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How well did Japanese, Indian, Korean, and Chinese films do at the box office this past year and what should we expect for 2004? Read more to find out.
JAPAN: Ditching Hollywood for domestic films
Hollywood films dominated the market in 2002, but U.S. distributors expecting the same results for 2003 were in for a surprise when Japanese audiences ditched American action flicks in exchange for local fare. This shift in preference helped to boost market share of local films to 40%, an 11% percent increase from 2002. The Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan announced that there was a 3.3% increase for the Japanese box office, making 2003 a record year with a total receipt of $1.93 billion and a total audience of 162.35 million.
The January opener Yomigaeri: Resurrection, which local distributor Toho only planned for a limited release of three weeks, ended up raking in $24 million during its wide release 12 week run. Another local favorite was Kisarazu Cats Eye, which was released in mid-November on only 128 screens, but managed to pull in an impressive $10 million in six weeks. But hands down, the box office mega hit of 2003 was the police drama sequel, Bayside Shakedown 2. Costing slightly more than $8 million to make, it garnered $158 million and 12.7 million viewers, becoming the highest-grossing live-action feature ever in Japan. With its July 19 release, this blockbuster was a pleasant surprise considering that U.S. films traditionally dominate the summer box office.
But summer or not, Hollywood films just flopped in general. The major disappointments of the year included The Hulk, Charlie's Angels 2: Full Throttle, The Italian Job, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Phone Booth and X2. There were, however, some redeeming films to make Hollywood's efforts not a total miss. Most notable were of course The Matrix Reloaded, Terminator 3, Pirates of the Caribbean, Chicago, Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Finding Nemo. Even though not Japanese produced but Japanese related, The Last Samurai also had strong box office reception, hitting the $45 million mark by the end of the year.
But Hollywood was not only facing competition from the locals, but also other parts of Asia. For example, marketed as the "Matrix from the East", China's blockbuster Hero pulled in $33 million in only five weeks. This was quite a feat considering it was originally rejected by several potential buyers until Warner Bros. Japan picked it up and wide released it in mid-August. This film also set a record, becoming Japan's highest-grossing non-Japanese Asian film to date.
So why the sudden shift? In a Daily Variety article, Kaz Tadashiki, President and CEO of Movie-Eye, said, "There is great demand out there for local Asian productions and, as we've discovered recently for films from other Asian countries." Taking this cue, smaller distributors have bought a record number of Korean and other Asian films for more specialized releases.
At the same time, distributors are also questioning whether to buy films from the U.S. since the cost of these has made it harder to gain profits. Furthermore, audiences aren't becoming very receptive to the formulaic Hollywood films as the box office figures have shown. Instead, they are showing preferences for new and original films that are set in a cultural environment closer to their own.
With that in mind, will this year be a repeat of 2003 or will Japanese audiences return to their old habits and Hollywood films will once again hold reign?
Population: 128.5 million
Total box office: $1.93 billion
Profit Gain/Loss: + 3.3%
Number of screens: 2,700
Top five Japanese films (in millions)
1. Bayside Shakedown 2 (Toho) $164.45
2. Pocket Monster 2003 (Toho) $42.65
3. Konan the Detective (Toho) $30.3
4. Yomigaeri: Resurrection (Toho) $29
5. Zatoichi (Shochiku) $27
Top five imported films (in millions)
1. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets $164
2. The Matrix Reloaded $104.3
3. Terminator 3 $77.7
4. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers $74.9
5. Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl $64.5
BOLLYWOOD: Slowly bouncing back--and forth
Suffering a loss of nearly $60 million, 2002 was just not the year for Bollywood, but end of the year hits such as Kaante, Saathiya, and Die Another Day gave the industry hope that 2003 would fare better. Their hopes were almost shattered when flops continued to abound in January and February, but the latter months proved to be more profitable.
Following the advice that Bollywood should stray away from the song-and-dance masala formula that made 2002 films such a disaster in box office ratings, this year's Indian filmmakers ventured into different genres and have been greeted with much needed success. The biggest hit of the year was Koi mil gaya (Someone Found), a science fiction flick about a mentally challenged boy who makes contact with an alien. This film earned nearly $11.6 million, with $2.3 million in India and $2.1 million in the U.S. and U.K. in the first week of its release alone. Even though Ishq Vishq (Love Schlove) had no big name actors, it became a surprise hit, drawing in the younger crowd with its story of a college love triangle.
But that's not to say that there were no successes for song-and-dance numbers at all. For example, Kal Ho Na Ho (Tomorrow May Not Come), anchored by the star power of Shah Rukh Khan and Preity Zinta, pulled in $6.5 million at the box office. Baghban (The Gardener) and The Hero also fared decently.
Out of the 245 Hindi films released in 2003, 20 made a profit compared with only two in 2002. The average seat occupancy in India was 30% of capacity in 2003 compared with 20% the year before. Despite the increase, this is nowhere near the 45%-50% occupancy seen in the mid-1990s.
So far this rising trend has been slow for 2004, especially with the recent lull in the box office due to the strike by cinema hall owners, the impending election and the India-Pakistan cricket series, which forced many producers to delay their releases. But even these setbacks couldn't dishearten the optimistic filmmakers.
In a recent Daily Variety article, filmmaker Indra Kumar said, "Every year, attendance at cinema halls drops in the months of February, March and April due to college and school examinations. We should count our blessings that the cricket series coincides with the examinations."
Starting in May, there are expected to be a number of big name releases, most notable being Shah Rukh Khan's Main Hoon Naa and Subhash Ghai's Kisna. Competing with these big name stars will be up-and-comers Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Black, Ashutosh Gowariker's Swades and Farhan Akhtar's Lakshya. The latter half of the year will be more action filled with cop dramas such as Aan- Men in Action and Garv- Pride & Honour.
While these films are expected to bring in some box office success, not everyone is optimistic. Some feel that delaying all the releases until May will not be good for business. Will Bollywood make a comeback or will the jinx of 2002 come back to haunt them?
Top five Bollywood films (in millions)
1. Koi Mil Gaya: $11.5
2. Kal Ho Na Ho: $8.4
3. Baghban: $6
4. The Hero: $ 5.9
5. Munabbhai MBBS: $ 5.4
KOREA: Slow start but ends with a bang
With rumors abounding of a crisis in film financing and the merging of two of Korea's biggest film companies (which never happened), 2003 seemed to be a bleak year for the Korean box office. Things seemed to be living up to expectations at the beginning with the absence of notable films, but starting in April, things began to pick up speed, eventually making 2003 one of the strongest years to date.
Starting this chain off was the April 25th release of Bong Joon-ho's critically acclaimed second film, Memories of Murder, which by years end, had garnered over $26 million gross with over 5 million in admissions. Other box office charters included Jae-woon's A Tale of Two Sisters, E J-yong's Untold Scandal, Im Sang-soo's A Good Lawyer's Wife and Park Chan Wook's Old Boy. Even though Kim Ki-duk's Spring Summer, Fall...and Spring was generally ignored by audiences, this movie was a candidate for the Oscar 2004 Foreign Language Film Award. Overall, it was a successful year for Korean cinema on the commercial front.
As reported by the Korean Film Commission (KOFIC), the South Korean market share in 2003 was 53%. The nationwide figure was an estimate based on a 49.7% local market share for Seoul, which is an increase from 48.3% in 2002 but still does not top 2001's 50.1%. Due to the multiplex growth that is still continuing to expand, Seoul saw an 8.9% increase in admissions compared to the past year.
Hollywood cinema accounted for 43.2% of the Seoul market, followed by Japanese, Chinese/HK, and French cinema. Korean films accounted for eight of the top ten grossing films of the year, with Memories of Murder taking top honors.
Ever since the rise of Korean cinema in 1993, the film industry has been going strong, so what can audiences expect for 2004? For one thing, audiences are still showing a preference for films dealing with the division of the Korean peninsula. After the success of Shiri (1999) and JSA (2000), the next in line to play off this common theme was Silmido and Taegugki.
Released at the end of 2003, Silmido is the story of the government's failed attempt to assassinate the former North Korean leader Kim Il-sung. Expected to be the best selling movie in Korea's history, the film had already surpassed Memories' nationwide total by mid-January and reached the ten million viewer mark by early February.
But following close on it's heel was the release of Taegukgi, a movie portraying brothers at odds with each other over competing ideologies and loyalties. The movie has already broken box office records set recently by Silmido, attracting 5 million viewers in 13 days; a feat that took the former 19 days to accomplish.
With these blockbusters ushering in 2004, will the rest of the year run just as smoothly? We will have to wait and see, but as the record shows, Korean cinema is still going strong.
Population: 47.9 million
Number of screens: 1,000
Profit Gain/Loss: +1.3%
Top Ten Admissions (by millions)
1. Silmido: 11.0
2. Return of the King: 5.96
3. Memories of Murder: 5.1
4. My Tutor Friend: 4.8
5. Matrix Reloaded: 3.6
6. Untold Scandal: 3.35
7. Old Boy: 3.26
8. Oh! Brothers: 3.13
9. A Tale of Two Sisters: 3.11
10. Once Upon a Time: 2.84
CHINA/HONG KONG/TAIWAN: SARS and celebrity deaths take toll on box office
The advent of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that hit at the beginning of 2003 sent many audiences hiding, rendering many films - domestic or imported - sore losers in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan box offices.
According to the Hong Kong Motion Picture Industry Association, March box office receipts plummeted 47% to $5.6 million compared with the previous year. Box Offices also tumbled by 15% in both Singapore and Taiwan. Single-screen theaters in Shanghai were forced to close and cinemas that were still open were selling tickets at a 50% discount.
Movies that were unfortunate enough to open during the height of the SARS epidemic also suffered losses. For example, it was estimated that there was a 50% hit to potential box office for Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers when it opened in Shanghai in late April.
But with the virus outbreak subsiding in the later months, there resulted a rise in B.O. receipts. In Hong Kong, the biggest movie of the year was Infernal Affairs III, the long awaited finale to the Infernal Affairs series. Opening on 111 screens in Hong Kong, the largest number of screens ever allocated to one picture, it captured 88.8% of the box office market and took in $1.5 million on its opening night alone. It also broke records in other areas including Malaysia, Singapore, and Taiwan. In China, it was the biggest opening of the year.
Coming in second in Hong Kong was The Twins Effect, which managed to beat out Hollywood blockbusters such as The Matrix Reloaded, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, and Charlie's Angels 2: Full Throttle. Even though the SARS outbreak brought releases to an all-time low of 79 films, compared to 92 in 2002 and 126 in 2001, the Hong Kong movie industry was lucky in that audiences showed a preference for domestic films rather than Western imports. According to the Motion Picture Industry Association (MPIA), seven of the top ten films were made by local companies, compared with four in 2002 and five in 2001.
On the other hand, Hollywood movies proved a big hit in China. Even though it only allowed 20 foreign movies to be shown this year, many were met with success. The most popular among the crowd were Pirates of the Caribbean, The Italian Job, and the Matrix Revolutions.
Besides the SARS outbreak, 2003 also saw the loss of two of Hong Kong's brightest stars. First, there was the shocking suicide of Leslie Cheung Kwok-Wing on April 1 follwed by the sad news of Anita Mui's death from cancer on December 30th.
So with such a near catastrophic year, what can we expect for 2004? For Hong Kong, many analysts are optimistic that this year will be a better year thanks to the improving economy and relaxed regulations in China due to the Closer Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA). Taking effect January 1, CEPA is the trade agreement between mainland China and Hong Kong. Among its many provisions, it removes Hong Kong from inclusion in China's release quota of 20 foreign films a year, thereby allowing Hong Kong more access and distribution freedom. Hong Kong is also expected to make more than 130 films this year, with more than half being co-productions with China. This would be a vast improvement but it doesn't compare anything to the 200 films a year produced in the 1990s.
Overall, as long as there isn't another SARS outbreak, we can expect improvement for these areas in 2004.
Population: 7 million
Numbers of screens: 600
Top 10 Hong Kong Films (in Millions)
1. Lord of the Rings - Return of the Kings: $36.54
2. Finding Nemo: $31.85
3. Infernal Affairs 3: $30.21
4. Twins Effect: $28.41
5. The Matrix Reloaded: $26.76
6. Lord of the Rings- The Two Towers: $26.4
7. Running on Karma: $26.25
8. My Lucky Star: $24.92
9. Infernal Affairs 2: $24.9
10. Love for All Season: $24.64
Top 5 Taiwan Films (in Millions)
1. Matrix Relaoded: $80.43
2. Hero: $73.64
3. Finding Nemo: $70.97
4. Catch Me If You Can: $67.35
5. Die Another Day: $65.1
Date Posted: 4/9/2004