Many people, especially those in China, will have been surprised by the news that “Bohemian Rhapsody”, a biographical film about Freddie Mercury – the former flamboyant frontman of British rock band Queen — will be released by China’s National Alliance of Arthouse Cinemas on March 22.
The news is surprising because Mercury was gay, a fact which is clearly depicted in the film. While homosexuality was legalised in China in 1997, gay scenes are still banned on television. Up until now, other critically acclaimed and award-winning films, such as “Brokeback Mountain” and “Call Me By Your Name”, have been banned from theatrical release in China because of their gay content.
Since its premier last October, “Bohemian Rhapsody” has won four Academy Awards for Best Actor, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing, as well as two Golden Globe Awards for Best Drama Motion Picture and Best Actor in a Drama Motion Picture. It has also grossed more than $869 million worldwide while setting a box office record for the biopic genre. In Thailand, the film grossed more than Bt22 million (approximately $707,000).
The release of “Bohemian Rhapsody” in China reinforces the importance of the movie and media industries and also shows that delivering success is a two-way street. Hollywood has become increasingly aware of the value of Chinese moviegoers. China is home to the second-largest movie market after the US and it is expected to become the world’s biggest box office within the next few years. In 2018, China’s box office revenue increased 9 per cent to 60.98 billion yuan (about Bt288 billion). During the same period, revenue from US films released through China’s quota system declined 16.5 per cent on a year-on-year basis while that from China-made movies increased 21.6 per cent to 37.9 billion yuan, about 62 per cent of its total box office.
The international market is also important for Chinese filmmakers. Last month, Netflix acquired the rights to stream “The Wandering Earth” in more than 190 countries and translate it into 28 languages. The Chinese sci-fi movie grossed more than $610 million within the first four weeks of its February 5 release on the mainland, making it the second-biggest movie in the country. Its success will only continue to grow with an international audience.
The limited release of “Bohemian Rhapsody” in China demonstrates the power of film as both a cultural and financial force. The government has shown it is willing to take a more liberal approach to the stories told across its silver screens as a necessary part of developing the increasingly dynamic and profitable relationship between moviemakers, their investors and fans in China and around the world.
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