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Chinese film regulators penalize 'Ip Man 3' distributor over box office fraud

The Beijing-based distributor of “Ip Man 3” has been barred from releasing movies for a month after Chinese regulators found the company inflated opening week box office figures for the martial-arts film to the tune of 32 million renminbi, or almost $5 million, authorities said Friday.

Bankrolled in part by a flamboyant Shanghai mogul with an estimated net worth of $780 million, the Donnie Yen-Mike Tyson flick supposedly took in $72.3 million in its first three days in theaters after opening March 4, even though early March is typically a slow movie-going period. 

But investigators from the National Film Office’s special administration unit said it had found that receipts from 7,600 screenings were faked and would not be recognized as part of the film’s official box office total.

Authorities also said they would force Beijing Max Screen, the distributor of “Ip Man 3,” to suspend distribution of films for one month. Three online ticketing services and 73 cinemas also were admonished, officials said.

In a statement published late Friday, Beijing Max Screen said it had “studied and fully accepted” the penalty notice.

“As a company entering the film market, we are eager to make a contribution to Chinese film, but we lacked a deep understanding and familiarity with the relevant regulations,” Max Screen said. “The company solemnly pledges to learn from the experience and comply with the rules.”

Max Screen’s Chairman is Shi Jianxiang, who is the head of a conglomerate called Shanghai Kuailu Investment Group. Kuailu, which means “fast deer,” was the financial backer of “Ip Man 3.”

Shi is also executive director of Shifang Holding Lt., a Hong Kong-traded company that bought rights to 55% of the mainland theatrical profits for “Ip Man 3” and saw its stock soar just ahead of the film’s opening in early March.

Shares in Shifang have dropped 62% from early March, closing Friday at about 18 (U.S.) cents.

Follow @JulieMakLAT for news from China

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