Box office in the fall
China Daily

Hello, Mrs Money, which tells about a man who disguises himself as a woman, fails to meet audience's expectations. (Photo: China Daily)

Film earnings suffer in China during this year's October holiday, a traditionally lucrative season.

The Chinese box office fell to a decade low in earnings for a holiday season during this year's National Day holiday week.

Data from the China Film Administration show the box office made 1.9 billion yuan ($275 million), declining 27.58 percent year-on-year, from Oct. 1 to 7.

Compared to 77.2 million movie tickets sold for the October holidays in 2017, the number for this year was 54 million, a 30 percent drop.

Spring Festival, the National Day holiday week and summer vacation are usually the most lucrative box-office seasons in China.

But not all was gloomy.

This year's overall box-office haul reached 50 million yuan on Oct 4, 47 days earlier than when the same figure was met last year, creating a record of using the shortest span to surpass the amount of money.

With star power and an intriguing plot, Project Gutenberg, which has Hong Kong actors Chow Yun-fat and Aaron Kwok, topped the holiday chart this year with 628 million yuan in the first week of October. Comedy troupe Mahua FunAge's feature film, Hello, Mrs Money, came in next with 408 million yuan, followed by Zhang Yimou's martial-arts film, Shadow, at 386 million yuan.

Directed and written by Felix Chong, the acclaimed Hong Kong veteran of crime thrillers, Project Gutenberg is also the highest-rated film of all the new films contending for the holiday box-office this year.

Project Gutenberg, starring Hong Kong actors Chow Yun-fat and Aaron Kwok, tops the holiday chart this year. (Photo: China Daily)

On the country's most popular review website, Douban, the story about counterfeiting US dollars earned 8.1 points, while Shadow got 7.5 points and Hello, Mrs Money received 5.1 points. Shadow has managed to salvage Zhang's filmmaking reputation since his last flop, The Great Wall, the biggest-budget Sino-US production boasting a cast including Matt Damon, Jing Tian and Andy Lau.

But seemingly a disappointment to China's theater operators, who gave Hello, Mrs Money the most screenings on the eve of the National Day box-office "battle", the film adapted from Mahua FunAge's popular stage show of the same title failed to tickle the audience's funny bone. While all three movies premiered on Sept 30, Hello, Mrs Money occupied 39.9 percent of the total holiday screenings. Shadow got 24.7 percent and Project Gutenberg received 20.5 percent.

Actress Sun Li plays a main role in Zhang Yimou's martial-arts film, Shadow. (Photo: China Daily)

For most industry watchers, Mahua's formula to create commercially successful comedies probably has lost its charm due to the shifting taste of the domestic audience.

Last year, the box-office champion for the National Day holiday week was Mahua's hit stage show adapted to film, Never Say Die, which earned 1.32 billion yuan in the October holiday.

"Hello, Mrs Money is about a man who disguises himself as a woman. But actor Huang Cailun's makeup-intended to make him look like a charming 'lady'-is obviously unconvincing to the audience," says Wang Xiaoyang, a film critic in Beijing.

"And some of the jokes in the film are a bit lousy."

But for Rao Shuguang, secretary-general of the China Film Association, the box-office decline in this holiday week is also due to an increase in online ticket prices, following the new policy. In the past, audiences could easily watch tentpole films at cheaper presold rates, with the cheapest being 9.9 yuan per person. But now most internet services sell tickets at 35 yuan or more.

"After years of rapid expansion, China's film industry has entered a new era to adjust its direction," Rao says. "Unlike the past, when an A-list cast member and aggressive marketing were useful to ticket sales, word-of-mouth praise has played a more decisive role to influence moviegoers' interest. It will encourage domestic filmmakers to create quality works and lead the industry on a better track."