As the coronavirus continues its rapid spread, China continues to struggle with consequences of the disease on myriad levels. The updated count of confirmed cases has crossed 6,000 on the mainland, with 132 people dead.
Separately to the tragic human toll of the virus, the economic impact could exceed $40B on a global level. Today, British Airways said it was cancelling all flights to and from China, following others who have curtailed or kiboshed travel. Hundreds of Britons being flown back from Wuhan tomorrow will be placed in quarantine for two weeks as a precaution, other countries are also repatriating citizens under similar measures.
Within the film industry, most recently, the giant Hengdian World Studios is understood to have closed indefinitely after shuttering its tourist attractions over the weekend in order to “cooperate with the current epidemic prevention and control work.”
Among the high profile projects to have temporarily ceased shooting elsewhere in China is Filmko Entertianment’s Donnie Yen-starrer Polar Rescue, according to local reports. Filming began at Changbai Mountain before the Chinese New Year holiday period, but producers have shelved the production until the end of 2020. Yen, per local media, commented, “Though this does affect my work schedule, the bigger picture is more important. I hope everyone is healthy and safe.”
Given the unpredictability of how the virus may evolve, it is not yet clear if the Beijing and Shanghai International Film Festivals will be impacted. They take place in April and June, respectively. With the Berlin Film Festival fast approaching, it’s possible Chinese delegates have trouble attending. This was the case with SARS at the Cannes Film Festival in 2003.
Overall box office already took a big hit this weekend when Chinese cinemas were shuttered from just ahead of the start of the lucrative Lunar New Year period. Some local media reported today that cinemas could potentially reopen on Feb 3, after the New Year national holiday which was extended in response to the virus, though this seems likely to come too soon given the seriousness of the epidemic. All in, it is expected to deal at least a $1B+ blow to the worldwide box office in 2020.
The future of Hollywood releases in the market is currently unknown. Several are on deck for February but could face date changes depending on when theaters come back online, and the potential glut of local product that needs to be distributed.
In response to the cancellation of the seven major New Year releases, some infighting has also erupted after Huanxi Media drew ire from exhibitors when it terminated its minimum guaranteed theatrical distribution agreement and instead put comedy Lost In Russia online for free Friday night.
The move was part of a new cooperation agreement that Huanxi unveiled Friday with ByteDance. The latter is paying RMB 630M ($91M) to release certain new films and drama series on huanxi.com as well as ByteDance’s platforms. Lost In Russia, the comedy threequel from Xu Zheng, was the first movie under the deal. Exhibitors and others in the industry then threatened to boycott Huanxi’s future releases since national theaters had invested a considerable amount of money in marketing support for Lost In Russia and would not now see the fruits of that labor.
The other main CNY titles are expected to be redated for theatrical once the epidemic is better contained.
With quarantines in place throughout the mainland, television has been the primary source of entertainment. The annual Spring Festival Gala on Friday drew a record number of viewers including 589M directly on TV and 1.12B online, china.org reported.
After the weekend, however, Xinhua said that local authorites moved to reduce entertainment shows and cover the epidemic more closely with news programs and special reports. Millions of people have been watching livestreams of two temporary hospitals being built in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. Shine reports today that cultural authorities have made more online exhibitions available for viewers trapped at home, such as Auspicious Rats Offering Propitious Treasures and Embracing The Orient And The Occident.
ByteDance has also provided 14 previously released films in a free online package that includes such hits as Crazy Alien, The Mermaid, Never Say Die and Breakup Buddies.