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Pixar’s Coco has made more money in China than at home

#Movie #Poster Coco (2017) [1475 x 2000]

Probably my first China story. This was a lead suggested by my senior writer that I followed up on. (See published version here).

Pixar’s Toy StoryWall-E, and Finding Nemo are beloved in the US, but the iconic film studio has long struggled to replicate its stateside success in China. Its latest title, surprisingly, is changing that.

Coco, the story of an aspiring Mexican musician who meets the ghosts of his ancestors, has struck a chord with Chinese audiences. According to EntGroup, a company that tracks China’s box office, the film has raked in $157.3 million in ticket sales in China since it opened on Nov. 24. That’s a hair above the $151.9 million it has generated to date in North American box office sales, which in the film industry refers to the US and Canada markets.

That makes Coco the first Pixar film to perform better in China than at home. In contrast, Finding Dory, Pixar’s second-highest grossing film in China, raked in a fraction there of what it generated in the US.


Coco no longer occupies top spot in China’s box office rankings, displaced there instead by a local film about a female dance troupe in the army at the end of the Cultural RevolutionBut its strong showing in its fourth weekend in theaters mimics the Chinese success of another foreign film drawing on cultural themes beyond the US.

Dangal, an Indian film about a father who trains his daughters for competitive wrestling, generated $193 million at China’s box office this year. The movie’s focus on female empowerment in a predominantly patriarchal culture resonated in China, where a gender imbalance from the one-child policy is only now being corrected. The story in Coco, meanwhile, takes place in Mexico, but its theme of honoring one’s ancestors parallels Chinese culture’s tradition of filial piety.

Hollywood is relying on China for a growing portion of its overall revenue. Many of the top-grossing films of this year have earned a significant percentage of their revenues from China. The most recent film in the Fast and the Furious franchise, for example, grossed $1.2 billion worldwide, making it the second-highest grossing film of the year. And 32% of its global ticket sales came from China alone, according to Box Office Mojo. Despicable Me 3, meanwhile, generated just over $1 billion worldwide, of which 15% came from China. (Not every hit crosses over—Beauty and the Beast, which beat Fast in worldwide sales, had a middling showing in China).

Even at $157.3 million right now, Coco could still have legs in China. The next benchmark to watch out for is if it passes Disney’s Zootopia, which grossed $235.6 million in China over seven weeks in theaters in 2016, making it the country’s highest-grossing animated film ever.

You could earn cryptocurrency riding a bike next year


Cryptocurrency was all the buzz but I delved in further and gave further clarity on a development in Singapore. The story looked into the position of the shared biking industry while also hinting at the future. (See published version here).

Making your new year’s resolutions? Improving your fitness might be one of your top goals. Next year, you could do that by riding a bike to work, while earning some cryptocurrency along the way too.

Singaporean bike-sharing firm oBike said this week it plans to offer users oCoins, its own digital currency tied to Tron, or TRX, a relatively new cryptocurrency that had the misfortune of doing its ICO just before regulators in China cracked down on cryptocurrencies.

Starting some time in the first quarter, oBikers should be able to earn oCoins by riding bikes. More riding will equal more oCoins, the company said in a statement, but didn’t provide additional details. Presently, oBike users rent a bicycle for S$2 (US$1.5) per hour. Unlike traditional customer rewards, individuals could potentially see their oCoins appreciate in time—if Tron gets wider acceptance, that is.

Tron, based on the encrypted “distributed ledger” technology known as blockchain, is one of several new digital currencies created this year as bitcoin and related offerings enjoyed a boom—while the phenomena also drew warnings to investors from regulators around the globe. The group behind Tron, the Singapore-based Tron Foundation, founded by a group of young Chinese tech entrepreneurs, says it aims to create a platform where entertainment artists get paid directly by consumers (pdf, pg 2) using its cryptocurrency. oCoins can also be used to make purchases on content and social networking apps linked to Tron. Currently, Tron is trading at about 3 US cents per coin.

Founded at the start of the year, oBike, which has secured a major investment from a mysterious “leading global transportation platform,” says it has a presence in over 20 countries. In its home base of Singapore, though, getting people to bike may be tough going.

The city’s humid climate and a lack of cycling paths have come in the way of widespread adoption of biking. Singapore still has a long way to go to match up to Amsterdam, ranked the best for bicycle infrastructure—58% of residents commute on two wheels. In Singapore, last month, a couple was seen dumping oBikes in a drain in a video that went viral.

The Singapore government has announced plans to improve infrastructure for cycling. It is also reducing the numbers of private cars on its roads and backing other shared-transport initiatives. oBike, one of three app-based bike-sharing firms offering short-term bicycle rentals in the city-state, seems to be trying to do its part by offering its own reward incentive, a rather trendy one.

Flipping the model—essentially paying consumers to use a service—in this manner is a tricky move, though. Pact, an app that offered its users rewards for fulfilling gym or dietary commitments, shut down in July and was ordered by the US Federal Trade Commission to pay nearly a million dollars to customers for not fulfilling its end of the bargain.

Still, when they do cycle and earn cryptocurrency, Singaporeans can also reward themselves by heading over for refreshment to Ducatus Cafe, which opened last week.

The mode of payment accepted: Ducatus Coins.

The hottest place on Earth this weekend was a suburb of Sydney

Penrith 1

A story that told the truth. Most other international publications said Sydney was the hottest place on Earth that weekend. (See published version here).

The temperature near Sydney was 47.3°C (117.1°F) on Sunday afternoon, making it temporarily the hottest place on Earth. The last time this part of Australia recorded temperatures this high was the year World War II started.

The reading was recorded in the suburb of Penrith, about 60 km (37 miles) inland from Sydney, on Australia’s eastern coast, a city that’s perennially near the top of “most livable cities” lists. People flocked to beaches to cool off. On a highway connecting Sydney and Melbourne the asphalt melted (paywall). Today the weather cooled considerably, with Sydney’s high in the low 30s, while Penrith registered a high of 42.5°C.

Heat waves aren’t uncommon in Australia, with a particularly harsh one in 2009 causing hundreds of deaths, and the town of Hopetoun, in Victoria, recording a temperature of 48.8°C.

The heat wave in eastern Australia comes as part of a wave of extreme weather around the world, with the eastern US recently in the grip of record-shattering low temperatures. Even US states known for their warm weather like Florida and Texas have seen snow in recent days, while the Arctic is unusually balmy for this time of year.

It’s not just humans that are being affected by the unusual temperatures—sharks froze to death off Massachusetts and iguanas have fallen out of trees in Florida.

Singapore will keep jailing people without a trial—but it’ll be more transparent

Prison Food

A story focused on a legal development in Singapore with an angle for an international audience that the local publications did not cover. (See published version here).

Singapore has always been tough on crime—now it wants to be a bit more clear.

The Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, passed in 1955, allows authorities to put individuals “associated with activities of a criminal nature” into detention without a trial. But which activities? That’s always been a bit fuzzy. On Tuesday (Jan. 9), lawmakers outlined a proposed amendment—likely to pass this month—that better defines the act’s scope.

Among the offenses listed in the amendment are rape, murder, kidnapping, drug trafficking, unlicensed moneylending, human trafficking, robbery with firearms, and involvement in a secret society.

Authorities have long used the CLTPA to detain criminals without trial. Secret societies—clan-based associations of Chinese immigrants running brothels, gambling operations, and opium dens—were a serious problem in Singapore’s earlier, rougher years. They made it difficult to secure witness testimony in open court, as witnesses would be fearful of reprisals.[read more=More less=Less]

Today of course Singapore is a prosperous city-state and one of the safest places on the planet. But secret societies continue to operate(pdf, p. 9), though less prominently, as do unlicensed moneylenders, known for intimidating debtors.

“There is recognition that such a law is still required in certain situations, but the key challenge is to ensure that the powers provided for will not be abused,” said Eugene Tan, a law professor at Singapore Management University.

Over the years various observers have argued that the CLTPA gives authorities too much power, allowing detention without trial for an overly broad range of activities. Suspects can be imprisoned indefinitely, as detention orders may be extended (pdf) repeatedly after an initial period. Strikes by workers carrying out “essential services” are also specified under a provision in the act.

Authorities used that provision against Chinese foreign nationals working as bus drivers in 2012. The drivers had campaigned for pay equal to that of their Singaporean and Malaysian counterparts and staged the first strike in the country in over 25 years. Though they were given a trial, some of the drivers—providers of “essential services”—were jailed for over a month.

The introduction of the CLTPA amendment this week follows a case a few years ago involving syndicate head Dan Tan Seet Eng, accused of global match-fixing activities. He was freed after the scope of the CLTPA was questioned during appeals. That played a part in authorities wanting to specify which activities were covered.

The late Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first prime minister, said the CLTPA was “not democratic” when speaking as an opposition leader in 1955. Today the People’s Action Party he founded, in power since the mid-1960s, has an absolute majority in parliament, and looks set to extend the act for a 14th time in 2019. At least it will be a bit more specific moving forward.