FEATURE: A festive film fight

BEIJING (China Daily/ANN) - Up to 13 movies are slated for release during the Lunar New Year holiday, a peak time for China’s box office.

The upcoming Spring Festival will turn cinemas across the country into a battleground for supremacy.

Up to 13 films-the largest number during the period to date-will premiere on Feb 5, the first day of the Lunar New Year.

Most industry insiders name Stephen Chow’s 2013 runaway hit, Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons, as the game changer. It established Spring Festival as a box-office high season in China.

Last year’s Spring Festival holiday saw a nearly 70 per cent year-on-year surge in box-office revenues, pushing filmmakers to more enthusiastically contend for screenings during the period this year.

Chow-whose Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons and The Mermaid were the box-office champions in 2013 and 2016, respectively-will return to the competitive season with his directorial film, The New King of Comedy, a remake of his 1999 classic, King of Comedy.

The film, starring Wang Baoqiang, is about the struggles of a film extra. It’s considered to be a semi-autobiographical story about Chow’s own experiences.

Chow says he selected Wang because the actor’s rocky path also resembles that of the film’s protagonist.

“We’ve both worked as extras,” Chow says.

“So, we understand each other better. Wang told me when we met about his tough times early on. They reminded me of my own past and inspired my film.”

Chow sires nostalgia among people on the Chinese mainland who were born in the 1970s and ’80s.

But the film market is dominated by people in their 20s, who particularly enjoy comedies.

Ning Hao’s Crazy Alien currently tops the presales box-office charts for the 2019 Spring Festival’s first day, grossing 29.3 million yuan ($4.4 million), box-office tracker Maoyan’s figures show. It’s tightly followed by Han Han’s comedy, Pegasus, at 28.8 million yuan. The New King of Comedy is in the third slot at around 18 million yuan.

Crazy Alien-the third installment of Ning’s Crazy dark-comedy franchise-is a sci-fi film about two friends drawn into a series of adventures after they encounter an extraterrestrial being.

Han is perhaps the most-successful writer-turned-director in recent years on the mainland.

He uses a familiar formula in his new film, which focuses on Zhang Chi-a former race car driver, who runs an open-air fried-rice street stall-who aspires to restore his lost glory by returning to racing. But, ironically, he must get a driver’s license first.

Both films star Shen Teng, who will also make a cameo in the forthcoming comedy, Overall Planning, another film scheduled for Feb 5.

Kung fu giant Jackie Chan, who has frequently featured in previous Spring Festival hits, will return to the big screen on the first day of the holiday in his adventure film, The Knight of Shadows: Between Yin and Yang. It’s a fictional account on the legendary Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) writer Pu Songling (1640-1715).

Crazy Alien is one of three sci-fi films that will be screened during the holiday. This is hailed as a breakthrough, since domestic filmmakers have been considered weak in the genre for decades.

The most-anticipated sci-fi epic is The Wandering Earth, adapted from Hugo Award-winning writer Liu Cixin’s 2008 novel of the same name. It’s led by action star Wu Jing.

The other sci-fi film is director Feng Xiaoning’s Animal Rescue Squad.

A Boyfriend for My Girlfriend, a follow-up to the 2016 sleeper hit, Some Like It Hot, examines the “seven-year itch” of marriage with a star-studded cast, including Bai Baihe, Wu Xiubo and Xiao Yang.

Families are expected to enjoy the animated films Peppa Pig and Bonnie Bears: Blast into the Past.

Peppa Pig is a Sino-UK production that blends live-action sequences of Chinese stars Zhu Yawen and Liu Yun with the animated, anthropomorphic piglet siblings, Peppa and George.

Blast into the Past is the sixth film of the Boonie Bears animation franchise. The bear brothers, Briar and Bramble, and the logger, Vick, travel to prehistoric times and encounter saber-toothed tigers and mammoths.

China Film Critics Association’s president, Rao Shuguang, points out that audiences have come to consider watching movies in theaters as part of Spring Festival celebrations and he predicts stable growth in the film market this year.

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