“It was a miracle that none of us ever imagined,” Li Huyu said. “The majority of those in the industry, including me, had been quite conservative about the market’s recovery. Eighty percent of the summer box office in 2019 would have already been a big success. But now it’s highly probable this year’s total box office may surpass 60 billion yuan (US$8.2b), and even break the all-time record,” Li told NewsChina. So far, 2019 marks the most successful year for China’s film industry with box office revenue of 64.2 billion (US$8.8b).
This summer, a succession of diverse domestic films became major hits, such as suspense thriller Lost in Stars, crime action film No More Bets, martial arts blockbuster Never Say Never, fantasy epic Creation of the Gods I: Kingdom of Storms, animated feature Chang An, romantic drama Love Never Ends and dance-fueled coming-of-age story One and Only.
“If movie offerings are homogenous, audiences will likely choose the most popular one and skip the rest. But if they are diverse in genre, audiences of different ages, tastes and inclinations can pick their favorites. Such diversity would also attract people who don’t go to movies regularly,” Li told NewsChina.
Wang Zheng, chairman of the Beijing Central Spring Theater Management Company, told NewsChina another factor behind the recent box office success are films that “emotionally strike a chord with Chinese audiences.”
Films with a focus on social issues, such as Lost in the Stars and No More Bets, gained traction on short-video sharing platforms like Douyin (China’s TikTok).
Pulling in 3.5 billion yuan (US$479m), mystery crime film Lost in the Stars is based on a true crime story about a husband who pushed his pregnant wife off a cliff in Thailand in 2019 as part of a life insurance scam. Released on June 22, the film resonated with younger Chinese audiences, who are increasingly skeptical toward traditional relationships and marriage.
On social media, viewers discussed the film’s topics such as marriage fraud, domestic abuse and the potential risks of a mismatched relationship. Some called it “a film to correct a hopeless romantic.”
Released on August 8, No More Bets tackles the prevalence of cyber scams. Based on real cases, the film revolves around two youths lured overseas by lucrative job offers, only to be held hostage and forced to engage in criminal activities.
Told from the perspectives of criminals, victims and police, No More Bets explores the inner workings of fraud organizations that target Chinese citizens from overseas. Police stations and banks organized free screenings to raise awareness about types of online fraud, from romance scams to investment schemes. People posted to social media about buying tickets for their parents or grandparents to raise their awareness.
Despite their modest budgets and production values, No More Bets and Lost in the Stars quickly became the most-discussed films on social media and topped the summer box office season.
Also based on a true story, Never Say Never tells of story of underprivileged teens who change their fates through boxing. Romantic drama Love Never Dies deals with issues surrounding China’s rapidly aging society through the stories of two elderly couples. The realistic drama The Woman in the Storm focuses on domestic violence and women’s rights, while Papa explores how tiger parenting fuels China’s highly competitive attitudes toward education.
“To some extent, these films have become a kind of mouthpiece for audiences to express their feelings and opinions,” Wang Zheng told NewsChina. “They evoke an acute sense of empathy, and such feelings might drive them to recommend the film to friends.”
Such recommendations may have further boosted box office numbers. According to statistics from Beacon Professional, 52.7 percent of this summer’s moviegoers had visited theaters for the first time this year.