Phantom screenings, cinema-filling deals: Ip Man 3 rules China's box office but raises fraud suspicions

Cinema still from Ip Man 3 the movie.
Cinema still from Ip Man 3 the movie. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

BEIJING - The producer and distributors of Ip Man 3 have been questioned by China's film watchdog about fraud allegations, after the action movie earned than 500 million yuan (S$106 million) in four days, said Chinese reports.

On Monday, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television issued a notice, saying it was investigating "severe abnormal fluctuations of the box office".

Ip Man 3 ruled the Chinese box office over the weekend, opening in first place with 470 million yuan. But netizens reported irregularities in the screenings of the movie: Halls were empty at popular times, but the film was sold out in the morning, at midnight, and at other unpopular times, said a report on NetEase website.

According to a report on Sina website, in Shanghai alone, close to 200 cinemas had signed "private use" agreements with the Chinese distributor, Kuailu Group. It led to situations where an 8.30am screening would be sold out, before either the cinema or the mall where the cinema was located could open. Later, more than 20 people turned up, and had to wait till 10am to enter the cinema with 8.30am tickets, said the report.

According to the report, Kuailu spent 200 million yuan on the mainland rights to Ip Man 3, which was produced by Hong Kong actor Raymond Wong's Pegasus Motion Pictures. The report on NetEase said that Kuailu is inflating the ticket sales as part of a game to raise capital. It needs the movie to be a hit to raise its companies' share prices and make more money.

In the report on Sina, unnamed insiders said that "seat filling" is common in China, but more blatant than usual in the case of Kuailu. One insider was quoted as saying: "I suspect whether I'm working in the movie business or helping a group of usurers launder money."