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Movies boost Chinese economy

In January to June, domestic films outperformed imported ones by 65 percent at the Chinese box office.

Chinese state-owned newspaper, the China Daily.

HONG KONG - In American Dreams in China, Cheng Dongqing is giving a lecture in an abandoned factory in Beijing. Snow falls through the damaged roof and a power cut sends students reaching for their flashlights.

The movie, about how young Chinese in the 1990s tried every means to learn English so they could study overseas, is part of a boom in domestic productions that is outpacing foreign films at the box office in China - the world's second-largest market after the United States and Canada.

Revenues remain far smaller than in North America, but China looks set for another record year as screens are added rapidly, cinemas expand into more cities and themes switch from martial arts to depictions of ordinary people.

"The past half year has seen the Chinese audience identify with and feel proud of their own lives," Peter Chan, the director of American Dreams in China, said in a recent newspaper interview. "They want to watch their own lives in the cinema, watch realistic themes."

Based on real stories from Yu Minhong, founder of New York-listed New Oriental Education & Technology Group Inc., and his partners, American Dreams in China raked in more than 100 million Yuan ($16 million) in its first three days.

The fifth-highest-grossing film in China this year, it has helped total box office sales reach nearly 11 billion Yuan ($1.8 billion) in the first six months, according to the government agency that tracks all forms of media.

That lags North American revenues of $10.8 billion last year, but PricewaterhouseCoopers, a consultancy, sees China narrowing the gap quickly. It predicts the box office in the world's most populous nation will grow at a year-on-year rate of 15.6 percent over the next five years and hit $5.5 billion by 2017.

NICHE MARKETS

Hollywood blockbusters remain hugely popular in China, but a bigger and broader audience is driving the success of local content as cinemas expand into second- and third-tier cities, where moviegoers tend to watch domestic films.

China now has more than 15,000 movie screens, with about 10 having been added each day since early last year, EntGroup says. That compares with 39,718 screens in the United States in 2012, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners.

As viewership grows in a country of nearly 1.4 billion people, filmmakers can now aim at more targeted audiences.

But it fared well with more than 400 million Yuan at the box office. The film's audience had an average age of about 20 and was more than 80 percent female, according to an analysis of data from Weibo, China's popular Twitter-like service.

Some relaxation of censorship rules could help. Last month, the government said Chinese filmmakers would no longer have to submit screenplays to officials for review and approval before they can shoot a movie.