Young Adulthood Films Challenge Hollywood in China's Theaters

Domestic films that tap into the nostalgic yearning of Chinese to relive their young adulthoods have become the nation’s hot new cinema segment, challenging even the biggest Hollywood blockbusters at the top of box office charts.

American Dreams in China grossed over 100 million yuan ($32.6 mil.) in its first three days following its May 17 debut. The film — which follows three entrepreneurs from their college days in the 1980s to entrepreneurial success in the 2010s — overtook Iron Man 3 at the top of the box office charts, according to data published last week on China Film News. It was helmed by Hong Kong director Peter Chan.

The first film of the genre to crack blockbuster status is So Young, a low-budget romantic drama set on a college campus. It has grossed 689 million yuan ($112.4 mil.) since its April 26 debut. That’s close to the 694 million yuan ($113.3 mil) grossed by Iron Man 3 during its first three weeks and far more than the Tom Cruise sci-fi thriller Oblivion or the stone age cartoon The Croods.

Young adulthood films first emerged as a popular genre in 2010 when Old Boys, a short film about the musical dreams of two male Michael Jackson fans, became an online hit. That was followed last January by the success in China of the Taiwanese romance You Are the Apple of My Eye.

The success of these young adulthood films owes to identifiable Chinese cultural elements that can’t possibly be created by Hollywood, according to Rao Shuguang, deputy director of China Film Art Research Center. China’s young people, who make up the majority of China’s moviegoers, are starting to enjoy seeing their own lives on the big screen.

“For those in their 30s or 40s, they want to look back on their years of endeavor, while younger people are keen to see how their elders lived at their age,” said Zhang Yiwu, a professor at Peking University.

The films are also appealing because they typically depict an appealing combination of humor and a rebellious spirit.

“Young people are under a lot of pressure from society and the job market these days,” said Rao. “Watching these early adulthood-focused movies helps them vent.”

The popularity of the young adulthood genre gives hope to China’s filmmakers that they can compete against big-budget Hollywood movies which have been dominating China’s box office. In 2012 just 50 imported movies made up 51.54% of box office revenues while 893 domestic films made up the rest.

The genre is expected to get another boost on June 27 with the release of Tiny Times, a film about the lives of female university students.