China’s booming online movie market has given different genres and actors air time — but the curtain appears to be closing.
A promotional image for the film ‘Monk Comes Off the Mountain II’
ZHEJIANG, East China — Four years ago, Peng Yusi was a nondescript Beijing drifter who waited tables and sold gloves under a foot bridge to get by. Now he’s a star, with over 40 major movie roles under his belt. But there’s a catch: None of them have ever been shown in the cinema.
Instead Peng — who’s best known as the zombie-fighting, ghost-busting sorcerer Yin Shisan in the first two films of the “Monk Comes Off the Mountain” series — has turned the internet into his stage. The first film, which shares its name with the series, had a puny 280,000-yuan (then $45,100) budget and was filmed over the course of a week. Nevertheless, it became an online hit when it was released in 2015, raking in 24 million yuan over the course of four months from users who pay per video.
The series is an example of “online big movies,” a term coined in 2014 which refers to movies exclusively shown on video streaming sites — similar to Netflix- or Hulu-produced films in the United States. The market size has grown from 1 billion yuan in 2016, to an estimated 3 billion yuan this year, according to data published by video streaming site iQIYI. As online movies tend to be cheaper to make than traditional blockbusters, they’ve become a paradise for both profit-seeking opportunists and relatively inexperienced directors who are able to experiment with rookie actors and banned genres that might not normally make it onto the silver screen.