Since its’ July 22 debut, the Huayi Bros. production Aftershock continues to break records for Chinese film at the domestic box office with an accumulated 532 million yuan ($ 78.6 million)(Wall Street Journal Online). With a release on 3,500-4,000 screens domestically, the newest creation of director Feng Xiaogang sets a new standard in local production and distribution that may eventually bring Chinese cinema into the realm of Hollywood’s national audience size (Twilight: Eclipse recently broke the U.S domestic screen release record with a release on 4,413 screens). The film’s debut also displaced Avatar as the highest box office take for an opening day in China by 200,000 yuan ($29,000).
A factor that might limit international marketability as well as explain a large domestic box office figures, is that the film is about one of the worst natural disasters to afflict China (or any other nation for that matter) in world history. Centering around a family torn apart by the devastating 1978 Tangshan earthquake which took the lives of over 240,000 people, this story holds a lot of cultural weight with the people of China. Attesting to that significance, the Tangshan government provided close to half of the approximately $20 million budget (a large amount for a Chinese production). The reverence held for such a national tragedy sheds light as to why some of the criticism Xiaogang has been receiving for his prominent usage of product placement throughout the film may have due cause.
IMAX digitally re-mastered and exhibited the film on 13 IMAX screens in China making Aftershock the first non-hollywood major studio film to be released in the format. IMAX and Huayi have plans for two more Chinese films to be released internationally following Aftershock. U.S films hold a firm grip on the international game even in China (Avatar grossed about 1.3 billion yuan, or $200 million, and is currently the Chinese box office record holder), however, the commercial success of Aftershock foreshadows a rise in Chinese competition, especially when considering the pairing with IMAX, and the subsequent distribution that the Chinese film industry could see in the future.
Regardless of international success, Aftershock is a positive step for the Chinese film industry on the domestic level, as well as for the quality of the films that are produced in the country. Since 2009 the total national box office take has increased almost 90 percent to 4.84 billion yuan ($714.2 million)(Wall Street Journal Online), a figure that is expected to continue to grow drastically into the next year. Feng Xiaogang will be a director to watch as his films commercial successes continue to bolster the national film industry.