This is the coldest lunar new year season for Chinese movies. With the outbreak of corona virus, along with the potential worsening spread out of its original location Wuhan, majority of cinema goers prefer to stay at home. That’s a headache for some movie directors and producers. But not for Xu Zheng’s Lost in Russia.

5

Actor/director Xu Zheng’s new film Lost In Russia touches on a Chinese-style mother-child relationship, offering a bittersweet but heartwarming experience to the audience. Previous installments of the “Lost In” movie series received positive market responses. Lost in Thailand (2012) grossed 1.27 billion Yuan in China, while the following one, Lost in Hong Kong (2015), took in 1.61 billion Yuan at the box office. In 2018, Xu produced and starred in the drama film “Dying to Survive,” reaching a new peak with 3.1 billion Yuan in revenue, a high critic rating and plenty of accolades.图4

Lost in Spring Festival? Nope

“Lost In Russia” is a comedy-drama displaying what Xu wanted to express concerning his thoughts and understanding about life. The director said it is not just a “popcorn blockbuster” to make viewers laugh, but a film to move the audience to tears and reflect on their ties with moms. 

2

In Chinese, the title is “Jiong Ma” (literally “awkward mother”). The film is about an awkward journey to Russia of a manipulative old mother and her middle-aged son who wanted to rebel and escape. Many elements will resonate with Chinese audiences as it touches on many issues of a certain kind of typical mother-child relationship in China that is either too intimate or estranged, tough and manipulative. Further, it also touches the marriage problems of middle-aged individuals. 

However, as mentioned above, concerns over the safety of watching movies in cinemas, usually considered as a confined space with the risk of virus transmission, have increased amid the spreading of the country’s novel coronavirus-related pneumonia. Studios that produced these films released statements soon after, confirming that they would suspend the release of their films, in an effort to help curb the spread of the virus. 

3

But Xu refused to be lost as his peers have to, during the golden Chinese New Year movie season.

A Genius Rebound

1

On Friday, film company Huanxi Media made a bold move, deciding to release its much-anticipated comedy Lost in Russia online nationwide for free, after signing a surprise new cooperation agreement with the Chinese internet Giant ByteDance. The film will be shown on ByteDance’s platforms including Douyin, Toutiao, Xi Gua Video and Huanxi’s own streaming platform Huanxi Premium.

Under the deal, ByteDance will pay Huanxi a one-time fee of HK$700 million (AU$132.12 million). The two companies’ video services will “pool content, cross-promote and also share advertising and transactional video-on-demand revenue”, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Huanxi also has retained the theatrical rights to “Lost in Russia,” should it decide to bring the film out in cinemas in future. 

“Many mothers and children are ashamed to show love to one another. I want to touch people’s souls and give them some warmth,” Xu said at the premiere held in Beijing on Jan. 17. The film seems to be the perfect choice for families during the holiday. — edited from China.org.cn

An Aggressive Business Model Among the Strays

Huanxi Media Group’s shares surged after it announced Douyin’s parent company ByteDance would pay it at least 630 million Yuan (AU$132.12 million) for new movies and dramas to stream on its top video platforms as a viral outbreak in mainland China forces cinemas to protest.

They include Lost in Russia, which Huanxi produced, one of the seven films pulled from cinemas during Lunar New Year as China grapples with a coronavirus that has already claimed more than 130 lives (by 30. Jan. 2020).

The Hong-Kong listed shares of Huanxi Media shot up 43 per cent to HK$1.96 on Friday morning. However, the joy may be short-lived as the price is likely to come under downward pressure as soon as the news dies down, said Avis Mak, head of investment advisory at the brokerage Shenwan Hongyuan.

“It is risky to buy at a high level,” said Mak. “It is not really worth the risk to enter the market now.”She said online streaming channels like Douyin may be targets of speculative bets this year, especially as the market thinks ByteDance may list in Hong Kong this year.

“The pneumonia problem may affect the income of cinemas,”added Mak.“To content providers, the impact is not as significant. But if this problem keeps rolling on in coming months, the negative impact will be reflected in the results of the first quarter of this year. These shares have high volatility so investors interested should be more cautious.”

The deal will help satisfy increased demand for online entertainment as consumers are forced to stay at home amid the viral outbreak, said Sam Chi-yung, a commentator.“This is good. At least the finished films can be released.”–edited from South China Morning Post

Some cinema operators are outraging. Chinese theaters and film studios were protesting the deal by Huanxi Media Group to premiere its new movie Lost in Russia on Bytedance’s online platforms, with some saying it was “trampling” and “destroying” Chinese cinema industry.

Financial magazine Yicai reported on a statement issued by the film industry of Eastern China’s Zhejiang Province, which threatened to boycott films made by Huanxi and one of the actors if the internet premiere went ahead.

Another letter signed by 23 theaters and film studios was also circulated heavily in Chinese social media and reported by media outlets like the government-backed Beijing Youth Daily newspaper. 

The second letter, which was addressed to industry regulator China Film Administration, said the movie would mark the first time in history a Spring Festival blockbuster would be screened for free online, and while it was legal to do so, it would break the current industry model.

“This goes against the payment and revenue model that the movie industry has cultivated over many years, is trampling and intentionally destroying the movie industry and premiere models, and play a lead role in causing destruction,” said the letter, whose signatories include Wanda Film Holding, Bona Film Group, and Henan Oscar Theatre Chain.—edited from Reuters

6

Although the genius rebound of Xu’s provoked his counterparts in China’s movie production, as he make a terrible example “trampling and intentionally destroying the movie industry and premiere models”, it does not look terrible at all for neither the young generation audience nor for the Internet-integrated players in entertainment. Lost in Russia‘s agile cooperation with ByteDance may have created a brand new path for the sustainable growth of Chinese film industries. On January 25, other 13 movies joined Xu and Lost in Russia, to be listed in the Lunar New Year free movie squad. Interestingly, four of them are produced by Xu’s competitors. 

If you can’t beat the ‘alien’, join it. So, look out, Netflix, Facebook and Apple TV!  

Edited by Joreal Qian