Harry Potter Movie Opens in China

Monday, January 28th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SHANGHAI, China (AP) _ Zhang Yu wants to be the first Chinese recruit for Harry Potter's school of wizardry.

``The magic was awesome! I'm going to learn how to do that,'' the 11-year-old middle school student said Saturday night after the Chinese premiere of ``Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.''

All 1,118 tickets at the Shanghai Film Center sold out a week in advance. Demand was so keen that the theater showed the film simultaneously in a second hall where the 500 seats also quickly filled.

The popularity seemed to underscore what many in the crowded theater in a trendy west Shanghai neighborhood already knew: The enchantment of Harry Potter _ or ``Ha-li Bo-te'' as he's called here _ transcends cultural lines.

Zhang was one of hundreds of children who filled the lobby an hour ahead of showtime.

Some lined up to buy Harry Potter music tapes and wall clocks. Others had their photos taken ``with'' Harry Potter _ courtesy computer graphics.

None of the movie's original cast was on hand. But organizers brought out the next best thing _ Xu Gang, the 15-year-old high school student who is the voice of Harry Potter in the Chinese-dubbed version.

Xu wore Potter's trademark black cape and oversized round glasses. Afterward, he said his character had the qualities Chinese audiences would find easy to embrace.

``Harry Potter is brave and friendly. He's the kind of boy who cares about his parents from the bottom of his heart,'' he said.

Some had worried Chinese might find the make-believe world of Potter and his wizard-school classmates too alien, with its sorcerers and magical spells of Western tradition.

Translators tried to make the film more familiar by borrowing language from China's own rich tradition of ghost stories and warrior epics.

A bigger concern for distributors was China's notorious black market for pirated goods, where video discs of ``Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone'' have been available since the film's November U.S. debut.

To boost sales, the film was released before the Feb. 12-15 break for lunar New Year, one of China's longest national holidays. That's the time of year when parents and grandparents traditionally give children red envelopes full of money.

Promoters are hoping they'll slip in tickets to the global blockbuster.

The film is also trying to build on the success of Chinese translations of J.K. Rowling's four original volumes.

Since appearing in October, they have sold more than 3 million copies _ the best-selling children's books in Chinese history, said Wang Ruiqin, chief editor at the People's Literature Publishing House, the Chinese publisher.

Distributors hope the film _ like the books _ will appeal to audiences because of its sophistication compared with the sweet, preachy tone of China's previous children's fare.

``Children's movies here are too simplistic. Audiences are ready for something that can appeal to parents and children alike,'' said Wu Hehu, deputy manager of distributor Shanghai Yongle Film.

Wu said the film will only be released in China's 20 largest cities, where rising incomes are closing the gap with the global consumer culture.

In the United States, ``Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone'' broke box-office records, grossing dlrs 90.3 million in its first three days.