Chinese discouraged from Chinese New Year travel go to movies instead

BEIJING: Chinese cinemas racked up record box-office revenues during the week-long Chinese New Year holiday, as coronavirus travel curbs compelled millions to forego visits home during what is usually the world’s biggest annual domestic migration.

Revenues touched 6.96 billion yuan (US$1.08 billion) over the six days to Wednesday (Feb 17) midday, live data from ticketing platform Maoyan Entertainment shows, with higher prices padding the total and Chinese productions dominating screens.

That haul topped the 2019 record of 5.9 billion yuan, bringing year-to-date revenues in excess of 10 billion yuan, state media said, in a movie market that last year surpassed the United States as the world’s biggest.

READ: To stay or to go? Week-long Spring Festival holiday in China draws to a close

Investors welcomed the boom, pushing shares of entertainment firms such as IMAX China and Alibaba Pictures to multi-month highs on Tuesday after the crisis-induced slump through much of last year.

“It’s pent-up demand, due to the virus controls and also higher ticket prices, that is behind the hefty box-office sales,” said a user on China’s Twitter-like Weibo, nicknamed Tianjin Share Guru.

The top draw was Chinatown Detective 3, a buddy action comedy set in Japan’s capital of Tokyo, with sales of 3.4 billon yuan, while Hi Mom, a time-travel comedy about parenthood and family relations, came in second, raking in 2.4 billion.

Adventure film A Writer’s Odyssey took third place, followed by two Chinese cartoons.

READ: Commentary: COVID-19 proving to be a business opportunity for some companies

Virus Outbreak China Lunar New Year

A child wearing a mask stands near Chinese New Yeardecorations along Wangfujing in Beijing on Feb 15, 2021. (File photo: AP/Ng Han Guan)

The movie-going frenzy was fuelled by workers and office staff who heeded the call from authorities to stay in the cities where they were based, rather than travelling home, in a bid to rein in a resurgence of infections that began in January.

Transport ministry data shows passenger trips fell 70 per cent nationwide over the two weeks before Chinese New Year, which began on Friday, from the corresponding period two years ago.

READ: China’s peak Chinese New Year air travel season fizzles as COVID-19 cases rise

Some moviegoers got free tickets from local governments such as that in the business hub of Shanghai.

But not everyone was happy, as tickets could be hard to get and more expensive than usual, partly since most cinemas halved occupancy as part of crisis curbs.

Although prices averaged about 50 yuan, up from 45 yuan during the 2019 holiday period, they often exceeded 70 yuan and even reached 150 yuan.

“Chinatown Detective was sold at 143 yuan, isn’t that robbery?” said one movie fan on Weibo.

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