Eight major cinema circuits in China plan to boycott the release of WWII drama after production outfit requests ticket price rise and increased revenue share

While Zhang Yimou’s war epic Flowers of War has settled its US release dates with distributor Wrekin Hill for late December, the film’s Chinese release is proving more problematic.

Eight major cinema circuits in China plan to boycott the release of the WWII-set drama, which was originally set to open on Dec 16, after a dispute with Yimou’s production company.

Yimou’s Beijing-based production and distribution company New Pictures Film had requested a raise in the minimum ticket price from 35 yuan ($5.52) to 40 yuan ($6.31). New Pictures also asked for a 2% raise of its box office revenue share, from 43% to 45%.

In China, cinema owners take around 50% of the box-office revenue, while distributors and producers take up to 43%. The remaining 7% - 10% is shared between the cinema circuit management and a government fund. 

While in the US, the revenue-sharing rate for the distributor is higher than 50% during the film’s opening week (the rate goes down as the release enters its 2nd and 3rd week), in China the rate is fixed throughout the release period. And the percentage is not only agreed between distributors and exhibitors, but also approved by the Film Bureau of State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT)

As negotiations broke down yesterday, the eight cinema circuits refused to sign the release agreement and said they would not screen the film in their theaters: “This is a simple business situation. Without the agreement, we cannot screen the film. And you can’t force us to screen it,” Wu Hehu, general manager of Shanghai United Cinema Circuit told local media.

The eight cinema circuits are among the top ten cinema circuits in China, including the No.1 profitting chain Wanda Cinema Line as well as Shanghai United Cinema Circuit and Beijing’s New Film Association. In total the eight circuits make up around 60% of China’s box office market.

Zhang Weiping, head of New Pictures Film and producer of Flowers of War also refuses to make any concessions. He said there were two main reasons to raise the price and revenue sharing percentage. First, the film is the highest-budgeted film in China, costing around $94m, which is entirely financed in China with the work of New Pictures Film. Second, he told local media, the film is 145 minutes long, which is 45 minutes longer than the normal length of a film.

Some cinema managers told local media that there are quite a few competing films set for the mid December release. If the release deal of The Flowers of War is not settled by mid December, there are plenty of films ready to take the screening slot. 

Zhao Jun, a manager of China Southern Cinema Circuit said representatives of the eight cinema circuits have sent a letter to the Film Bureau of SARFT, hoping the government can mediate between New Pictures Film and the exhibitors. “If there is a need to adjust the price and revenue-sharing rates, there should be public hearings and open debates on this,” he said.