Coronavirus: China Shutters Cinemas, Blockbuster ‘Lost In Russia’ To Stream Free Online After Deal With TikTok Owner

Tom Grater

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As China rushes to lockdown the deadly coronavirus epidemic, which has claimed at least 25 lives and infected more than 800 people, thousands of the country’s cinemas have been forced to close their doors.

Yesterday, all local film releases scheduled for the highly lucrative Chinese New Year holiday were pulled by distributors. In response, widespread cinema closures are being reported. At the time of writing, it wasn’t clear how many of the country’s roughly 70,000 screens across 10,000 venues had shuttered, but it stands to reason that few will remain open without the key product available.

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According to a source, no directive has been served at state level, but provincial-level governments have advised closing, and all of the major cinema owners in China including UME, Wanda, Jinyi, Bona, Emperor, and Lumiere have announced that they are shutting their venues for four days from today.

As Deadline reported yesterday, the closures could cost the global box office more than $1bn. Last year’s New Year holiday brought in around RMB 5.8B ($836M). Pics pulled from the slate this weekend that were expected to gross big include Detective Chinatown 3, The Rescue, and Lost In Russia.

Today, Lost In Russia distributor Huanxi Media Group took the unprecedented step of announcing that the film will stream for free on online video platforms. According to various business reports, Huanxi has struck a RMB 630m ($90.8m) deal with ByteDance, the media conglomerate that owns numerous apps including the popular TikTok social media video sharer as well as the Douyin platform, which will cover numerous films and series beginning with this pic.

The move is a significant one as the comedy film’s two predecessors, Lost In Thailand and Lost In Hong Kong, were box office smashes, taking $191m and $234m respectively.

Since yesterday’s news that the film slate was being emptied, industry chatter has focused on where these movies go next. Even once the virus is contained and cinemas can re-open, the backlog of major releases is going to have a domino effect on the calendar for the remainder of this year.

Detective Chinatown 2, for example, took $541m from cinemas in the Middle Kingdom, while The Rescue director Dante Lam’s last movie Operation Red Sea grossed $576m. It’s seems likely that those films will still look to secure major theatrical runs, either once sites re-open or, as one source speculated, at another major Chinese holiday such as National Day in October.

That won’t leave much room for other releases, and upcoming films are likely to suffer significant delays or be squeezed out entirely. U.S. pics scheduled in the coming months, such as Doolittle, Marriage Story, Little Women and Mulan, are all at risk.

Yesterday, stock prices for many of China’s major media companies fell significantly in response to the disruption (though Huanxi’s rose after the Lost In Russia news).

Shanghai Disneyland has also been forced to close in response to the outbreak.

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