It turns out I should be thankful I got to see Avatar last week, because whatever my opinion of Jim Cameron’s storytelling ingenuity, the film is about to be pulled out of non-3D Chinese cinemas altogether. According to the New York Times, China wants to make room for a home-grown dramatized biopic of Confucius starring Chow Yun-Fat. I suppose it’ll have more tract in the marketplace than other Chinese films I’ve seen advertised, such as A Simple Noodle Story, but Avatar is the highest-grossing movie in China ever, says the article, and many Chinese (including my friends) are still seeing it. And I couldn’t help but wonder…
Avatar is the highest-grossing movie in China? Ever? But it’s only made $76 million here! In America alone the film has taken in roughly $500 million. We have one billion fewer people than China (give or take a couple thousand). Maybe that disparity is only shocking to me in my ignorance, but it never occurred to me that America’s cinematic appetite was so disproportionate to that of the rest of the world.
When I first arrived here I assumed they had no Western movies, considering the language barrier. It’s not as if American movie theaters have a wide selection of subtitled films playing at any given time. But in addition to the scarcity of foreign films (only twenty are allowed a year), once they get here their runs are extremely limited – less than two weeks. The film market here is of course controlled politically, like everything else, but what happens if the marketplace demand for Chinese movies drops so low that there’s no point any more? Will the government start forcing people out of their homes and into the theaters for The Passion of Mao Zedong and apolitical cartoons?
And…does Jackie Chan’s The Spy Next Door unfortunately count as one of our twenty or does he command some sort of cross-cultural leeway?
Editor’s note: Most of the information in this entry I pulled from the NY Times article, so if you don’t feel like following the link you needn’t worry about it.
UPDATE: This article at Yahoo has some different information regarding Avatar and the Chinese box office.