- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 10, 2010

BEIJING (AP) - Disaster drama “Aftershock” has set the all-time domestic box office record for a Chinese film with 532 million yuan ($79 million) in ticket sales, its distributors say.

The Feng Xiaogang-directed drama overtook star-studded propaganda movie “The Founding of a Republic,” which earned 420 million yuan ($62 million), according to distributors Huayi Brothers Media Corporation.

China’s all-time box office champion is James Cameron’s 3-D sci-fi epic “Avatar,” which raked in $204 million this year, smashing the previous record held by disaster film “2012.”

China’s box office takings surged 86 percent to $714 million in the first half of the year, lifted by the stunning success of “Avatar” and other popular American imports, along with a boom in the number of screens and rising disposable incomes in major cities. The final year-end box office take is expected to hit $1.5 billion.

However, anxious to protect the revenues of domestic studios, China effectively limits the country to 20 foreign imports a year.

Although little known in the West, Feng has directed a string of Chinese hits, including the comedies “If You Are the One” and “Big Shot’s Funeral,” along with the Chinese Civil War saga “Assembly.”

“Aftershock” portrays one of the world’s worst natural disasters, the 1976 earthquake that devastated the northern Chinese city of Tangshan killing more than 240,000 people. The movie examines its aftermath through the story of a present-day mother’s three-decade journey to an emotional reunion with the daughter she thought she had lost to the disaster.

Released on July 22, its 135 million Chinese yuan ($20 million) budget _ about half provided by the Tangshan city government _ was relatively hefty for a Chinese production.

Also released in IMAX format, the movie was a technical breakthrough for the Chinese film industry, drawing on help from visual effects experts from South Korea and the post-production division of French media company Technicolor.

New Zealand’s Weta Workshop _ the Oscar-winning design company behind the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy _ advised on miniature models that doubled for 1976 Tangshan.

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