YUNFEI SUO WRITES: Talk about fast and furious. Ticket sales of the latest installment of the epic car chase franchise have redlined in China, after The Fast and the Furious 8 (The Fate of the Furious) was released last month in the United States and China simultaneously.
Sales, and the marketing responsible for them, have been so successful that this really is one of those rare win-wins for the two economic titans. Not only did the high-octane American franchise electrify Chinese movie ticket sales (up 57 percent from a year ago), but local distributors and ad men (or in Li Bingbing’s case, ad women) helped producer Universal Pictures wring every possible yuan out of the domestic Chinese market.
The Fate of the Furious racked up $61 million in China sales opening day, and nearly $190 million in its first weekend. That earned China pole position in the movie’s global box office, leaving the U.S. a distant second. That Fast 8 would outsell the previous installments in China was no surprise. But the filmmakers owe a debt to China Film Group Corporation and Huaxia Distributor for their distribution and manipulating marketing strategies. And behind the dazzling numbers are deeper insights that should be considered in Sino-U.S. cooperation.
Fast 7 had already attracted great attention in China and set the stage for a successful sequel. It was producers Universal Pictures’ game to lose if it didn’t make a bundle off of Chinese viewers. Luckily they had from the early stages invisible Chinese financiers providing production, advertising, and distribution support. In addition to China Film Corporation’s distribution prowess, high-profile Chinese brands such as Tencent and China Mobile invested in logo and product placements in the movie itself.
To generate maximum buzz, Universal sold the marketing rights to celebrity Li Binbin’s company. With these superior advantages and local capitals involved, no wonder the Fast 8’s rising curve seems to be vertical.
The blockbuster success in China has had numerous positive impacts on the country’s movie market, increasing ticket sales in the country by huge margins. China is now the leading nation across the globe in ticket sales, followed by the U.S. Other good news for the industry’s growth is that the movie infrastructure will also be impacted positively at the local level. Recent figures show that more movie screens, as well as cinema buildings, will be built to support the ever-increasing film fan base at a pace of about 10 new screens every day.
And yet, from a Chinese perspective this isn’t a model that can or should be repeated indefinitely. When working with Hollywood, Chinese companies rarely get to touch the core of production – actual movie making. Beside marketing and distribution, there is nothing really they can “cooperate” with. While these collaborations perhaps help China make money, a blind pursuit of profits via marketing and distribution of other people’s work could slow the country’s own ambitious production efforts.