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</i>Avatar</i> Breaks Chinese Box Office Records — and Inspires Activists

What do this:


and this:


have in common? Apparently, they are both images of urban gentrification in China.

The top image is from James Cameron’s Avatar, which recently set the opening-day box office record in China with 33 million yuan ($4.85 million US). The film is on track to take over the record for total gross of 460 million yuan ($67 million US) set just months ago by Roland Emmerich’s 2012, which itself had just beaten the 450 million yuan earned by Transformers 2: The Revenge of the Fallen. 2009 was indeed a record year at the Chinese box office, whose 6.2 billion yuan toppled the 2008 take by a staggering 43%. Chinese films got in on the action, with five domestic features placing among the 2008 top ten earning films. (Full list after the break).

It’s somewhat reassuring that some Chinese have taken some political activist inspiration from their mainstream entertainment. British news source The Independent reports that Avatar has been embraced by potential evictees of urban neighborhoods slated for redevelopment (such as new shopping centers that feature state-of-the art cineplexes showing, um, Avatar):

Residents of China’s “nail houses” – so named because they are the last hold-outs in areas flattened for development – have likened their plight to those of the alien Nai’vi race in the blockbuster, as too have villagers in Hong Kong who face eviction to make way for a high-speed railway line. “I’m touched by how they protect their homeland,” 81-year-old Wong Kam-fook told the South China Morning Post, referring to the war the Na’vi wage in the film against the human invaders.

For a more realistic depiction of this plight, one might look at the source of the second image, Ou Ning‘s documentary Meishi Street, which shows ordinary citizens taking a stand against the planned destruction of their homes for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In order to widen traffic routes for the Olympic Games, the Beijing Municipal Government orders the demolition of entire neighborhoods. Given video cameras by the filmmakers, evictees shoot exclusive footage of the eviction process, adding vivid intimacy to their story.

Click here for more information on Meishi Street. Trailer of Meishi Street and the list of top 10 grossing films in China in 2009 after the break.

China Top Ten Films of 2009

1. 2012 – $67.5m (RMB461.02m)

2. Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen – $63m (RMB430.29m)

3. Founding Of A Republic – $61.49m (RMB420m)

4. Red Cliff II – $37.92m (RMB259m)

5. A Simple Noodle Story – $34m (RMB232.22m)*

6. Bodyguards And Assassins – $30.45m (RMB208m)*

7. City Of Life And Death – $25.18m (RMB172m)

8. Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince – $22.99m (RMB157m)

9. Ice Age: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs – $22.84m (RMB156m)

10. G.I. Joe – $19.6m (RMB133.87m)

* Still in release


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