China punishes film distributor for faking Ip Man 3 box office receipts

Beijing Max Screen admits fabricating 7,600 screenings of Donnie Yen film and buying 56 million yuan of tickets itself, in case that lifts lid on fraud a regulator says is so widespread it’s harming Chinese cinema

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 March, 2016, 1:44pm
UPDATED : Monday, 21 March, 2016, 1:50pm

China’s film regulator has suspended the distribution licence of a company accused of fraudulently boosting box office figures for the martial arts movie Ip Man 3 by millions of dollars, Xinhua reported.

Claims that the film made more than 500 million yuan at the box office in its first four days raised questions that prompted distributor Beijing Max Screen to admit it bought 56 million yuan of tickets itself, Xinhua quoted the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television as saying.

The company also fabricated more than 7,600 screenings that it claimed generated 32 million yuan in ticket sales, Xinhua reported.

Max Screen said it had “studied and fully accepted” the punishment, according to Xinhua. The distributor could not be immediately reached for comment.

READ MORE: Top 5 biggest movies at China’s box office

The case casts doubt over the stellar growth figures of China’s box office receipts in recent years.

While the North American market, still the world’s largest, has seen box office growth slow, ticket sales in China rose to around 44 billion yuan last year, up nearly 50 per cent from 2014, Xinhua said in an earlier report.

In February, monthly ticket sales in China exceeded those in the United States for the first time, propelled by Stephen Chow hit The Mermaid and the week-long Lunar New Year holiday.

READ MORE: Stephen Chow’s The Mermaid makes a box office splash in China

The state administration’s film bureau said it had ordered Beijing Max Screen to suspend distribution for one month while the firm “rectifies all malpractices”, and issued warnings to three groups selling electronic tickets that were involved in the fraud, as well as 73 cinemas, Xinhua reported.

“These kinds of issues could be considered inevitable in a young industry, but box office fraud has become so serious that it is already harming Chinese cinema,” Zhang Hongsen, head of the film bureau, was quoted as saying.

“Filmmaking and screening are two wings of one bird and they have to rely on each other. Only a regulated and healthy market can give birth to quality films,” he said.

Xinhua said the Chinese film industry had been blighted by cinemas and distributors cheating to inflate box office figures through accounting ploys or other tricks, such as claiming ticket sales that exceed an auditorium’s capacity.