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China Exclusive: Low-budget comedies' box office performance is no joke

By Wang Xiaopeng, Bai Ying and Xu Xiaoqing (Xinhua)

09:46, February 03, 2013

BEIJING, Feb. 2 (Xinhua) -- Out-earning their high-budget domestic competition and even rivaling Hollywood blockbusters, the box office success of low-budget Chinese comedies is no laughing matter.

"Bring Happiness Home," a domestic comedy that hit theaters on Jan. 15, had raked in 130 million yuan (20.9 million U.S. dollars) as of Jan. 27, a box office performance worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster.

The film's success is tracking a trend started by the low-budget comedy "Lost in Thailand," which debuted on Dec. 12. The gut-buster took in an unprecedented 1.2 billion yuan in less than a month, out-earning "Avatar" and "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" to become the highest-grossing movie ever shown in Chinese theaters.

"Works that capture the fun side of modern life have been the highlights of the domestic film market since the primetime Lunar New Year film season started in late November," Zhang Yiwu, a professor at Peking University, said.

"Lost in Thailand" follows the adventures of two rival Chinese businessmen and a simple-minded pancake maker in Thailand, while "Bring Happiness Home" is the story of a girl from a wealthy family and her life with her dog.

"The market share of big-budget films, epics in particular, has gradually been taken away by relatively low-budget works," Zhang said, adding that moviegoers are moving away from films featuring elaborate settings and visual experiences, like renowned Chinese director Zhang Yimou's "Hero" (2002).

The trend is evident, as director Feng Xiaogang's blockbuster "Back to 1942" took in just 370 million yuan after its November premier.

The film about a tragic drought that claimed about 3 million lives in central China's Henan Province in 1942 cost about 210 million yuan to make -- a stark contrast to "Lost in Thailand," which cost about 30 million yuan.

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