The Fog of War

2011/12/19 10:45:00 (Beijing Time)   Source:Global Times    By:Shen Lili

The popular Chinese saying, "Harmony is the most important," seems to have no place in this year's box office battle over the lucrative New Year season. Last Thursday, the two heavyweight films of the year, Flowers of War and Flying Swords of Dragon Gate, were simultaneously released in theaters, a rare occurrence in Chinese cinema.

A bigger piece of the pie
The New Year season is regarded as the "Golden Season" for cinemas and film producers alike. At the end of October, the country's annual box office had already totalled 11 billion yuan ($1.7 billion), and overall sales for 2011 are estimated to reach 13 billion yuan, according to Tong Gang, head of the State Administration of Radio Film and Television. As the New Year season is expected to earn two billion yuan for filmmakers, a fierce battle is to be expected. Make sure you've got your popcorn - it's fixing to be quite a show.
The most dramatic rivalry this season has proven to be that between Zhang Yimou's Flowers of War and Tsui Hark's Flying Swords of Dragon Gate. Flowers, which cast Oscar-winner Christian Bale in a starring role, takes place during the Nanking Massacre of 1937, in which 300,000 people were killed by Japanese soldiers. Tsui's film, starring Jet Li, Zhou Xun and Chen Kun, is the first Chinese 3D wuxia thriller.
The two films' occupation of the same debut date has piqued the interest of film lovers, who may get to see an off-screen battle that rivals the action on cinema screens.
Even before the double-debut on December 15, the conflicts had already begun. In November, Zhang Weiping, chairman of New Pictures, which produced Flowers of War, threw fuel on the fire by demanding a 5-yuan increase on the cheapest tickets for the film at competing theater chains.
When Zhang became embroiled in a media craze over his spat with the competition, it was immediately announced that tickets for Flying Swords of Dragon Gate would remain at their regular prices.

The fight over show times

The timing of a movie's release date is crucial to its box office success. Filmmakers take time to investigate possible interference from other films, especially the more anticipated blockbusters.

Last year's New Year season saw the producers of its top three blockbuster hopefuls, Let the Bullets Fly, Sacrifice, and If You Are the One 2, make a deal to schedule their release dates no less than one week apart from each other. In the end, they collectively took 1.3 billion yuan in one month, with Let the Bullets Fly getting a record 659 million yuan and If You Are the One 2 raking in a respectable 400 million yuan. It seems like the meaning of "Harmony is the most important" was not lost on them.
But this year, Flowers and Flying Swords are mixing about as harmoniously as oil and water, and the stakes are getting higher. The two films are dominating most of the show times in major cinemas. Megabox theaters even arranged to show these two films exclusively from December 16 to December 22.
Megabox and UME theaters said that the advance-ticket sales for Flowers so far have exceeded those for Flying Swords. Both theater chains usually arrange a film's earlier show times according to how much audience anticipation it appears to have, and later makes adjustments based on the box office.
If this continues, Flowers may conquer Flying Swords in this box office war. Nonetheless, Flowers, which cost 600 million yuan to make, has a long road before it reaches its box office goal of one billion yuan, as Flying Swords is still expected to give stiff competition and take its fair share of New Year season earnings.
Lu Qianwen and Ji Yuyue contrbuted to the story.

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