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Xinhua Insight: Psychology behind China's "Furious 7" frenzy


BEIJING, (Xinhua) -- The staggering performance of "Furious 7" in China has left many industry insiders baffled.

The movie, starring Vin Diesel and the late Paul Walker, broke almost every record possible -- the largest midnight screening, the largest opening day (401 million yuan, or 64.6 million U.S. dollars), the fastest to have passed the "300 million yuan" and "700 million yuan" marks, the first movie to have more than 10 million admissions and possibly the first to dethrone "Transformers 4: Age of Extinction" to become China's highest-grossing movie.

Unlike the "Transformers" movie, "Furious 7" is not stuffed with Chinese product placements, filming locations and Chinese stars (except for the ambiguous Chinese background of director James Wan). The series did not even get screened in China until its fourth installment.

Though Paul Walker's death and Universal Pictures' decision to use computer graphics to finish out his scenes have added to its popularity, many Chinese audiences were unaware of the star until they saw the movie.

But, like many trends, there is a reason behind the seeming frenzy for the seventh installment of the "Furious" franchise.

Yin Hong, director of the center for film and television at Tsinghua University, said the main reason for staggering ticket sales are the millions of movie-starved Chinese viewers, who have developed an insatiable desire for great movies.

"Chinese viewers have fewer choices than foreign peers," said Yin.

Walker's death, he said, only boosted the appeal for Chinese fans.

The film was also the first big-budget movie since the Spring Festival. A similar phenomenon contributed to the success of 'Lost in Thailand', which holds the record for highest grossing domestic movie, Yin says.

As more movie screens are added in China, imported Hollywood blockbusters have been showing a faster and more furious style when breaking records. When James Cameron's record-setting "Avatar" was screened in early 2010, China had an estimated 5,000 screens. Now, there are more than 23,600, according to Maoyan.com, a ticket sales platform.

The potential has bolstered Hollywood's enthusiasm when courting the world's second largest movie market, with more superstars touring China to promote films and simultaneous releases than ever before.

While visiting China for the "Furious 7" premiere in late March, Vin Diesel hinted the next in the series may be shot in China.

Rao Shuguang, secretary general of China Film Association, said the success of "Furious 7" should serve as a warning to domestic movies.

"Hollywood movies are not paper tigers," said Rao, referring to a famous quote from Mao Zedong meaning something that seems threatening but is flimsy, or presents no challenge.

Chinese filmmakers still have much to learn from Hollywood in regards to film technology and financing, he said.

But Rao said Chinese movies still have an edge in storytelling and creating movies that can relate to Chinese audiences.

The release date for "Furious 7" was also fortuitously timed. With Beijing hosting an international film festival and Shanghai preparing to kick off its biennial auto show, moviegoing and cars are fresh on the minds of urban Chinese people.

Perhaps due to a late start in car ownership, Chinese people feel attached to automobiles, considering them more than simple "travel tools" but also as something romantic, said Yin Hong.

They also embody the spirit of wealth and status in China. Young people frequently post pictures posing in front of luxury cars on social media and supercars are always a hot topic. Most recently, an accident between a Lamborghini and a Ferrari had the internet buzzing about street racing and speculation about supercar owners.

Car ownership in China reached 154 million while the number of people obtaining driving licenses also ballooned from 219 million in 2013 to 247 million at the end of 2014, said the Ministry of Public Security in January.

But it has not gone unnoticed that there is an absence of Chinese car brands in the estimated 600 plus cars that have appeared in the "Fast & Furious" franchise, despite almost every major car brand from developed countries making an appearance. The lack of representation could potentially dampen the spirit of Chinese car culture.

Zhong Shi, an auto analyst in Shanghai, said cars in movies should be fast and cool. That's why American muscle cars and European super cars are favored.

"Chinese car-makers may have missed their opportunity to build high-end cars powered by internal combustion engines, but there is still hope in building good electric vehicles like Tesla's," said Zhong.



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