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Great gall of China at box office?

Suspected ticket-booth inflation mars star-studded ‘Great Revival’

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HONG KONG On top of all the preferential treatment for the propaganda epic that marks the 90th anniversary of China's Communist Party, at least one multiplex chain is being accused of trying to inflate the film's box office numbers.

"Beginning of the Great Revival" has a star-studded cast, cinemas have been flooded with screenings, Hollywood blockbusters have been banned, and offices and schools have been encouraged to buy tickets in bulk. Its box office total so far is $49 million in 19 days.

On Wednesday, Hong Kong's Apple Daily newspaper published Internet photos of three doctored tickets for "Beginning of the Great Revival." The title of the movie was printed, then crossed out, and the name of another film was filled in by hand.

Because Chinese box office results are counted by the number of computer-generated tickets, such alterations, if true, would artificially boost the propaganda film and suppress results of the movie the ticket-holders watched.

With the global film industry eager to cash in on China's booming theatrical market, few wanted to discuss the subject with foreign media and risk offending the government by badmouthing a politically important film.

When a reporter called the executive of a Beijing-based multiplex chain that was not implicated for comment, he refused even though he had spoken freely about other topics before.

"I can talk about anything else," said Gao Jun, deputy general manager for New Film Association.

Calls to Jiang Defu, the spokesman for China Film Group, the influential state-owned studio that made "Beginning of the Great Revival," went unanswered.

Marketing department employees for Guangzhou-based Jinyi International Cinemas, the multiplex chain allegedly responsible for two of the three doctored tickets published by Apple Daily, deferred calls to other colleagues, who never responded.

Jinyi International Cinemas runs some 400 screens across the country, accounting for nearly $108 million in box office in 2010, according to its official website.

The films written onto the three tickets published in Apple Daily were the Hollywood animated film "Kung Fu Panda 2" and Hong Kong director Peter Chan's kung fu thriller "Wu Xia," which was released Monday.

Chen Zhe, a China spokesman for Paramount Pictures, which distributed "Kung Fu Panda 2," declined comment, as did Derek Ha, a distribution official for Hong Kong-based We Pictures, which made "Wu Xia."

However, Mr. Chan told the newspaper he was worried. "I have already complained to the relevant authorities. They are still investigating. I hope it is not true."

The Hong Kong filmmaker has a lot at stake. "Wu Xia," which features action star Donnie Yen and "Lust, Caution" star Tang Wei, is his first film since the 2007 epic "The Warlords" and took $20 million to make.

By contrast, "Kung Fu Panda 2" had already been in Chinese cinemas for 37 days and raked in an impressive $94 million, according to figures up until Sunday from Chinese entertainment research firm EntGroup.

"Beginning of the Great Revival" stars well-known names such as Chow Yun-fat, Andy Lau and John Woo. Its box office total so far is likely to jump quickly, given the sheer saturation of the film. The movie was screened 64,393 times last week, compared to 26,254 times for "Kung Fu Panda 2," according to EntGroup.

The blackout period for "Beginning of the Great Revival" has delayed the China release for Hollywood's latest blockbuster. "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," will open July 21. The film has already made more than $400 million worldwide since its release June 29, according to figures from box office tracking website Box Office Mojo.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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