Wang Sicong vs Feng Xiaogang (File photo)
Feng Xiaogang’s new satiric film “I’m Not Madame Bovary” soared to the top of China’s box office chart on Friday even though he had written a long open letter accusing the Wanda cinema chain of “sabotaging” the release.
The film grossed about 73.5 million yuan (US$10.6 million) on its opening day and dominated 40 percent of the total showtime of films currently screening in China. It could surpass 300 million yuan (US$43.55 million) over the weekend. However, there was one notable exception: Wanda Cinemas only allotted 10.9 percent of their cinema screenings for Feng’s film.
An angry Feng took his dissatisfaction online with an open letter to China’s richest man, Wang Jianlin, who owns Wanda Cinemas that occupy a leading position in the domestic film market.
The director complained his film fell a victim to Wanda chain maneuvering due to the fact that one of his film’s investors, Huayi Brothers Media Corp, poached an important executive, Ye Ning, from Wanda earlier this year. Since then, Wanda allotted little showtime for any films produced by Huayi as revenge, an action Feng called “childish.”
Wang’s outspoken son, Wanda Group board member Wang Sicong, soon fought back in his microblog, declaring: “Director Feng, don’t be so sarcastic, because it’s disgusting.”
He continued: “The feud between two private companies is solely something between us. How can you exploit your fame to incite internet users and the public to attack us? Let’s get to the facts: why is Huayi allowed to steal our executive, and then we are not allowed to be unhappy about it? Why are you allowed to exclude others when your cinemas arrange their showtimes, but we are not allowed to reduce screenings of your movie because we are not optimistic about it? “
The junior Wang added, “Let’s be reasonable; no-one has problem with money. If your film has good box office results, we will increase the showtimes according to our procedures. You, as a director, should speak with really good films in hand.”
Feng then thanked him for openly admitting the main reason behind dispute between the two film giants but hoped Wanda would respect market rules.
Wanda, according to its own estimation,owned 359 cinemas and 3,164 screens in China as of Oct. 31. Huayi is rushing to build its own cinemas, and, by Sept. 30, had 17 in operation. The two film giants have also expanded their presence in the film industry such as acquiring and investing in other production companies.
The verbal exchanges between the two companies attracted millions of views and comments online while other prominent figures get involved. But Wang Jianlin and the Wanda Group itself have remained silent thus far.
Wang Zhonglei, Huayi’s president, responded to Wang Sicong’s remarks, “Several Huayi executives were poached by Wanda first. I should be the one to be unhappy before you. However, talent coming and going in the industry is very normal.”
He later told reporters attending the Chinese Film Media Awards in Beijing that Feng had made a great film and he was happy with the first day box office results. “However, on the opening day, people paid attention to controversies around the film rather than the film itself, and I feel so sorry about this.”
Huayi Brothers Media Corp also released an official statement saying they hoped Feng’s film would be treated fairly in the market.
After the initial clashes, the showtime arrangements for “I’m Not Madame Bovary” were slightly increased for Saturday and Sunday in Wanda cinemas.
Meanwhile, directors Lu Chuan and Wang Xiaoshuai have said they believe Feng had already got a good enough deal.
“Director Feng should let it go, because this showtime for his film is good,” Lu said. “This is an art house film. If a film’s controversy can be turned into attention and examination of a film itself, that would be fortunate. If not, that’s sad.”
Wang Xiaoshuai agreed, declaring, “His film has got 40 percent of the showtime, but my previous art house film only got one percent. So, what should I think about this? Feng actually did very well in commercial blockbusters as well as making art house films and getting awards. He should be satisfied.”
“I’m Not Madame Bovary,” adapted from a popular novel written by Liu Zhenyun, won the Prize of the International Federation of Film Critics for Special Presentation at the Toronto International Film Festival in September as well as the top prize of Golden Shell at the 64th San Sebastian Film Festival.
The Chinese film industry regards it as the best film by Feng in years, while analysts believe it will also have great box office potential, at least grossing 500 million yuan (US$72.56 million) in the Chinese market.