Curtain up for cinema audiences

Three quarters of Shanghai’s cinemas, 296 in total, had reopened by August 20, a month after the China Film Administration allowed cinemas in low risk pandemic areas to resume business. Since July 20, Shanghai’s box office has contributed to more than 10 percent of the nation’s overall box office receipts with August 15 the busiest day, taking in five million yuan (US$731,500).

Seven cinemas in Songjiang, including Pacific Cineplex Songjiang Branch, Wanda Cinema Wanda Plaza Branch and DFC Cinema Songjiang Branch, reopened on July 20 after closures that had lasted 180 days.

The film industry was one of the most affected sectors during the COVID-19 outbreak.

As the pandemic weakened in China and the country quickened its steps to resume normal working, the administration decided that some cinemas could reopen on condition that pandemic prevention and control measures were fully enforced.

“It’s been more than half a year since I’ve been to the cinema. As one of the first people to revisit cinemas in Songjiang, I feel that the ticket I am holding is historic,” said a local resident surnamed Li. Li had bought a ticket for the suspense drama “Sheep Without a Shepherd” the moment he heard the news that the cinemas would be opening again.

On the morning of July 20 about 200 cinemas across the country, including in Shanghai, Chengdu and Hangzhou, had scheduled more than 6,000 screenings. Shanghai, Hangzhou and Changsha ranked the top three cities in terms of film projection numbers.

As of noon that day, the number of tickets issued throughout the nation amounted to 67,000 and real-time box office receipts added up to 2 million yuan (US$290,000) across the country, according to statistics from Maoyan Movie, a one-stop online movie platform in China.  

“When I heard of the work resumption news, I was so excited that my hands were trembling,” said Ma Dandan, an operations manager with Pacific Cineplex Songjiang Branch, who described her emotions in the past half a year as “like a roller coaster soaring and dipping from time to time.”

“We were so confident before the 2020 Lunar New Year holidays that with so many excellent films, including “Detective Chinatown 3,” “Lost in Russia,” “Master Jiang and the Six Kingdoms” and “Zhong Guo Nv Pai,” we were surely to accomplish something. But the pandemic came, then we canceled the films, and the whole industry fell into a standstill.”

“During the period, staff members of our cinema received the lowest and basic monthly salary of 2,480 yuan. Some staff members who had to support a whole family of old and young members even took a second job as a taxi driver to earn money,” Ma added, her eyes brimming with tears as she recollected the memory.

“Now we are doing our best to carry out pandemic prevention measures. We did non-contact ticket selling rehearsals, hired professional cleaners to do disinfection work, prepared antibacterial wipes near the automatic ticket machines and bought more than 5,000 pairs of new 3D glasses,” she said.

Though cinemas are allowed to resume work, the industry is still facing pressure.

“In the current phase our aim is to re-boost people’s interest in film watching. Our daily cost now, including staff workers’ salaries and house rents, amounts to 24,000 yuan. And pandemic prevention measures mean we can’t operate at full swing as we used to do. So our current operating costs surely outnumber our profits. But we still have to resume work, to win audiences’ interest back, and to boost staff members’ confidence in the film industry,” said a manager surnamed Liu with the CGV Cinema Jiuting Branch.

Box office losses this year are estimated to exceed 30 billion yuan due to the effect of the pandemic, according to a release from the China Film Administration on April 29.

And statistics show that so far more than 10,000 film companies across the country have canceled business licenses or have had their business licenses revoked.