Battle for the big screen
As the competition for summer box-office dominance heats up, Wang Kaihao looks at the innovative online marketing techniques being used by domestic filmmakers.
In recent months a catchy song, A Little Apple, has gone viral in Chinese cyberspace. It has become such a cult hit that it has even inspired square-dancing troupes to mimic its music video. But what its millions of fans did not realize as they bopped along to the catchy tune, is that they were actually taking part in an unusual campaign for a movie that they had probably never heard of.
When Old Boys: The Way of the Dragon, an adventure comedy featuring the song, was released on July 10, the unusual publicity strategy was applauded.
With the song having become an enormous hit, many people who did not plan to watch the film will probably now flock to cinemas out of curiosity.
This summer, many domestic films have fallen short of expectation, and filmmakers have turned to online marketing in an attempt to stay ahead of the competition posed by their more critically acclaimed foreign rivals.
According to statistics from the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, the country's overall box-office income in the first half of this year was 13.74 billion yuan ($2.22 billion), including 6.63 billion yuan from domestic films.
In China, there is one month every summer when few Hollywood blockbusters are released so they do not compete with domestic films. This one-month grace period is the best season for Chinese movies to make their bid for box office dominance.
Ticket sales of Old Boys: The Way of the Dragon surpassed 150 million yuan within the first week of hitting the big screen.
This is a good result for a film that was developed from a popular micro movie on video streaming platform Youku.com. Videos related to A Little Apple have attracted more than 500 million clicks.
Some of that success can be attributed to the filmmakers' use of what is becoming a worldwide trend - producing movies and TV shows based on big data.
"We have analyzed big data, including the age, vocation, and geographic distribution collected from over 80 million fans of the micro movie four years ago," says Wei Ming, head of Youku.com. "Their comments or the time they took to drag the progress bar determined how the big screen adaption of Old Boys was made.
"Perhaps, this will create a new path for our industry when combining cyberspace with the production and marketing of a movie, because filmgoers and netizens will become one and the same in the future."
Interactive online campaigns involving fans have become a popular way to promote a movie. The first two episodes of Tiny Times, the directing debut of author Guo Jingming, raked in 800 million yuan at the box office last year in spite of criticism for its portrayal of lavish lifestyles.
The lead up to the premiere of its third episode last week saw more than 100,000 fans donate a small sum of money online as "investors" of the movie.
Some of the people who donated received film souvenirs, or the chance to visit the film set. There were also opportunities to watch the film before its official release.
Guo claimed this new episode would make 500 million yuan at the box office. That seemingly difficult task suddenly looks easy, with the film earning 300 million only four days after being formally released on July 17.
The fourth episode of the series is still in post-production, but the trilogy has become one of the most lucrative Chinese movie series in history, earning a total of 1.1 billion yuan from the box office.
Han Han, Guo's major competitor, has just released his directorial debut, road-trip comedy The Continent.
Han is confident the film will pull in 800 million at the box office. Aside from the star cast and support from big-shot Hong Kong director Johnnie To, his online marketing campaign has proved a success.
Han has over 38 million followers on Sina Weibo, China's major micro-blogging platform. He has broadcast the filming process of the movie to his followers since he begun shooting.
The films trailer was released online in May, only three days after shooting was completed. It has been viewed 4.7 million times, creating a new record among Chinese movies.