Published: 10:48, February 2, 2023 | Updated: 11:23, February 2, 2023
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January box-office earnings hit record high
By Xu Fan

Movie-goers walk past a poster in a cinema in Shenyang, Liaoning province, on Jan 24. China’s box office in January exceeded 10 billion yuan ($1.48 billion). (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Buoyed by huge Spring Festival movie ticket sales, the first month of the 2023 took a giant leap to become the highest-grossing January of all time in China, according to the China Film Administration.

Selling a total of 201 million tickets for 10 million screenings in over 10,000 cinemas, the country saw its overall box-office earnings exceed 10 billion yuan ($1.48 billion) by Tuesday.

This represented a 270 percent increase from 2.7 billion yuan in the same period last year, according to the Beacon, a real-time film data tracker.

With the rapid expansion of the domestic film industry in recent decades, people have started a new custom of going to cinemas during Spring Festival, turning the weeklong holiday into a lucrative box-office season, insiders said.

This year, the festival started earlier than usual, with all seven days falling in January. In the past, it either stretched from late January to early February or was entirely celebrated in February.

The appealing lineup of seven new movies — coupled with China's optimization of COVID-19 control measures, the first such adjustment in three years — further made the January box-office earnings soar, some analysts said.

Full River Red — director Zhang Yimou's twist-studded story loosely inspired from a loyal general who was framed and executed — topped the charts, followed by sci-fi movie The Wandering Earth II and animated film Boonie Bears: Guardian Code in second and third places.

Zhang's film generated so much enthusiasm among its audiences that many visited the memorial sites of Yue Fei, the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) general whose story inspired the movie, in provinces such as Zhejiang and Henan.

Domestic media reported people also waiting in long lines to see bronze statues of Qin Hui and express their anger toward the then top courtier who framed and executed Yue.

Sun Jiashan, an associate researcher with China Film Archive, said the robust recovery signals that local filmmakers had honed their skills to give the film industry, which was once struggling due to the closure of cinemas and a dearth of quality movies amid the pandemic, a fresh lease of life.

Rao Shuguang, president of the China Film Critics Association, said the massive box-office success will boost the confidence of Chinese filmmakers and prompt them to make quality movies, and also draw more investors to drive the industry's long-term development.