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Movie market rebounds on strength of war epic

Moviegoers pass a film poster promoting the blockbuster film The Battle at Lake Changjin on Oct 3, 2021. (ZHU XINGXIN / CHINA DAILY)

The war epic The Battle at Lake Changjin, one of the most expensive films ever made in China, shot to the top of the weeklong National Day holiday box office, propelling the domestic market to rebound after being sluggish for more than two months.

With three prestigious directors-Chen Kaige, Hark Tsui and Dante Lam-the 176-minute-long film follows Chinese People's Volunteers who joined the battle, which turned the tide of the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea (1950-1953).

The Battle at Lake Changjin has garnered millions of reviews and clicks on several of the country's most popular social media platforms, including Sina Weibo and Douyin, with most commenters praising the heart-wrenching tale and saying it stirred their national pride, making them want to pay tribute to the Chinese People's Volunteers heroes who sacrificed their lives

With the number of cast and crew reaching an unprecedented scale of more than 12,000, the movie re-creates the brutal conflict on the Korean Peninsula amid the extremely cold winter of 1950, when temperatures plunged to the lowest level in 50 years. The movie's production involved more than 80 visual-effects companies domestically and abroad, with the script being revised 37 times.

Shattering over 10 records, including single-day haul for a feature drama, the blockbuster has raked in around 2 billion yuan ($310 million) since its opening on Sept 30. It accounted for around 75 percent of total holiday receipts, which had reached 2.67 billion yuan as of Monday, according to the movie information tracker Beacon.

The film has also garnered millions of reviews and clicks on several of the country's most popular social media platforms, including Sina Weibo and Douyin, with most commenters praising the heart-wrenching tale and saying it stirred their national pride, making them want to pay tribute to the CPV heroes who sacrificed their lives. Some netizens said the film reminds them, amid the current China-US tension, to cherish today's peaceful life.

Though nearly 10 new films have been released for the holiday-which along with Spring Festival is one of the two most lucrative box office periods in China in recent years-The Battle at Lake Changjin is far ahead of its rivals.

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Taking second place on the holiday box-office charts was My Country, My Parents, an anthology consisting of four stand-alone tales respectively directed by Wu Jing, Zhang Ziyi, Xu Zheng and Shen Teng. It grossed 710 million yuan, less than half of The Battle at Lake Changjin.

The other new movies, on the other hand, are struggling with limited screenings and poor receipts, exemplified by Little Canned Men, the first feature-length film adapted from renowned novelist Zheng Yuanjie's eponymous tale, which has merely brought in nearly 30 million yuan. It is currently the holiday period's third-highest-grossing flick.

Taking second place on the holiday box-office charts was My Country, My Parents, an anthology consisting of four stand-alone tales respectively directed by Wu Jing, Zhang Ziyi, Xu Zheng and Shen Teng. It grossed 710 million yuan, less than half of The Battle at Lake Changjin

Most insiders and analysts said the top two blockbusters' commercial success has lived up to the industry's estimation, giving cinema operators a sign of revival.

"With a lot of details to re-create historical reality, The Battle at Lake Changjin has raised the bar for Chinese war films to a new high level, signaling the progress that the domestic industry has achieved," said Rao Shuguang, president of the China Film Critics Association.

But compared with the same period in previous years, the shortage of appealing, medium-budget films has reduced the variety of genres, which will not be good for the long-term development of the Chinese film industry, Rao added.

Yu Chao, deputy general manager of Beijing's Capital Cinema, said the crowded cinemas show that the market potential is still huge in China, but the industry's recovery might be slow, as the lineup for the next two months appears to have just a few movies that are expected to be highly successful.

He added that the significant change for this year's National Day holiday is that the single-day box office haul has consecutively increased, exemplified by 629 million yuan on Friday, 633 million yuan on Saturday and 646 million yuan on Sunday.

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"In the past, the first day usually grosses the highest box office, partly generated by intensive marketing, but the figures would drop in the following days. The change shows that the blockbusters this year have won a lot of word-of-mouth praise, helping them to attract more audiences," said Yu.

With The Battle at Lake Changjin scoring 7.6 points out of 10 on Douban, one of the country's most popular review aggregators, and My Country, My Parents receiving 7 points, the holiday blockbusters have pushed this year's box office to surpass 37 billion yuan so far-close to double the total haul for last year, according to Beacon.