It seems that the 3D craze in the Chinese mainland is starting to cool off.
Monster Hunt 2, the sequel to the 2015 box office champion Monster Hunt, will only release in 2D when it premieres on February 16 in China, even though the first film came out in both 2D and 3D. Monster Hunt 2 is not the only blockbuster film to stick to 2D. When Legend of the Demon Cat, veteran director Chen Kaige's latest fantasy film, debuted in December of 2017, a 3D version of the film was conspicuously absent, despite the fact that most Chinese fantasy films tend to feature a 3D version.
"Both the cinematographer Cao Yu and I are very opposed to 3D," Chen said during a film forum recently, according to a report by ent.sina.com. "If [we used] 3D, we would not be able to present the real beauty of the Tang Dynasty [618-907], which we spent six years working on."
Chen made reference to 3D films' inability to show off certain details because the glasses audiences must wear make the film seem darker than 2D films.
"I do not dislike 3D films. Recent 3D films such as Wolf Warrior 2 and Kong: Skull Island were great… but if I take my child to the cinema for a film like Kung Fu Panda 3, I prefer seeing the 2D version, since children find wearing 3D glasses uncomfortable. Sadly, I couldn't find any theaters that had a 2D version of that film," a mother in Beijing told Mtime on Thursday.
While it was estimated in 2017 that by the beginning of 2018 the number of 3D screens in China would reach more than 43,000, "some cinemas have invested in this to a limited extent… 3D projectors vary and so the quality of experience is not fixed from theater to theater," a cinema manager who wished to remain anonymous, told Mtime.
The rising preference for 2D films among studios, even for big-budget commercial productions, can also be traced back to the overall good market performance these types of films saw last year. For example, 2D films such as mainland director Han Han's Duckweed made a total of 1.04 billion yuan (2 million), Hollywood action film Logan brought in 732 million yuan and Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Jing's crime action film Chasing the Dragon earned 576 million yuan.
According to China Box Office, while only one 2D film, Operation Mekong, made it into the top 10 list of the highest earning films in China in 2016, three 2D films managed to break into the top 10 in 2017 - Never Say Die, Youth and Indian film Dangal. The Ex-File: The Return of the Exes, which premiered on December 29, 2017, also a 2D film, was the highest earning film of the New Year Day holiday weekend.
Rise of 3D
The first 3D film to screen in the Chinese mainland was actually a domestic film. In 1962, Moshushi de Qiyu (Adventure of the Magician) decided to give 3D try. In 2008, Hollywood sci-fi adventure film Journey to the Center of the Earth came to the Chinese mainland. It earned 67 million yuan at a time when there were only 139 3D screens, providing a hint of the coming 3D era.
However, it was the huge popularity of James Cameron's Avatar, which was released in the Chinese mainland in January 2010, that finally kicked off the 3D craze in China. Avatar became the highest earning film in China that year by raking in a total revenue of 1.33 billion yuan, more than double the amount earned by that year's runner-up Chinese disaster film After Shock. Avatar remained the box-office king in China for four years until Transformers: Age of Extinction, another 3D blockbuster, set a new record with 1.97 billion yuan.
The number of 3D blockbusters imported from Hollywood surged after Avatar, and Chinese filmmakers eagerly followed suit.
The craze for 3D films could be seen from the rising number of 3D screens in China. When Avatar debuted in China, there were about 800 3D screens in the Chinese mainland, but by the end of that year, that number had increased to 1,000.
According to a 2013 report on edu.cnr.cn, by the middle of 2013, the number of 3D screens rose to 11,854. By December 20, 2016, the number of film screens in the Chinese mainland reached 40,917, with 3D screens taking 85 percent, or about 33,551 screens, according to cnr.cn
Commercial reasons aside - tickets for a 3D film are sold at a much higher price than regular tickets - government policy is another factor behind the growth of 3D in China.
In 2012, China and the U.S. signed a Memorandum of Understanding which increased the number of imported films in the Chinese mainland from 20 to 34, while requiring that the additional 14 films had to be 3D or IMAX versions.
While Chinese filmmakers seem to have lost their taste for 3D, that doesn't mean these films have no future in China. Cameron, who is now working on Avatar 2 and Avatar 3, is also working on 3D films that do not require audiences wear glasses. If he succeeds, this is sure to kick off another 3D craze for the film industry in China and the rest of the world.