3D Aussie shark-horror flick unexpected success in China
A 3D comedy-horror flick about a group of attractive strangers trapped in a tsunami flooded supermarket being chased and slowly eaten by a Great White Shark – how could it fail to pull punters?
A 3D comedy-horror flick about a group of attractive strangers trapped in a tsunami flooded supermarket being chased and slowly eaten by a Great White Shark – how could it fail to pull punters? Not least because amidst all the mid-air devouring of hapless victims and needless animal sacrificing of cute puppies to distract the hungry shark, there is a love story. Awwww.
Yet, somehow, this perfect ‘tsunami’ of combined genres (and the added star quality of Julian McMahon) has failed to attract Australian audiences to the Gold Coast-shot Bait 3D since its Aussie release on 20 September, bringing in only $1 million at the local box office. But, fear not investors of $25 million in Bait’s production – there is another market hungry for your depiction of pointy teeth and flailing limbs amongst the floating rice bubbles boxes of the cereal aisle.
In less than two weeks of hitting the screens of Chinese cinemas, Bait has become the most successful Australian film ever released to the Chinese market, almost making back its budget in no time with $20 million in takings. Compared to other recent Australian releases in China, this is a phenomenon worthy of attention. With Happy Feet 2 garnering only $6 million, and James Cameron’s Sanctum earning $10.5 million, predictions of $25 million earnings are something to celebrate.
Combined with the popular appeal this film is enjoying in Russia, Italy and Malaysia (despite going straight to DVD in the US), producers are estimating it will ultimately take in around $45 million worldwide.
What’s the secret then? Does the key to Australian cinema success therefore lie in the overseas market, or more specifically, the Chinese market? Or is it more that the unique combination of rogue shark and flooded supermarket holds some particular appeal to viewers not brought up on a daily news diet of shark attacks of our country’s coastline?
Karl Quinn, entertainment reporter for The Age, notes it may be the impressive rate with which cinema is being embraced in China. With the number of cinema screens increasing from just 1500 in 2002 to more than 10,000 today – there’s just way more places to watch films. China is now the third largest film market in the world, at $2 billion, behind the US and Japan. Australia in contrast is ninth.
It may also be that the film itself is an official Australia-Singapore co-production, with Chinese sources contributing about $5 million to its budget. Although this required the sign off of Chinese censors for approval, they seemed to have no problems with the love story/horror flick format.
Further tailoring to the Chinese audience also meant toning down the Australian accents of the actors, after foreign distributors have provided feedback that the Australian accent is not always as warmly embraced overseas as at home. The result – on opening weekend alone 1.18 million Chinese were seen heading in to get their shark-bait fix in the cinemas.
So, for future filmmakers out there, the key to success is not dancing penguins, but flesh hungry sharks trapped in unexpected locations with a bunch of flawed yet plucky youngsters ready to battle it out by the checkout counter. Just make sure they don’t sound too Australian.