Chinese media authority, SAPPRFT, has slapped the distributor of Ip Man 3 with a one-month suspension from releasing films after investigating it for box office fraud on the Donnie Yen/Mike Tyson-starrer. Beijing Max Screen (aka Dayinmu Film) has admitted to buying 56M yuan ($7.7M) worth of tickets and fabricating more than 7,600 screenings of the martial arts film which it claimed brought in a further 32M yuan ($4.4M) earlier this month. The Middle Kingdom watchdog looks to be making an example with the Hong Kong actioner as myriad PROC-backed outlets are carrying reports of the punishment.
It’s believed that many cinemas received warnings and suspensions for box office fraud in 2015, but that this is the first major sanction against a distributor by SAPPRFT. Last year saw two films accused of similar shenanigans go unpunished. Monster Hunt, which was the biggest Chinese film ever before this year’s The Mermaid snatched the title, had likewise given away $6.2M worth of tickets for “public welfare” screenings,” distributor Edko said. It also acknowledged there were overnight and duplicate screenings. Edko seemed to get a pass by saying it was instituting “serious criticism” to those involved on the ground level.
Around the same time in 2015, reports swirled that propaganda film The Hundred Regiments Offensive was seeing its box office falsely goosed when people buying tickets for Terminator: Genisys were sold entries to the local title so that the coin would go into its coffers. Write-ins then allowed moviegoers to instead see the film they initially sought. The state stayed silent on that one.
Returning to Ip Man 3, the movie amassed about $75M in its first weekend in early March, taking the No. 1 crown. When the fraud complaints began to swirl, they had the knock-on effect of greatly lowering Ip Man’s second session. As of yesterday, Ip Man isn’t out of theaters, however — its box office is reported at $120M+, per research firm Ent Group.
Beijing Max/Dayinmu has now been ordered to suspend distribution for one month while it “rectifies all malpractices.” SAPPRFT also said it had issued formal warnings to three electronic ticket-sellers as well as 73 cinemas who will be “named and shamed” on the website of the China Association of Film Distributors and Cinemas, Xinhua reported.
It is unclear if Beijing Max/Dayinmu actually had any new films on its slate for the next month, so the impact of the suspension is likely more a means to discourage copycats as SAPPRFT flexes its muscle after promising greater vigilance and repercussions in the past. While Stephen Chow’s The Mermaid, with over $520M in grosses, has remained free of any whiff of controversy, ticket fraud has been a long-term issue in China, and as the industry grows at a breakneck pace, state authorities are likely to continue grappling with box office cheats. This slap on the wrists of the Ip Man 3 conspirators may finally be a step in the right direction.