‘Cold War’ Off to Hot Start in China

Follow me on Twitter @robcain or Sina Weibo @robcain, or connect with me on LinkedIn.By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

November 13, 2012

The Hong Kong cops and robber thriller Cold War got off to a hot start last week with a $15.4 million 4-day debut, enough to make it the 3rd best Chinese language opener of 2012 and 12th best among all PRC debuts this year. For first-time writer-director Sunny Luk and his all-star cast, Cold War warmed up what had been a moribund Chinese box office, marking the strongest opening for any film on the mainland since Expendables 2 knocked off $25 million in its opening weekend two months ago.


Produced and distributed by Bill Kong’s EDKO Films and starring Aaron Kwok, Tony Leung, Andy Lau, Byron Mann and Aarif Lee, Cold War will likely rack up another strong week before serious competition shows up at Chinese theaters, with the 3D re-release of 2012 arriving on November 20th and Life of Pi drifting in on the 22nd. Mega-director Feng Xiaogang’s Back to 1942 will almost certainly freeze out Cold War when it debuts on November 29th.

Reaching $31 million in its third week, The Bourne Legacy is now Universal’s 2nd best performer in China this year after the surprise hit Battleship. With a few more weeks left in its run, Bourne should easily surpass the low end of the $35 million to $50 million range that I had predicted for it.

Wreck-it Ralph’s 6-day opening tally of $5 million continues Disney/Pixar’s long string of misfires in China. The only consolation for Wreck-It Ralph is that it didn’t open as poorly as Brave, which managed a tepid $4.6 million over its entire PRC run back in June. Disney/Pixar’s last truly successful animation release in the PRC was more than two years ago when Toy Story 3 tallied a then respectable $16 million box office total over its 4-week run in 2010.


Bait 3D wound up its extraordinary run by biting off another $500,000 to finish at $25.7 million, by far the best performance ever in China for an Australian film, and the biggest gross for any non-Hollywood import.

Aggregate weekly national box office was $39.3 million, down 23 percent relative to the same week last year. But the year-to-date tally of $2.13 billion is already 3 percent ahead of the full-year total for 2011, and with 7 weeks left in the year, China is well on its way to setting yet another annual box office record.

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at rob@pacificbridgepics.com and at www.pacificbridgepics.com.

‘Bourne’ Again in China

Follow me on Twitter @robcain or Sina Weibo @robcain, or connect with me on LinkedIn

By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

November 1, 2012

Tony Gilroy’s The Bourne Legacy surprised China box office watchers last week, outpacing most analysts’ estimates as it chased down a solid $14.4 million box office haul in its 4-day opening in the PRC. The debut ranked as the 13th best in China this year, just ahead of the $14 million March opening of John Carter, and just behind Journey 2’s $15.2 million February open.

With Bourne, foreign films sustained their post blackout dominance at China’s theaters, as the week’s top 5 slots were colonized by English language pictures—four of American origin and one Australian. Fully 88 percent of the frame’s revenues went to non-Chinese movies.

Cumulative weekly revenues were $36 million, 50 percent better than the total for the same week last year. Chinese audiences again demonstrated that, in the absence of SARFT manipulation, they strongly prefer imports over domestic pictures.

Hollywood films tend to wind up their runs in the PRC with 2.5 times to 3.5 times their opening 3-4 day weekend tallies, so Bourne will likely finish its run in the $35 million to $50 million range. China should ultimately account for 12 to 15 percent of the picture’s worldwide theatrical gross, which would be on par with several of the 2012’s best performing Hollywood releases in China, such as The Expendables 2, which earned about 15 percent of its worldwide total there, and Men in Black III, which took 13 percent of its worldwide gross there.

Considering that it released in the rest of the world nearly a year ago, the $3.6 million opening of Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part I was a reasonably good one and a credit to disrtibutor DMG’s strength in the market.

The next Hollywood film debut will be on November 6th, when Disney’s animated family feature Wreck-It Ralph opens as counter-programming against the star-studded Hong Kong cops and robbers thriller Cold War, which features Aaron Kwok, Tony Leung, Andy Lau and Dear Enemy’s Aarif Lee. No other film looks likely to make much of an impact through mid-November, so foreign films should enjoy several more good weeks in China until the December blackout begins.

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at rob@pacificbridgepics.com and at www.pacificbridgepics.com

China’s Box Office: A Simple Life’s Strong Debut

by Albert Wang for China Film Biz

March 19, 2012

This past week saw Steven Spielberg’s War Horse repeat as the top film at the mainland Chinese box office, taking in $5.9 million to bring its total two-week haul to $14.7 million.  Falling one place from #2 to #3 was Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, which earned $3.4 million for the week to bring its cumulative box office total to a cool $56.6 million over 31 days of screening.

Debuting at #4 was Robert Rodriguez’ Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World in 4D, bringing in $3 million for the week, while Conan the Barbarian dropped to fifth place with $2.8 million in its second week of release to bring its total box office to $5.9 million.

Perhaps the most interesting news at the box office was the successful debut of  A Simple Life, starring Hong Kong star Andy Lau, which brought in $5.2 million in just 4 days.  This was good enough to earn the film the number 2 spot at the box office, making it the lone non-Hollywood film among the week’s top 5.

The success of A Simple Life serves as a reminder of the amazing talent that the Chinese filmmaking diaspora has to offer.  Ann Hui, the film’s director, is one of the foremost talents of the groundbreaking Hong Kong New Wave of the 1970s and 80s, which included Tsui Hark and John Woo among the film movement’s notable members.  For many Chinese people around the world, Hong Kong cinema has served as the de facto source of Chinese cinema for decades, and its influence on even Hollywood cinema has been well documented.

After about a decade of depression in the Taiwan film industry, Taiwanese cinema has seen a significant revival, starting in 2008 with the highly popular Cape No. 7 breaking Taiwan box office records despite its lack of name celebrities.  This trend of successful films that eschew established Taiwanese stars continued with Monga (2010), Night Market Hero (2011), and Seediq Bale (2011).

As was previously mentioned in China Film Biz, Taiwanese films have also found recent success at the mainland Chinese box office.  In just the first 8 weeks of 2012, three films by Taiwanese directors each grossed $8 million or better, and have collectively grossed almost $40 million. Hong Kong/China and Taiwan/China co-productions have collectively taken in over $139 million at the Chinese box office this year for about a third of the overall box office.

Chinese-American filmmakers must also be mentioned in this context. NYU educated and long-time U.S. resident Ang Lee as been on the global stage for nearly two decades, and his game-changing Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon became a catalyst in the conversations about global Chinese cinema.  And Justin Lin has established himself as one of Hollywood’s more successful directors with his popular installments in the Fast & Furious series. Lin has also made it a priority to cast Asian Americans in supporting roles in his globally popular movies.

Mainland China also has the talent necessary to make globally successful movies, with filmmakers like Feng Xiaogang and Zhang Yimou often leading the charge at the domestic and global box offices.  And there are other talented filmmakers who haven’t had the box office success of the aforementioned directors but who would probably be just as capable of directing a successful “global Chinese film”, if given the right opportunity.

But what will a global Chinese cinema look like?  It can’t and shouldn’t be a mirror image of what Hollywood has created with its big-budget blockbusters, movies that are often focused more on grand visual spectacle than on the intricacies of a well-told story.

Rather than just pumping money into the film industry while simultaneously imposing creativity-stifling restrictions on its local filmmakers, the Chinese government needs to have a clearer vision of what it hopes to achieve with a global Chinese cinema, so that it can give all the filmmakers in the Chinese diaspora a greater license to creatively explore and produce groundbreaking “Chinese” cinema that the whole world can enjoy.

Even if the government wishes to continue to exercise ultimate control over the content being turned out by its film industry, China needs to make explicit and streamline the rules by which it wants its filmmakers to abide.  If the rules can be made less arbitrary and less antagonistic to entertainment, even with these restrictions Chinese filmmakers will find a way to flourish, just as Hollywood was able to flourish (and even experience its Golden Age of Cinema) under the restrictive Hays Code established in the 1930s.  If the government can’t find a way to give its filmmakers at least some artistic license, the best and most influential Chinese films will continue to come from places other than the mainland film industry.

Albert Wang is an aspiring producer of US-China film co-productions who joined the Pacific Bridge Pictures team in December, 2011. His previous blog on US-China films can be seen at hollymu.com.