Interpret Weekly: Asia Entertainment 08/23/2021

Emperor Motion Pictures / Tencent Pictures Walt Disney Pictures / Pixar Animation Studios Light Chaser Animation / Alibaba Pictures

Luca kicked off in China at No. 2 with $5.1 million in the first Hollywood showing since June. This is a quiet opening but it needs to be noted that about 30% of sites are currently closed due to the recent COVID-19 cases. Piracy, undoubtedly, took at least some bite out of Luca’s earnings. The movie has been widely available on Chinese piracy networks since Disney released it over Disney+ in June.

The most recent major Hollywood title to hit China was Sony’s Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway in mid-June (excluding Disney/Pixar’s Luca over the past weekend). Then the authority reinforced a months-long Hollywood blackout due to the observation of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party. This comes as great news as there has been a backlog in China of submitted Hollywood product including Warner Bros’ Space Jam: A New Legacy, Disney’s Jungle Cruise, Warner Bros.’ Reminiscence and Dune, and Disney’s upcoming Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. The likelihood of a Black Widow release remains dubious.

Many Chinese viewers insist that any film based on comics featuring the archetypically stereotyped character Fu Manchu — who is Shang-Chi’s father and nemesis in the original comics — will turn out to be a racist depiction. Feige, however, explained that the character is “just one of the truths about the early comic books” but is not in the movie “in any way, shape, or form” and is not a Marvel character. Another controversy in China is that in the comics, Shang-Chi is at times portrayed as abandoning his Chinese roots to embrace the West, and in one plotline even goes so far as to kill his father. Feige addressed “that’s certainly one of the elements we’ve changed.”

Shang-Chi doesn’t yet have a China release date, and it’s unclear whether it has formally passed censorship.

Zhang Yimou’s One Second, a period drama set during the upheaval of China’s Cultural Revolution, will open this year’s San Sebastian International Film Festival and compete for the festival’s coveted Golden Shell. One Second was initially set to premiere three years ago, in competition at the Berlin Film Festival in 2019. But the movie was pulled just days before its scheduled release due to the subject matter.

After an initial five months of extreme weakness, the Korean box office has sustained a higher level of activity since the beginning of June. July performance pointed to an annualized trend of some $700 million. That is a 40% improvement on June’s $41 million aggregate. But it is still a long way short of the $1.6 billion full year total that made South Korea the fourth largest cinema market in the world in 2019.

Mamoru Hosoda’s Belle is the third film to break the 5-billion-yen milestone at the Japanese box office this year (along with Evangelion 3.0+1.0 and the most recent Detective Conan film). Boy and the Beast is still Hosoda’s most successful film to date with a total haul of nearly 5.9 billion yen, but Belle seems well-positioned to surpass it.

Bandai Namco is developing a new Ace Combat game with ILCA, the developers of the upcoming Pokémon Diamond and Pearl remakes. ILCA is currently at work on Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl while the mainline Pokémon developer, Game Freak, is working on Pokémon Legends: Arceus.

UMGC will establish Republic Records China, EMI China, PolyGram Records China, and Universal Music China as distinct label brands. Each label will operate independently with its own dedicated artist rosters, A&R, and specialist marketing teams and report to Sunny Chang, chairman and CEO of UMGC. It aims to create a multi-label structure, intensify its focus on local artists, repertoire activities, and local-language artists.

Tencent posted a 29% rise in net profit to second-quarter profit to $6.6 billion, a slower pace of growth after the coronavirus pandemic led to a boom in online gaming last year. Revenue climbed 20% to $21.4 billion and revenues from mobile games grew 13% to $6.3 billion. The results come amid investor concerns that Tencent will continue to be ensnared in an onslaught of regulatory actions that Chinese authorities have unleashed on several sectors with the tech industry being the hardest hit.

In another sign of China’s tightening grip on the country’s growing technology sector, a domestic entity of ByteDance sold a 1% stake to a government affiliate in April. The ownership stake does not appear to directly affect the overseas version of TikTok, but Republican senator Marco Rubio urged President Joe Biden this week to block TikTok in the U.S.

American cartoon giant DC Comics and South Korean talent agency HYBE have agreed to work with online animation firm Webtoon on content creation. This aims to create new original web comics and web novels, some in translation, using external IPs sourced from global entertainment companies. Operational details were scarce.

K-pop supergroup BTS has scrapped their upcoming Map of the Soul world tour because of insurmountable logistical difficulties related to the coronavirus pandemic. BTS has been trying to tour in support of their fourth album, Map of the Soul: 7, since Spring 2020, but pandemic-related delays have stretched on indefinitely. The group’s original tour plans included a series of dates beginning in Seoul in April 2020, followed by 39 shows in 18 countries spanning North America, Europe, and Asia.

The rules published by the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) cover a wide range of areas and continue Beijing’s regulatory assault on China’s technology giants. Chinese-listed technology stocks in Hong Kong fell sharply on that news. Gaming giant Tencent was 3.5% lower in late morning trade, while e-commerce giant Alibaba fell 2.5%. Key rules include:

  • Operators should not provide false data, such as the number of clicks on a piece of content;
  • Operators should not conceal negative reviews and only promote positive reviews;
  • Internet platforms should not use data, algorithms and other technical means to influence user choices or other methods to carry out so-called traffic hijacking (this is where a company looks to redirect a user to their own website or service while they’re browsing another);
  • Operators should not use data and algorithms to collect and analyze competitors’ trading information.

The news comes one day after President Xi Jinping made common prosperity a key economic and social goal for China, indicating that Tencent is willing to adapt to China’s changing regulatory climate. According to the statement, the fund will integrate “Tencent’s digital and technological capabilities” to provide assistance in several areas, including the development of rural regions, low-income groups, primary medical assistance, and grassroots education.”