Bombed. James Bombed.

I get Google news alerts in my inbox filtered for “China,” and everyday the past week or so the top article has been about Bond’s debut last night in Beijing. Ignore the fact that movie has been “out” on pirated DVDs and Chinese websites since it first played in the US. Last night was the first time it showed in theaters in China! It was the talk of the (cyber)town!

So I went. I paid my ridiculously extravagant 80 RMB ($10), instead of ducking across the hall to the internet bar called “Net Movie” where I could’ve watched it for 3 RMB/hr on the internet. I justified the splurge to myself by saying:

(1) It was a historic event, being the first Bond to air in China uncut by the censors.

(2) It was a Bond movie, and a good one I heard, so better watched on the big screens. This was true — especially the screen on the construction site at the beginning. (“Tai lihai!” as the woman next to me exclaimed approvingly.)

(3) I haven’t spent any money on movies in a year. Theaters anyway.

and most of all…

(4) I wanted to see who else in their right mind would schlep through a cold winter night in Beijing to show up a month late to see a movie at ten times the cost, a movie which they can’t even pause to go to the loo (or check an IM).

But this was Bond, this was Beijing, this was OPENING NIGHT! Surely that would be enough!

The theater was maybe 1/10th full. A few thirty or forty something couples, all well attired. And me. No one under 30. Maybe my theater or time slot was atypical (it did premier on a Monday), maybe my theater was in an uncool part of town, maybe everyone went to the Chinese dubbed screening instead of the English with Chinese subtitles screening. But my gut take? It bombed. James bombed.

I’m no media or intellectual property expert, so I’d be interested to hear what ideas you have for how US movie-theaters can get Chinese yout’ movie-watchers (at this internet cafe, I’m surrounded by them) to pay for watching movies. So your mission, if you decide to accept it, is how to compete with free, instant access to movies from the comfort of one’s home.

The one trump card I see as a theater is quality — downloaded videos and pirated DVD quality is notoriously lacking in quality (so I’m told). For instance a, um, friend of mine watched Sideways on a pirated DVD out of sequence, not realizing until half-way through that when the scene labelled “Wednesday” followed “Saturday,” twice, it wasn’t a Memento-like artistic decision — that specific DVD’s scenes were all jumbled up.

Would it help if the movies came out the same day in China as in the US? If movies were 5-10 RMB a seat (the price of a DVD or the internet cafe time to watch it) rather than 80 RMB?

I don’t know. But it seems if US film-makers can’t tap the teen and twenty-something market, future 007’s in China might just turn up 4s.

From Beijing,


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