January 23, 2020 / 11:51 AM / 24 days ago

Chinese movies scrap Lunar New Year premieres due to virus outbreak

BEIJING (Reuters) - A virus outbreak in China has prompted seven Chinese films that were set to premiere during the country’s Lunar New Year holiday to postpone screenings, forgoing what is usually the best week of the year at the Chinese box office.

Performers wear costumes for the arrival of Chinese tourists at Suvarnabhumi Airport during a welcome ceremony of Chinese Lunar New Year travellers in Bangkok, Thailand January 22, 2020. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

The Chinese New Year holiday is traditionally a high season for movie distributors and cinema chains as people gather and enjoy leisure activities such as watching movies during the week-long holiday.

But the new coronavirus has prompted a lockdown of central China’s Wuhan city, where the outbreak started, as well as in neighboring Huanggang, and has led many people to cancel their travels plans and avoid public areas.

The canceled screenings include a film about China’s national female volleyball team titled “Leap”, starring actress Gong Li.

“Detective Chinatown 3”, the third episode of a popular comedy whose first two installments were commercially successful, also said it would not open on Jan. 25, as formerly planned.

A statement by “Lost in Russia” said its premiere date would be rescheduled because there were risks of the virus spreading in enclosed areas such as cinemas.

China’s film box office raked in 64.2 billion yuan ($9.30 billion) in 2019, according to the country’s film administration, making it the second-largest market for movie makers after the United States.

The virus and its impact on the film industry has driven down the share prices of related companies in recent days.

Wanda Film Holding Co., the producer behind “Detective Chinatown 3”, dropped 21% in the four-trading day week, declining as much as 7% on Thursday alone.

Alibaba Pictures that participated in the distribution of “Leap” and “Detective Chinatown 3” fell 13% this week.

Reporting by Sophie Yu and Brenda Goh; Editing by Alison Williams

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