Related Reviews

  1. American Dreams in China | 中國合伙人
    Long-limbed tale of three friends in business together boasts strong lead performances.
  2. The Attorney | 변호인
    Effective, if predictable, legal drama set during South Korea's military junta.
  3. Like Father, Like Son | そして父になる
    Nurture-vs-nature light drama is admirable at a craft level but not otherwise involving.
  4. Pee Mak | พี่มาก..พระโขนง
    Thai smash hit is much more goofy comedy than horror, though it's well packaged.
  5. Say Yes! | 101次求婚
    Odd-couple rom-com is weakly written and lacks any chemistry between its leads.
  6. So Young | 致我們終將逝去的青春
    Impressive ensemble portrait of university friends loses its grip once it leaves campus.

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The Asian films driving global box office

The Asian films driving global box office

By Staff Reporter

Fri, 16 May 2014, 10:00 AM (HKT)

Box Office Feature

According to new statistics from IHS Screen Digest, Asia is driving global box office growth. Ticket sales in the Asia-Pacific region grew 6.7% last year, almost double the 3.5% average. Meanwhile, audiences in East Asia's biggest markets — China, Japan and South Korea — are choosing domestic films over foreign imports. But what are these local films that are driving global box office?

In 2013, one hundred films from East Asia made more than US$10 million at their local box office. The films secured a combined box office of US$3.41 billion. More than half — US$1.79 billion — was generated by films from Greater China, including Taiwan, which had two films in the top hundred. 70% of the ten highest-grossing films and 64% of the twenty-five highest-grossing films were China co-productions.

From Southeast Asia, there is just one entry in our chart, GTH's record-breaking Thai ghost-comedy Pee Mak พี่มาก..พระโขนง (2013). Last year, there were also record-breaking films in Vietnam and Philippines, but both fell outside the top one hundred. In 2014, new films from both countries (and Malaysia) have set new domestic box office records but have stayed below the US$10 million threshold.

South Korea, where the market share of local films stood at 58.8% last year, once again punched above its weight in 2013. There are two Korean titles among last year's ten highest grossing films; six in the top twenty-five. Five Korean films broke US$50 million at the box office, up from just one in 2012. Five more crossed US$30 million. Three new films barged into the local all-time top ten in 2013.

There are just three Japanese films in the top twenty-five of 2013, all animated features. This is in sharp contract to 2012, when the three top local films in Japan were live action films. The highest grossing Japanese live action film last year was Midsummer's Equation 真夏の方程式 (2013), ranked 32nd, just one place above China co-production Say Yes! 101次求婚 (2013), based on a classic Japanese television series.

There are fifteen animations among the top hundred films, with US$446 million in combined box office. Their number includes four animations from China, one of which made US$20.0 million. The Chinese films are sequels, as the local animation industry seeks to establish franchises that can be as consistently successful as Japan's One Piece (ワンピース), Doraemon (ドラえもん) and Detective Conan (名探偵コナン) films.

Curiously, one in five of the films in the top hundred are by first-time directors, representing US$674 million in box office. Among them is third-ranked So Young 致我們終將逝去的青春 (2013) by Chinese actress-turned-director Vicki ZHAO 趙薇. It is also one of eight films directed or co-directed by a woman. Among the eight women directors, six are working in China and two in South Korea but none in Japan.

In terms of genre, a handful of dramas did extraordinary well last year. In addition to So Young, which made US$115 million, significant hits include Hong Kong-China co-production American Dreams in China 中國合伙人 (2013) (US$86.6 million), South Korea's The Attorney 변호인 (2013) (US$79.6 million) and Japan's Like Father, Like Son そして父になる (2013) (US$31.8 million).

So Young and American Dreams captured China's contemporary Zeitgeist in films that explore defining moments in the recent past. The Attorney touched on a scar in local history that has modern day resonances in and outside of South Korea. The contemporary Like Father touched on universal themes about family, and has been picked up by Steven SPIELBERG for a Hollywood remake.

The growth of China's box office is usually credited to the country's huge population and rapid cinema expansion. But Chinese audiences are also clearly rewarding originality. It's a lesson that Japan can learn from in another year dominated by films that are sequels and/or adaptations of manga, novels and television dramas.

Asia Chart #1

Asia Chart #1

Click this link for full-size chart.

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