How to ensure a movie becomes a blockbuster in China? Trickery

A propaganda film released in time for the anniversary of China's Communist Party isn't going down well with the public, despite rave reviews in the official media.

Eugene Hoshiko/AP/File
In this June 22 file photo, a couple walk past an advertisement for the movie titled "Beginning of the Great Revival" marking the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party founding on July 1, in Shanghai, China. The star-studded propaganda epic is facing claims that its box office numbers are being inflated by movie theaters.

When the Chinese government wants a result, it will get a result. By hook or by crook.

Largely by crook, it would seem, in the case of the official movie released to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the birth of the Communist Party of China this month.

The authorities have done everything in their power to make this film, “The Founding of a Party” (released in America with the title “Beginning of the Great Revival”) look like a success, regardless of how many people actually go to watch it.

Appearances by over 100 of China’s top movie stars have not been enough to draw the sort of audiences the Communist party wanted, so government departments, schools, and state owned enterprises have been buying tickets en masse and giving employees and students a half a day off to go and see the film.

Too many of them, however, have found something better to do with their free time, and cinemas screening the film have often been half empty.

So cinema owners, ordered to ensure that they meet their audience quotas, have been resorting to outright trickery: They sell filmgoers tickets to “The Founding of a Party,” whichever movie the customers want to see, and then write in the name of the film the client actually came for.

Photographs of such amended tickets from a number of cities have appeared on microblogs here as evidence of a very Chinese pragmatism. The authorities are happy, because official ticket sales are boosted, and filmgoers are happy because they get to see what they wanted to see anyway.

The makers of those other films, to which ticket sales are not registered, are probably less happy of course. But then they aren’t the Chinese Communist party, are they?

China Film Group,” the state-run company that made “The Founding of a Party,” says that the film had grossed $44.6 million dollars in its first three weeks and that their target is $114 million in receipts and 30 million viewers.

Without a good deal more massaging of the figures, that is going to take some doing, it would seem, since the film does not appear to be going down very well with the public, despite rave reviews in the official media.

“It’s as useless as feet on a snake,” wrote one anonymous reviewer on the Sina Weibo microblog. “Toxic to peoples’ minds,” wrote another.

Two popular film review websites, and, have disabled their ratings function for “The Founding of a Party." But before douban took that step, negative reviews were piling up fast, according to a screenshot taken by one microblog user: Nearly 90 percent of reviewers gave it only one star out of five.

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