Imported by Alibaba Pictures/China Film Group Corporation and distributed by China Film Co., 1917 opens in China nationwide on August 7.
When cinemas were ordered to close in February in China due to COVID-19, I already started to visualise how 1917 would become one of the most important foreign films to support cinemas’ reopening. Amblin Partners, one of 1917’s production companies is co-owned by China’s Alibaba Pictures. It is therefore logical for Alibaba Pictures to handle the distribution rights for this film in its home country.
Although on China’s import documents 1917 is classified as a US production, we all know, it is a British film. As the film’s co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns confessed, while receiving the BAFTA award for Outstanding British Film, that she got to witness “how quintessential British 1917 was.” She continued, “not only was 1917 shot all over the UK (…), but it was also crafted by over 1,200 British members of crew, demonstrating the depth of talent in the UK’s film industry.” This was a very strong statement that needs to be heard, same as director Sam Mendes’s reflection on how wonderful it was to receive an award back in his hometown, London. Like many other sectors, the British film talents are overshadowed by the US capital; oftentimes modest, just as the style of storytelling in 1917.
Since February 2020, personally and also via the UK-China Film Collab’s capacity, I have been trying to apply for fundings to support 1917’s opening in China. I saw that as a good opportunity to make a public campaign to celebrate the outstanding achievement by the UK’s film industry. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, many organisations and departments became involved in dealing with this urgent situation. The only thing that I could do, was to continue to observe 1917’s marketing in China, as well as to post personal recommendation every now and then via my WeChat moments. Each post says something down this line: “This is a British film and you must go see it when cinemas reopen.” Other advocacy also included, “please programme 1917!”, a direct message for my professional friends from different cinema chains in China. We are indeed at wars, every little helps.
Anticipating since February, at last, 1917 will open tomorrow on August 7 in China. A dream comes true. The film already had two teasing screenings during the Shanghai International Film Festival on August 1 & 2, which both were quickly sold out within minutes. According to Maoyan Professional, the film has attracted over 25K interests and it has pre-sold almost 7 million RMB (£765K) box-office [average ticket price in China is 32 RMB/£3.5]. On the same releasing day, there are four local titles and two other foreign titles: Ford V. Ferrari (2019) from the US and Sing Street (2016) from Ireland. In terms of both interest and pre-sale, 1917 is on the top of the list.
For its first day release in China, 1917 is opening across at least 261 cinemas in Shanghai (city with highest annual box-office in the country) with over 56,000 screenings nationwide. The average programming is about three screenings per day at each cinema. The film will be released in three formats simultaneously, CGS, IMAX and Cinity. It is currently rated 8.5/10 on Douban with more than 200K reviews by audience, mostly those who live abroad. Since cinemas reopened in China on July 20, 1917 is so far the second Oscars title to be released in China this year after Jojo Rabbit (2019).
1917’s reception in China could have been more than just a case of box-office. It is the ultimate opportunity for the British film industry to make a campaign to celebrate its heritage, talent and style in filmmaking. It is indeed a shame that at least half of the Chinese audience will mis-perceive this film as being American (as how it is advertised in some publicities). It is also sad that almost no public bodies care or are curious about the Best British Film of 2019’s release in the world’s second largest film market.
In my opinion, 1917 was possibly the best film that I saw last year. Its story transcends culture and champions peace, something that is much needed at the moment. We need faith and courage.
Let’s hope that this message comes across and that the film will be a success ahead. Its performance will demonstrate the market’s potential in China that soon no one can ignore, despite the ongoing trade war.
The UK-China Film Collab will continue to support 1917’s release in China where and when it can – last man standing.