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“Ghost Screenings” and Fraud Hit Chinese Cinema

"Transformers - Age Of Extinction" Hot Showing In China"Transformers - Age Of Extinction" Hot Showing In China
People watch the 3D film "Transformers - Age Of Extinction" at a cinema on June 27, 2014 in Wuhan, Hubei Province of China. Photograph by ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images

Almost as soon as the third instalment of the kung fu hit franchise Ip Man posted a $71.5 million opening weekend in China, accusations of fraud began rolling in.

The film’s Chinese distributor is accused of buying bulk tickets to inflate the box office haul for the sequel casting Mike Tyson as a street-fighting villain. The practice amounts to scalping tickets at best, outright fraud at worst.

The Communist Party-run China Daily first alleged the distributor, Dayinmu Film Distribution, set up “ghost screenings” in which sold-out screenings started in less-than ten minute increments for two hour stretches after midnight. The paper ran pictures from social media accounts of the dubious showings, which purported to sell tickets costing $30, or five times the price of other showings that day.

Fraud in China is hardly new; even government officials have questioned the authenticity of country’s economic figures including GDP. But the film fraud comes at a vulnerable time for China, which thanks to a domestic hit called The Mermaid passed the U.S. in total revenue in February for only the second month ever, $1 billion in China to $800 million in the U.S.. If revenues continue apace, China will pass the the U.S. in box office revenues in early 2017.

China’s movie regulator has requested ticketing contracts between Dayinmu and the online ticket resellers that are common in China, the Wall Street Journal reported, offering evidence that China’s authorities are now aware of fraud allegations that have existed for a while. Last summer the distributor of the biggest hit in China, the animated Monster Hunt, admitted to giving out 40 million free tickets, the Los Angeles Times noted, and later apologized for the tactic to boost box office totals.