China's "Confucius" struggles against "Avatar"

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The Independent Culture

Nearly a week after US blockbuster "Avatar" was ordered out of some theatres to make way for homegrown epic "Confucius", the Chinese film is not getting a warm welcome.

The movie about the ancient philosopher's life starring Chow Yun-Fat has been savaged by critics and reports suggest box office sales have been sluggish.

The film is being panned as a wooden and preachy biography that sells out by forcing in battle scenes and even a romantic love interest for the revered thinker.

On the popular movie site, it scored a 3.8 out of 10 in user-submitted reviews, compared to 9.4 for "Avatar". The Global Times gave it a 4 out of 10, calling it "thoughtless and mind-numbing".

Han Han, one of China's most popular writers who is widely viewed as a key voice of the country's youth generation, gave it a two on his popular blog, calling it an entertainment, educational, and business failure.

"It is a film that could be completely done without," he wrote.

"Avatar" has meanwhile become China's all-time top-grossing film since opening January 4 in both 2D and 3D versions, closing in on 100 million dollars in ticket sales, according to media reports this week.

The previous box-office champ - the disaster epic "2012" - grossed nearly 70 million dollars late last year, state media has said.

Reports that the 2D version of "Avatar" was to be pulled early last Friday sparked accusations the government wanted it pushed aside for "Confucius", whose teachings on harmony and respect for authority enjoy official favour under the ruling Communist Party after decades of being suppressed as "feudal".

The 3D version of "Avatar" was expected to continue showing through February as planned, state press reports have said.

While "Avatar" grossed an opening-day record 4.8 million dollars on January 4, Confucius only brought in an estimated 5.5 million in its first five days, the National Business Daily said in a report Thursday.

State film agencies refused to provide figures.

Meanwhile, theatres in Beijing and across the country continue to show the 2D version of "Avatar", according to theatres and movie listing websites.

A woman who answered the phone at the Beijing offices of China Film Stellar Theatre Chain, a major cinema operator, said most of its 179 theatres across the country were still showing it.

"It's up to each of our theatres to decide whether to show it or not," said the woman, who declined to give her name.

Some Chinese have speculated authorities were nervous about the portrayal in "Avatar" of a tribe resisting humans chasing them from their land on a far-off planet, saying it too closely evoked a wave of unrest in China linked to land disputes that has made authorities nervous.

China allows only 20 foreign films to be shown in its theatres each year, which the United States has criticised as unfairly protecting domestic films.