in 2022 and 2021 when the week-long holiday, usually a lucrative moviegoing period, mostly fell in February, this year's holiday as a whole was within January.
Soaring ticket sales from the holiday movies drove China's January box office revenue to 10.03 billion yuan by 7 p.m. Tuesday -- a significantly higher figure than the 2.71 billion yuan, 3.33 billion yuan, and 3.38 billion yuan figures achieved in the same month in 2022, 2021 and 2019, respectively.
The holiday box office surge this year, which beat the expectations of many observers, could be attributed to multiple reasons, including the high quality of the holiday movies that came in various genres, and the lifting of many COVID-19 restrictions following China's adjustment of its response to the virus, according to cinema managers and critics.
Four of the six titles released during the Spring Festival received a rating of 7 out of 10 or higher on the review platform Douban, with "The Wandering Earth II" achieving a rating of 8.2 and "Full River Red" earning a 7.4, data showed on Tuesday.
ELEMENTS OF CHINESE CULTURE
Elements of traditional Chinese culture are widely thought to have added to the charm of this year's holiday movies.
The ending of "Full River Red" has moved many to tears as they watch thousands of soldiers reciting a lyrical poem written by patriotic Song Dynasty (960-1279) general Yue Fei in concert.
In a televised interview, Zhang Yimou said he drew inspiration from the "revolving scenic lamp" in traditional Chinese culture. He sets his characters inside a traditional courtyard in north China's Shanxi Province, where they must pass through numerous long, narrow alleys to interrogate different people to solve a murder.
Yu Opera, a traditional style of opera from central China's Henan Province, was used as background music to echo the feeling of tension when the characters hurry through the alleys.
The frenzy surrounding the film has also brought increased tourist visits to museums and other cultural sites, where people are paying tribute to Yue Fei for his loyalty and courage in fighting the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234).
Adapted from the Chinese short story of the same name by Liu Cixin, "The Wandering Earth" films are set in the future and tell of an audacious attempt to save Earth as the sun is about to expand into a red giant and devour the planet.
Fu Ruoqing, a senior executive at China Film Co., Ltd, which co-produced the films, praised "The Wandering Earth II" as a new milestone in China's movie history.
In the film, Chinese scientists present the possibility that humankind could put Earth on a wandering path, leading to a decision to do so. This is "an observation out of respect for a human community with a shared future," Fu noted in a televised interview.
MORE TO COME
Critics expect this season's quality holiday movies to continue to woo audiences after the holiday ends, as many people returning from trips away will have more time to go to the cinema.
According to the latest estimations by Maoyan, "Full River Red" is expected to complete its box office run with 4.56 billion yuan, and "The Wandering Earth II" with 3.78 billion yuan.
It is the film industry's hope that the holiday moviegoing frenzy will help ignite people's passion for the big screen and draw more viewers back to cinemas.