Inception Grips China: Hollywood is Bigger Than Ever at the Asian Box Office

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A cinema in downtown Shanghai

Aly Song/Reuters

China and the U.S. may not see eye to eye — or rather yuan to dollar — on trivial matters such as currency but when it comes to movies, the two nations are best friends forever.

Box office takings in China rocketed 64% to 10.2 billion Chinese yuan ($1.5 billion) in 2010, helped in no small part by those Hollywood behemoths, Avatar and Inception. James Cameron’s 3D epic, in particular, boosted Chinese takings to the tune of $204 million. The country also added 313 movie theaters and 1,533 new screens last year, for a total of just over 6,200 screens, as locals clearly continue to enjoy a trip to the movies.

(See pictures of Shanghai’s World Expo.)

But China’s film industry isn’t entirely happy with what it perceives as a failed year in the sense of local directors needing to improve the quality of their work. The top-grossing Chinese film in 2010 was Feng Xiaogang’s earthquake epic, Aftershock, which shook things up with $100 million. Jiang Wen’s political satire, Let the Bullets Fly, only released last month, has already earnt in excess of $75 million.

To put these figures in some perspective, the U.S. box office takings for 2009 came in at a mighty $10.6 billion and this hasn’t escaped China’s attention. “A 10 billion yuan box office … is still far from the value of a movie world power and is still far from keeping pace with the country’s economic growth,” the report by China’s Film Bureau noted.

(See pictures of the real science of Avatar.)

The Film Bureau wasn’t nearly done:  “There weren’t enough Chinese productions that were truly critically acclaimed and were truly able to meet market demands and the cultural demands of the audience,” the report continued.  “The variety of Chinese movies isn’t rich enough. The development of genres still remains at the stage of simple imitation and duplication. It still lacks an improvement in creativity and localization … We lack a basic response to the creative pressure presented by new genres created by Avatar and Inception,” the Film Bureau said.

In total, there were 526 local releases in 2010 — an increase from 456 the year before — with 17 making more than 100 million ($15 million) yuan. Yet Hollywood continues to make inroads despite China’s imposing of a strict quota system: the Chinese government shares revenue for 20 foreign imports a year, which effectively means that only 20 foreign movies get released. China’s Film Bureau may need to end up poaching some American talent to teach some of their own the tricks involved in putting people’s behind’s on seats. (via AP)

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