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Wait over for China's Potter fans

world Updated: Aug 03, 2011 11:29 IST
AFP
Highlight Story

China's legion Harry Potter fans will at last get to see the final chapter of the film series on Thursday, when a 90-minute epic about the history of the Communist Party gives way to the boy wizard.

The mainland is by far the world's fastest growing film market, with box office takings up 64% last year, as the country's burgeoning consumer class takes to the movies.

However, its movie industry is protected by a system that only allows around 20 foreign films to be screened a year, allowing homegrown directors to create Hollywood-style blockbusters without the threat of major competition.

Since late June, theatre operators have been forced to screen The Beginning Of The Great Revival" -- a cinematic celebration of the Communist Party that state-run studio the China Film Group predicted would gross 800 million yuan ($124 million).

The Chinese release of the long-awaited movie comes weeks after it hit US screens -- and is even later than its Indonesia opening, where it was put off for three weeks due to a tax row between US studios and Jakarta.

The long delay has seen Potter fans go online in droves to vent their anger.

Some have voiced suspicion it was a deliberate move to boost ticket sales for "The Beginning of the Great Revival", which had disappointing takings.

Even before the release of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2," which has already booked $1 billion in ticket sales around the world for Warner Bros, several Hollywood hits had out-grossed the Chinese epic.

After just over a week on screens, Hollywood action sequel "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," took 361.9 million yuan on 6,500 screens.

That was roughly the same as the "The Beginning of the Great Revival" made on 7,800 screens over six weeks.

The latest Harry Potter film this week became only the ninth movie in history to gross $1 billion.

It is sure to perform well in China, where local consumers are richer than ever and are flexing their muscles at the box office, with local fare often treading over familiar, safe and tired ground.

"From the very first film, I was excited by the idea of a wizard," said Han Liyuan, 30, a Chinese language teacher who has read all the books by J.K Rowling on which the films are based, in English and Chinese.

"I'd never heard of a wizard before 2001. They are people who are special who are among all of us."

Han and her husband, a subway engineer who did not much like the movies at first, will use the movie card he got from his company to see the film in a nearby theatre.

This despite having a big screen TV at home and knowing how to download the easily accessible illegal copies online.

"The visuals and the feeling can't be captured. It's not the real thing unless you see it in the theatre," said Han, who chose her English name, Audrey, in honor of Audrey Hepburn.

Industry analyst Rance Pow of Shanghai-based Artisan Gateway, said China's movie-goers were becoming choosier about what they paid to see.

"It's not a matter of where the films are coming from, per se, it's just that Chinese consumers are growing more discerning and are voting with their wallets for stories they think are worth paying top yuan for," he told AFP.

China's passion for movies pushed box office sales up 64 percent in 2010 to $1.5 billion, the fastest growth anywhere in the world.

As China's demand for movies increases, property developers and theatre chains are installing new theatres as fast as they can, passing some of the costs to consumers in high ticket prices that can rival New York's.

In reaction, Chinese consumers often go to the movies on half-price Tuesdays, and increasingly band together to buy cheap tickets.

Group buying website Tuan800.com says six percent of tickets sold in the first half of the year were bought en masse.

This has resulted in average ticket prices of 42 yuan, well below the 120 yuan often charged for a 3D screening on a giant IMAX screen.

The State Administration of Radio Film and Television recently said ticket sales in the first half of 2011 were 5.7 billion yuan ($876.7 million), putting the market on track for another record-breaking year.

As the sector booms, Harry Potter could serve as China's latest reminder that Hollywood still dominates, despite a rise in the number and quality of Chinese-language films.

The first Harry Potter film grossed 56 million yuan in China in 2002 and the last hit 213 million yuan in 2010.

But Pow said this was "not an apples and apples comparison," given the growth in the number of cinemas.

"It's a reasonable guess 'Harry Potter' will release on as many screens as 'Transformers' and, since it's the last film in a very popular series, it could conceivably do as well or better."