Despite some restrictions on the release print numbers, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix had a strong opening in mainland China, grossing $5.94m (RMB 45m), according to Beijing and Shanghai-based cinema owners. The figure is the best first-week gross of all Harry Potter movies in China.

State-owned China Film Group Corporation, the only company allowed to import foreign films and the distributor of the Harry Potter film, declined to reveal the sales figure as well as the release print counts of the film, which is normally decided by the distribution company. But it is understood that the print count is around 450, slightly less than that the 530 prints for Transformers.

Some of the Beijing-based cinemas confirmed the rumour that the print numbers were reduced. 'It (the print count) is not as many as previously expected. And I believe the reason is not to bring too much pressure on local films,' said Gao Jun, manager of Beijing-based New Film Association.

Meanwhile, Universal's Mr. Bean's Holiday, which was released two weeks ago, was also reported that had print numbers reduced. Tianjing Daily reported that the film was forced to cut the print counts facing competition of both foreign and local films. According to its distributor Huaxia Films the print count was 120.

With the overall good sales records of blockbusters this year such as Spider-Man 3 and Transformers, it is estimated that foreign films have now taken around 60% of China 's box office through the end of June; local Chinese films on the other hand have not been performing well during the same period.

So far, the only local standouts are Taiwanese pop singer/actor Jay Chou's debut film Secret and Donnie Yen-starring Flash Point. Still on release in their third week, Secret grossed $3.4m (RMB 26m) while Flash Point made $3.5m (RMB 27m) up to Tuesday (Aug 14). Both films made the highest first weekend records for local films this year, grossing $1.3m (RMB 10m) during the first three days.

Chou's $2.5m teenage love story is seen as the biggest dark horse among local films. Instead of cutting print counts, Chou's mainland popularity made the film's distributors Edko Films and China Film Corporation decide to increase the release prints to 250, plus 180 prints for digital cinemas, making the film one of the most widely distributed local films this year.

'The success of the two Chinese films can be seen as positive signs for the other local films to join the market,' said Sun Chen of Beijing-based Polybona Film Distributions.

Chinese authorities and local film distributors have been putting high hopes for the later half of the year. The next local blockbusters to join the China market include John Woo-produced gangland drama Blood Brothers, Jiang Wen's The Sun Also Rises and Ang Lee's Lust, Caution.