By Robert Cain November 16, 2011
The one thing that can be said with certainty about China’s filmgoers is this: “Nothing can be said with certainty about China’s filmgoers.”
Until last week it seemed certain that romantic comedy would remain a marginal genre, far behind action and science fiction in mass audience appeal. And it was growing increasingly obvious that audience interest in locally produced films had gone cold, with the last Chinese-made breakout hit, Let The Bullets Fly, having been released nearly a year ago.
And then came ‘Love.’ The surprise hit of 2011 is unquestionably Love is Not Blind (失戀３３天 ), a modestly budgeted, locally made romantic comedy that has caught fire with Chinese audiences, grossing $28 million in its opening week and crushing the competition from Hollywood, which included newcomers Real Steel and Immortals and holdover Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
Given its strong word of mouth and the ongoing dearth of films targeted at female moviegoers, Love is Not Blind will undoubtedly surpass Beginning of the Great Revival as the top-grossing Chinese made film this year, and could possibly join Let The Bullets Fly and Aftershock as only the third Chinese film to reach the rarefied $100 million box office mark.
Adapted from a lonely-heart blog turned popular online novel by Bao Jingjing, Love is Not Blind has been characterized by reviewers as a “Chinese Bridget Jones’s Diary.” Although it reportedly rolled out on fewer screens than were allocated to Real Steel and Immortals, Love resonated perfectly as a date movie for China’s Singles Day (11-11-11), and single-handedly out-grossed the ticket revenues of those two American films plus Rise of the Planet of the Apes combined, and by a wide margin at that.
The new Chinese film’s success raises the bar for romantic comedy in China, and should open film marketers’ minds to the possibility that audiences are open to genres other than just action, sci-fi and animation. The film also solidifies male lead Zhang Wen’s (The Sorcerer and The White Snake ) status as a box office draw, while also raising the profiles of female lead He Baibai and director Teng Huatao, both of whom were previously known mainly for their work in TV serials.
Disney should be disappointed with the modest showing of its Real Steel, but the true loser here is Relativity Media, whose Immortals continued the mini-major’s string of box office duds in China.
The next test for Love is Not Blind comes this week as it faces off against Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin, which cost at least 40-50 times as much to produce. Even last week Tintin seemed a certain lock to win this week’s box office crown. But given the newfound passion of Chinese moviegoers, what seemed certain just yesterday looks improbable today, and odds are that Love is Not Blind will topple Tintin to retain its number one status in China.
Rob Cain is a film producer and entertainment consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.