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'High School Musical' set to rock (and roll) China

While the earthquake epic Aftershock continues to clean up in China - this week establishing itself as the all-time domestic box office champion - the release of another film has marked a new era for the mainland film industry.

The release of Disney: High School Musical China on Thursday marks the first time a Hollywood studio has made an all-Chinese film, shot entirely in the country. And the studios involved - Disney, Huayi Brothers and the state-owned Shanghai Media Group - have hopes the film will knock Aftershock from its lofty perch.

That film - directed by Feng Xiaogang and set around the lives of survivors of the 1976 Tangshan earthquake - this week reached box office receipts of 532 million yuan (60 million euros), according to its distributors, leaving the previous Chinese box office champ, T he Founding of a Republic in the shade. That film -  released last year to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Republic - collected 420 million yuan (47 million euros).

As Huayi Brothers were involved in the production of both films, the decision was made to hold off on the release of the Chinese High School Musical - but now the films will go head-to-head.

"The trailer of "HSM" was screened before Aftershock. Everybody expected Aftershock to be big, this big is beyond explanation, Avatar-like here. For us that was an unbelievable opportunity,'' Rich Ross, chairman of Walt Disney Studios, told the China Daily newspaper.

The Chinese version of High School Musical stars popular comedian Guo Degang and pop singer Sun Nan - and much of the action takes place not in a high school but in a university as the Chinese government frowns on high school romances, according to reports in Chinese media.

The HSM franchise began on the Disney Channel in the United States in 2006 before a massively successful foray into cinema with 2008's High School Musical 3: Senior Year which pulled in more than US$250 million (190 million euros) from cinemas around the world.

China's all-time box office champion remains the James Cameron-directed Avatar, which collected more than 1.4 billion yuan (158 million euros).