Magazine article Variety

B.O. Success Takes Bite out of Sales Biz

Magazine article Variety

B.O. Success Takes Bite out of Sales Biz

Article excerpt

The red-hot Chinese box office has created big problems for Hong Kong sales companies.

As FilMart, Asia's largest film rights sales market, rolls out March 19-22, Hong Kong sales agencies are wrestling with the problem of how to come to terms with an ever-tougher rights sales business, and the changing status of Hong Kong's once mighty movie sector. FilMart this year is set to be the last stand for Distribution Workshop. The company plans to shrink its sales operations and relocate them from Hong Kong to Taiwan. Former Edko staffer June Wu has been retained as a Taiwan-based sales consultant.

For years, Hong Kong sales firms that outdid themselves to build extravagant sales booths at FilMart were glorified production firms or mini-studios that represented their own output and then picked up a handful of third-party titles from around Asia, but especially from China.

The problem with that strategy now is that Chinese films are becoming harder to sell to international distributors, while the heyday of Sino auteurs churning out festival-winning films has waned.

Since around 2012, when contemporary subjects depicted in broad commercial genres swept aside the previous staple of (allegory-laden) martial arts and historical dramas at the mainland Chinese box office, mainstream films have become more local. Chinese romances, comedies and dramas steeped in recent nostalgia have little appeal for international audiences. And when films such as "Wolf Warrior 2," "Detective Chinatown 2" and "Operation Red Sea" have all passed the $500 million mark, Chinese producers put their focus on their home market.

In February, China racked up the biggest box office month in movie history, its $1.57 billion eclipsing the high-water mark of $1.4 billion North America achieved in July 2011.

Moreover, much of the top talent that once was the bedrock of brand-name Hong Kong cinema has gravitated toward the China market. Directors John Woo, Andrew Lau, Dante Lam, Wong Jing and Tsui Hark have all made movies in the past year squarely aimed at mainland audiences. Include in that Hong Kong's Raman Hui, whose "Monster Hunt" franchise has taken in more than $700 million to date in China alone. There's hardly a Hong Kong film today that is not made as a co-production with China - and none are the big-budget action titles that previously would have sold to markets in Southeast Asia, Europe and home entertainment. …

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