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Casino Royale to premiere Monday in Beijing, China

28-Jan-2007 • Casino Royale

James Bond is finally coming to Chinese theaters, and producers of the British superspy's latest romp, “Casino Royale,” are pulling out all the stops to promote it.

Sony Pictures hired experts to get the Chinese-language dubbing of the movie's gambling jargon just right, and the new 007, Daniel Craig, is flying in to lend star power Monday at the Beijing premiere.

“Casino Royale” is due to be shown on 1,000 screens throughout China. But even if Bond's big-screen Chinese debut is a hit, Sony stands to make little money in a market where the state-owned monopoly distributor keeps most of the box-office revenues.

The dilemma highlights the conflict between foreign ambitions in China's film market of 1.3 billion potential viewers and Beijing's desire to protect its own studios.

Bond should get a good reception, said Li Chow, general manager in China for Sony Pictures Entertainment, a unit of Sony Corp.

“I think it will be very well received,” Li said. “Everybody here in China knows the Bond films, and there are very high expectations, so we hope it will be very successful.”

Until now, Bond has been a flop with Chinese censors, though earlier movies are available on pirated DVDs.

Authorities rejected 2002's “Die Another Day,” starring Pierce Brosnan as Bond, reportedly due to its depiction of North Korea, a close Beijing ally, as a gangster haven.

For “Casino Royale,” a tale of poker and terrorism, Sony submitted the film to the Chinese censors as early as possible and discussed its content with them, Li said.

“The censors didn't request any cuts,” she said. “What we told them is, 'we are fighting a common enemy, terrorists.' That was well accepted.”

Li declined to discuss financial details. But the Motion Picture Association, which represents Sony and other Hollywood studios, says China's state-owned distributor, China Film, gives foreign studios just 13 percent of box-office revenues, the lowest such rate of any country.

Worldwide, the average is 50 percent, the MPA says.

So if “Casino Royale” takes in $12 million, a high figure for a Chinese release, Sony would get just $1.6 million.

To protect its filmmakers, Beijing limited imports last year to 50 titles for theatrical release, including those from Hong Kong, according to figures from the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television.

Dozens of additional foreign movies get limited release on DVD through Chinese distributors. Pirate DVDs of most popular titles from abroad are widely available from black market vendors.

Regulators also try to maximize revenues for Chinese studios by barring foreign films from theaters during holidays and school vacations, when audiences are biggest.

Foreign governments are pressing Beijing to raise its quota, and studios are asking China Film for a bigger share of ticket sales, but no progress has been reported.

“Casino Royale” has been available in China since December on black-market DVDs dubbed in Russian, possibly reflecting their origin in Russia, a major source of pirated goods.

Piracy might cut into potential ticket sales, Li acknowledged.

“But because this is the first Bond film,” she said, “people will be curious to see it on the big screen.”

Thanks to `James Bond007` for the alert.

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