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China turns hit reality TV show with celebrity fathers and their children into movie

In this Jan. 25, 2014 photo, actors, from left to right, Tian Liang, Jimmy Lin, Guo Tao, and Zhang Liang, pose for photos at a press conference for movie “Dad, Where Are We Going?” in Beijing, China. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP

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In this Jan. 25, 2014 photo, actors, from left to right, Tian Liang, Jimmy Lin, Guo Tao, and Zhang Liang, pose for photos at a press conference for movie “Dad, Where Are We Going?” in Beijing, China. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP

BEIJING, China - Filmmakers in China are hoping a reality TV show-turned-movie will be a Chinese New Year box office smash. But will people pay to go to the cinema to see what they've been watching by the millions at home for free?

"Dad, Where Are We Going?" about the relationships between celebrity fathers and their young children, and opening Friday, is the latest Chinese TV program to attempt to cross over to the big screen, as entertainment companies try to capitalize on the success of hit shows. Last month, a fictionalized movie featuring contestants from China's version of the reality talent-search program "The Voice" hit the cinemas, but flopped.

"I think it's strange to use the cinema as a distribution chain for TV content, it's not very creative," said Florian Fettweis, of Beijing-based media consultancy CMM Intelligence.

"Dad, Where Are We Going?" — originally based on a South Korean show — was a hit on Chinese television last year, with five celebrities including actors, a model and a director enthralling audiences as they attempted to look after their children.

With busy schedules and living in a society that still regards childcare as women's work, most of the fathers were clueless about how to look after their kids. But they were given parenting tasks and touched viewers as they grew into their roles — and learned how to cook.

Near the beginning, an Olympic champion diver-turned-actor, Tian Liang, could watch only helplessly as his daughter had a tantrum, but by the end of the series he knew how to plait her hair.

The movie appears to be of the same format, with the film's official microblog calling it a "parent and child reality show movie." The cast is the same, and part of the action is billed to take place in a wildlife park in southern Guangzhou city.

Some comments online on social media sites have disparagingly called it "the easiest movie ever made" if it will be just like an episode from the TV show, and have said they would rather download it from the Internet than pay to go and see it.

Hou Tao, vice-president of EntGroup, an entertainment industry research company, said movies originating from hit TV shows were certainly not guaranteed to be successful.

Whereas the cost of a TV show is covered by its sponsors, movie goers have to pay themselves, he said. "It is relatively easy to tell what the sponsors of a TV show want, because there are just a few of them, but it's a lot more difficult to tell what ticket-buying movie goers want, who could number hundreds of millions."

Chinese entertainment companies are increasingly branching out into different genres, with movie companies also choosing to make programs, short online films and even video games. While China is behind the U.S. and other markets in exploiting multiple formats, the trend is developing quickly.

"Dad, Where Are We Going?" premiered on Hunan Television in October. "Now they're launching it in the cinemas and I think the speed by which that happened ... is maybe very unique to China," Fettweis said.

"Dad, Where Are We Going?" opens Friday on the first day of the Chinese New Year, part of the key holiday period for box office sales.

Several family-oriented animated films will be shown during this year's holiday, including the already-released "Meet the Pegasus" based on the Chinese "Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf" children's TV series.

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