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Comedies big for holiday moviegoing
By Xu Wei

Blockbuster movies that traditionally have fought it out at the box office during the Christmas and New Year’s holiday season have most often been action-packed “costume” dramas from big name filmmakers. Despite lavish scenes and kung fu elements, they usually are criticized for a lack of originality.

But things have changed. This year, movie buffs are being presented with a more diverse menu of hesuipian, or New Year’s films. The movies cover a wide range of genres and subjects and most are small and medium-sized productions with budgets no greater than 120 million yuan (US$19.7 million).

Heartwarming comedy films are likely to do best at the box office this season, said Shi Chuan, vice president of the Shanghai Film Association and a veteran film critic.

“Comedy flicks with realistic roots and concerns of real-life dilemmas and emotions will be among the most popular films,” Shi said. “Big blockbuster films don’t seem the best option this time.”

Guo Ying, a marketing manager of Shanghai United Cinema Lines, the city’s largest cinema chain, considers it a sign of a more rational Chinese cinema market.

“We have seen a lot of ‘dark horse’ productions over the past year,” he said. “These low-budget movies have set new domestic box office records and proved that a film’s production cost is not the only factor that decides its quality.”

China’s box office this year has already hit 20 billion yuan, 34.6 percent more than last year, and experts expect Chinese cinemas to rake in 2 billion yuan more during the holidays.

Guo also attributes the remarkable change in the seasonal movie lineup to Chinese moviegoers’ improved tastes and judgment.

“Nowadays Chinese audiences are more drawn to a film’s story rather than its visual stunts and special effects,” he said. “Many domestic film production companies have also come to realize that and begun to spend more energy and resources on the script.”

Feng Xiaogang’s new comedy film “Personal Tailor,” from the Huayi Brothers, was released yesterday and is anticipated to be the season’s top film and possibly set box office records.

The script is written by nationally celebrated author Wang Shuo, a good friend of director Feng. Starring Ge You and Bai Baihe, the film follows a man who wants to become an aristocrat after he becomes rich. He receives training on how to improve his social skills from a personal trainer who returns from overseas. But gradually he falls into a trap set by the girl he admires.

The film also marks director Feng’s return to his trademark genre of urban romantic comedies after war epics, martial arts dramas and disaster movies.

Last year, Feng’s historical famine drama “Back to 1942,” with a 250-million-yuan budget, made only about 370 million yuan at the national box office.

Some say the film’s sad mood may have helped stir the unexpectedly huge popularity of the small-budget comedy film “Lost In Thailand,” which was released just two weeks later and grossed 1.24 billion yuan in China.

“The gloomy cinematography and heavy subject of ‘Back to 1942’ kept a lot of people who just wanted to laugh during this season away from theaters,” said Kevin Fan, an IT worker and fan of director Feng.

“The success of ‘Lost In Thailand’ can’t demonstrate how good the film is, but it shows that to win the battle in this festive period, film producers and director must know a lot more about their audiences.”

This year, “Personal Tailor” has a budget of only about 80 million yuan, and most of the production costs have already been covered by product placement. Plans call for the film to be made into a reality TV show of the same name next year. More commercial revenues are anticipated.

Feng, also general director of China Central Television’s 2014 Spring Festival Gala (to be aired on the evening of January 30), regards the film as a hilarious rehearsal for the New Year extravaganza.

On Christmas Eve, Jackie Chan’s new cop film “Police Story 2013” will also hit Chinese cinemas. Chan rose to massive fame in the “Police Story” series.

In the movie, Chan plays a police officer who is taken hostage with his daughter and a group of strangers inside a pub. With most of the fight scenes shot in a pub, the action film is budgeted at only about 100 million yuan, lower than many of Chan’s movies.

Teng Huatao’s small-budget road film “Up In the Wind,” to be released on December 29, is expected to help moviegoers discover their true selves through a hilarious and thought-provoking journey.

The film had 80 percent of its heartwarming scenes shot in Nepal, considered one of the world’s happiest countries. A strong exotic flavor permeates the light fare, which seems to match people’s desire to travel after a busy year.

In January, a lot more movies targeting children and families will enter the crowded fray as the winter vacation and Chinese lunar New Year will be at hand.

“Saving Santa,” a highly anticipated 3D cartoon film produced by the team of “The Lion King” and “Brave” will be released in China.

The animated comedy film centers on a lowly stable elf who stops an invasion of the North Pole by using the secret of a time globe to travel back in time to save Santa. The film is also dubbed an animated version of “Inception” for its fantasy scenes.

The movie edition of the popular reality TV show “Where Are We Going, Dad?” also will premiere around the lunar Chinese New Year.

According to the film’s producers, it is China’s first film based on reality TV. Each episode of the reality TV show attracts 70 million viewers all over the country, which has nurtured a large fan base for the movie.

In the movie version, the five celebrity fathers and their kindergarten-age children set off on a new adventure at a wildlife zoo. They will have fun with cute wild animals while their survival skills, stamina and team spirit also will be tested.

During the season, movie buffs will also be offered Hong Kong action star Donnie Yen’s latest fantasy adventure “The Monkey King,” Wong Jing’s new gambling and poker movie “Casino” starring Chow Yun-fat and Nicholas Tse, and the new installment of the domestic cartoon film series “Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf.”

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