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Box Office Shows Signs of Recovery

By Zhang Yunlong, Chinadaily|Jan 17,2023

Domestic films prove a popular attraction thanks to enhanced quality and diversification, Zhang Yunlong reports.

The third year since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2022 saw China's box office striving to cope with the impact of sporadic outbreaks, and in the process managing to generate a total annual revenue of around 30 billion yuan ($4.31 billion).

Though much less than the previous year's 47 billion yuan, the amount still shows the advances made by domestic films in terms of improved quality and genre diversification in 2022 — all this despite the pandemic's influence, say industry observers.

Domestic titles lead the yearly box-office chart, according to box-office tracker Maoyan and other platforms.

Similar to the previous two years, the three top-grossing films screened in China in 2022 were all domestic movies. Moreover, Chinese films account for eight of the top 10 earners at China's 2022 box office.

Patriotic hit The Battle at Lake Changjin II is the year's top earner, raking in 4.07 billion yuan.

This achievement, in addition to a whopping 5.77 billion yuan revenue from the 2021 war blockbuster The Battle at Lake Changjin, saw the "Changjin" films become China's top-grossing film series ever, replacing the Detective Chinatown comedy movie franchise.

Set during the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea (1950-53), the Changjin films have been hailed as a milestone of what experts are labeling "new mainstream films".They not only convey the prevalent values of Chinese society, like many previous patriotic movies, but also achieve impressive box-office results.

The year's fifth top earner, with nearly 1.6 billion yuan, the patriotic action film Home Coming has received acclaim from critics and moviegoers alike. Many say they are moved by the hero — an ordinary Chinese diplomat played by Zhang Yi — as he tries to evacuate Chinese nationals from a war-torn nation.

Rao Shuguang, president of the China Film Critics Association, commends the movie, which is adapted from real-life events, for its exploration of the film genre and providing new prospects for mainstream films.

Speaking highly of the domestic drama Lighting up the Stars as a highlight among the year's Chinese films, Rao calls it "a realistic film "with its heartwarming reflection of everyday life.

It stars Zhu Yilong as a former inmate-turned-funeral director who accidentally crosses paths with a girl who triggers an unexpected change in his attitude toward life. The film generated 1.71 billion yuan, ranking fourth in the yearly chart.

The highly-anticipated Avatar: The Way of Water ranks ninth in the chart, being one of the only two foreign titles to make it to the top 10, along with the adventure flick Jurassic World: Dominion.

Despite mixed reviews, since Dec 16, the sequel to the 2009 American sci-fi hit Avatar has provided a much-needed boost to China's box office during the year-end moviegoing period in the five weeks up to Dec 31. But the film's impetus is seemingly less than previously expected.

Garnering cumulative earnings of 853 million yuan by Dec 30, it currently tops China's year-end box office chart that tracks ticket revenue from Nov 25 through to the end of 2022, accounting for around 60 percent of the total, according to movie data platforms.

The American fantasy film is considered a spectacle of visual effects by many moviegoers, though its storyline has been labeled by some as simple. Still, its release helped draw many people back to cinemas, with the nationwide cinema opening ratio soaring to above 80 percent on the day of the film's debut.

Maoyan currently forecasts Avatar: The Way of Water to complete its run in China with a box office of about 1.25 billion yuan, much lower than the previously estimated 2 billion-plus yuan.

In China, Avatar was released in January 2010 and rereleased in March 2021, generating a total box-office revenue of 1.7 billion yuan.

With China adjusting its COVID-19 response policy, its box office is expected to see the announcement of more releases of major titles in the coming weeks and months.

Zhang Yimou's suspense film Full River Red is set for release on Jan 22, joining the competitive Spring Festival holiday movie period, along with The Wandering Earth II, a much-anticipated prequel to the 2019 sci-fi blockbuster.

At the same time, there have been calls from critics for more quality films to draw more moviegoers back to cinemas, citing its significance to the overall recovery of the film industry.

Rao urged Chinese movies to take a realistic and worldly approach, suggesting films that shed light on the people's real lives are a great way to win the hearts of the audiences.

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