“Grandmaster” Flashes to Top of China Chart


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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

January 15, 2012

Wong Kar-Wai’s Grandmaster, starring Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi, opened with $25.8 million in its first six days in China, extending a record-smashing 7-week run during which at least one film every week has grossed $25 million or more at the Chinese box office. The film, an action-biopic about Bruce Lee’s legendary trainer and kung fu master Ip Man, beat out long-running hits CZ12 and Lost in Thailand last week to top the charts.

Director Wong, notorious for his budget and schedule overruns, out-did his tardiness record this time with a film that he first publicly announced all the way back in 2002. He released the picture’s first teaser trailer in summer, 2010, and pushed back several release dates as he tinkered with the film in post production. After missing his December 18th release date, he was reportedly still putting finishing touches on the film just hours before its eventual world premiere on January 6th. The first-week grosses would have been higher except that the film arrived at least a day late at many theaters.

Still, the wait was apparently worth it, as Grandmasters drew more than 4.5 million admissions and was critically well received, with reviewer James Marsh calling it “the best-looking martial arts film since Zhang Yimou’s Hero, and the most successful marriage of kung fu and classic romance since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

Box office week ending 1-13-13

In second place for the week, Jackie Chan’s action-comedy hit CZ12 added $13 million to solidifiy its standing as the mainland’s second-highest grossing Chinese language film ever after Lost in Thailand, with a 25-day cume of $127.1 million.

In its fifth week of release, Lost in Thailand fell 72 percent to $8.9 million, a surprisingly sharp drop that raises the question as to whether it can beat Avatar for China’s all-time box office record. Lost already holds the admissions record with over 38 million tickets sold, but Grandmaster’s dominant opening last week may just have ruined Lost in Thailand‘s chance to become the first Chinese film in the modern multiplex era to take the mainland’s all-time box office revenue crown. Lost needs another $17 million to achieve that distinction, and with Grandmaster stealing its thunder last week and with the James Bond pic Skyfall entering the picture next week, Lost in Thailand, the little ($4 million budgeted) picture that could, may not have enough steam left to push it over the top.

Skyfall‘s release on January 21 will bring an end to the nearly two month long SARFT blackout on major Hollywood releases. The Bond pic can be expected to perform well, though it will undoubtedly be hurt by SARFT’s two-and-a-half month delay in releasing the film, a lag which has allowed massive illicit pirating and online viewing that will cut into the film’s theatrical potential. Still, at least Skyfall won’t be subject to the simultaneous release with The Hobbit that many had feared; that picture has been held back in the PRC until late February.

There are numerous American film releases ahead with strong market potential, but don’t expect a repeat of 2012’s first half, when Hollywood seized a 63 percent share of the market. SARFT won’t be caught off guard this time, and will be doing everything it can to maintain the respectable appearance of a 50 percent or better market share for Chinese language movies.

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.

Jackie Chan leads China to Torrid Start in 2013


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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

January 8, 2013

Jackie Chan’s action comedy CZ12 took in $37.6 million last week in leading China to another record-smashing session of $86 million in total weekly box office, a 139 percent increase over the same frame in 2012.

China’s multiplexes have been overflowing with business of late. After a record-breaking December 2012 that saw box office takings increase by 74 percent over December 2011, January looks set to continue the sizzling pace.

Current box office champs CZ12 and Lost in Thailand have positively walloped last year’s January frontrunners, The Flowers of War and Flying Swords of Dragon Gate. The latter two films were 25 days into their runs by January 8th, 2012, with Flowers at an $88.5 million cume and Flying Swords at $79.4 million. This year, by comparison, as of January 6th Lost in Thailand had finished its 26th day with a $182 million cume and CZ12 its 18th day of release at $113 million. The two current films have earned 76 percent more revenue in 6 fewer screening days than last year’s leaders.Box office week ending 1-6-13

CZ12 is now the 2nd highest grossing Chinese language film and the 4th highest grossing of any film, domestic or foreign, in mainland history.  Lost in Thailand is poised to surpass Avatar‘s all-time box office record of $209 million by the end of this week or early next.

With the long-awaited Wong Kar-Wai action-biopic The Grandmasters opening today and Skyfall marking the return of Hollywood fare to the PRC on the 21st, January will likely be another record month.Box office growth 2013 v 2012

This extraordinary year-on-year growth signals an inflection point in China’s movie market evolution. The rapid addition of new cinema screens has certainly contributed to the mainland’s blistering run, but that’s only part of the story. More importantly, what has changed is that moviegoers have been coming out for Chinese movies with unprecedented frequency. They have shown that a quality local film can draw just as well or better than a Hollywood blockbuster. If China’s filmmakers can continue to make movies that Chinese audiences want to see, China’s trend of annual box office increases of 30 to 40 percent should continue through the rest of this decade.

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 Wild and Wooly December


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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

December 25, 2012

Back in the fall, most everyone who follows China’s film industry predicted a record-breaking December. Three films by three iconoclastic Chinese directors—Feng Xiaogang, Wong Kar-wai and Jackie Chan—would sweep audiences into the multiplexes, with each picture grossing around US $100 million or more. Confidence was high that 2011’s December box office record of $218 million would be shattered and that a $350 million record-setting month was in store.

Now, as December draws to a close, the prognosticators can congratulate themselves at least on the latter point: China’s box office is running a scorching 70 percent ahead of last December, and the $350 million record should be in the bag before New Year’s Eve. But the path that China took to get there was one that no one could have foreseen.

Box office week ending 12-23-12

The first step in December’s long march to glory was the surprising performance of Taiwanese-American director Ang Lee’s film, Life of PiPi enraptured Chinese audiences with its lush 3D images and its weighty philosophical themes, becoming only the third non-Chinese film to achieve a higher gross in the PRC than in North America (the other two films are the American re-release, Titanic 3D, and the Australian shark attack thriller Bait). Pi would have likely reached $100 million in China if SARFT hadn’t clipped its run at 30 days on Sunday, so it finished with an $89 million final gross.

The next surprise was that Wong Kar-wai’s star-studded action pic The Grandmasters was pushed from its December 18th slot to January 8th, 2013.  At first this appeared a blow for Grandmasters, as it will completely miss out on the December box office bonanza, but the pushed date may actually be a blessing. Grandmasters would probably have gotten buried in the fierce pre-New Year’s competition, and January tends to be a strong month in China, as was proven by the early 2012 successes of  Flowers of War, Flying Swords of Dragon Gate and Mission Impossible 4, which launched last January and became the year’s first $100 million grosser.

Another shocker was the dismal under-performance of Feng Xiaogang’s war drama Back to 1942. The film’s grim and depressing themes, underwhelming marketing, and poor critical reception (my favorite quotes called it a “daisy-licking drama,” “a sledgehammer epic” and “an emotional strip-mine”) combined to diminish turnout. 1942’s $60 million gross would be heroic for most Chinese pictures, but with its reported $40+ million cost and $100 million expectation, 1942 caused the stock of distributor Huayi Bros to tank by 20 percent in the first few days after its release. Huayi’s stock regained some of its losses after it released CZ12 a few weeks later, but the stock of director Feng Xiaogang may not recover so quickly.Huayi Bros stock price

The biggest surprise of all was the emergence of sleeper hit Lost in Thailand, the low-budget comedy that has smashed dozens of Chinese box office records on its way to becoming the highest-grossing domestic Chinese film of all time. Only two weeks into its run, Lost in Thailand is now certain to surpass Titanic 3D and become the highest grosser of 2012. The little comedy that could has propelled the stock of its distributor, Beijing Enlight Media, to a 40 percent gain this month.Enlight Stock Price

The only detail that Chinese box office watchers predicted correctly was the success of Jackie Chan’s CZ12. The action-comedy opened to a $35 million first-week gross and, with little serious new competition this week, has a good chance of crossing the $100 million threshold by early January.

All told, December’s box office result will beat April’s prior monthly record by more than 35 percent. With the PRC’s box office record books being re-written on a weekly basis these days, film distributors can look forward to a very happy new year in 2013.

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.

CZ12’s Massive Opening Marks a Massive Shift in China’s Film Business


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By Robert Cain for China FIlm Biz

December 21, 2012

On Thursday Jackie Chan’s and Huayi Bros’ action-comedy film CZ12 (formerly known as Chinese Zodiac) confirmed a reality that should strike fear in the hearts of Hollywood’s studio executives: China doesn’t need Hollywood films to break box office records.

One-man band Chan, who wrote, directed, produced and DP’d the $50 million CZ12, has exceeded all expectations by delivering a film that set a new December single day record in China with 43 million RMB (US $6.8 million) on Thursday, adding fuel to an already blazing hot month at PRC multiplexes. Last week China set an all-time single-week revenue record, and this week is on track to break that record.

CZ12 follows on the heels of smash Chinese hit Lost in Thailand, which will pass $100 million in its first two weeks and should easily eclipse $160 million by the end of its run (my Chinese colleague Firedeep was the first to go on record with a prediction that the film’s gross will exceed $200 million). That will make it the second highest grossing film in China’s history after Avatar. With its lower ticket prices, Lost in Thailand will actually beat Avatar’s record for total admissions.

Although I haven’t yet seen it, CZ12 gets my vote as the film most likely to break out from China and become an international hit. Release dates are lined up in Russia, South Korea, Malaysia, Vietnam, and all over Greater China, and a U.S. release now seems likely.

Just as Detroit mocked the clunky little imported Toyota cars from Japan in the 1950s and RCA, Magnavox and Zenith (remember them?) ignored Sony’s little transistor radios in the 1960s, Hollywood has so far done little to protect its position vis a vis China as the world’s leading provider of movies.

To be sure, China has a long way to go, but if Hollywood had any common sense it would be sending legions of smart, China-savvy execs and producers to the PRC to figure out how to make movies there and profit over the long run. Instead Hollywood has yielded that advantage to the Hong Kongers and South Koreans, who are now much better positioned to ride the China wave and profit there than Hollywood may ever be.

There is still time for the major U.S. studios to counteract the competitive threat from China, but the success of films like Lost in Thailand and CZ12 ought to be viewed as the first shots across the bow of Hollywood’s global hegemony.

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.

Sleeper Hits Put China Box Office Growth Back On the Fast Track


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Lost in Thailand poster

By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

December 18, 2012

China’s December box office rally is shaping up to be the biggest story of the year in the global movie biz. After the fall’s SARFT-induced coma threatened to dampen theatrical revenues for the rest of the year, a pair of films that barely anyone saw coming has electrified PRC audiences and kept theaters filled and queues brimming for over a month.

Back in the summer and fall SARFT crushed Chinese exhibitors’ hopes for a $3 billion aggregate 2012 box office when it set extended “domestic film protection periods” that kept Hollywood movies out of local theaters. Audiences mostly stayed away from the bland domestic product that was on view, and I revised my estimate of total year box office revenue down to $2.5 billion.

Hopes were raised in December, when many box office watchers anticipated that a trio of Chinese language films—Feng Xiaogang’s Back to 1942, Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmasters, and Jackie Chan’s Chinese Zodiac 12 (now known as CZ12)—would dominate theaters. December did in fact bring good tidings, but not exactly as expected.

Firstly, Ang Lee’s Life of Pi confounded almost everyone’s expectations by taking the Chinese box office by storm, so to speak. What many had projected would be at most a $20 million or $25 million run instead became a blockbuster hit, with $86 million to date, making it the fourth biggest grosser in China this so far year. Not only did Life of Pi spank down Back to 1942 in China, it also handily beat its own $70 million (so far) tally in the U.S., only the third time in history that a foreign film has grossed more in China than in North America.

While Grandmasters was pushed to next year and CZ12 will open this week, it was a tiny, low-budget comedy that solidified December as one of China’s best months ever. The Hangover 2 knock-off Lost in Thailand, a sequel to the 2010 film Lost on Journey, charmed audiences out of a massive $48 million in its first 5 days, setting scads of records along the way, including:

• Best all-time Wednesday opening for any film

• Best opening day in December

• Biggest single day in December

• Biggest opening week in December

• Best opening week for a locally made film

• Best opening week for any 2D movie

The reportedly $4 million budgeted Lost in Thailand looks likely at this point to surpass Painted Skin 2 to become China’s biggest local language film ever, and the PRC’s 2nd highest grossing film overall in 2012.

Lost in Thailand and Life of Pi paced China’s overall box office to its best-ever week as measured by admissions, with over 15 million tickets sold.

Box office week ending December 16, 2012

These recent events have given me the confidence to raise my year-end estimate to $2.65 billion for 2012, which would make for China’s 9th year in a row of 30% or greater theatrical revenue growth and an aggregate 2,200% increase since 2004. To put that figure into perspective, had the North American box office grown by an equivalent amount, it would now be a $200 billion movie industry, rather than the $11 billion business that it is.

For several years now I’ve been predicting that China will surpass North America to become the world’s biggest box office territory by 2020. I’m now going on record and moving the date up by a year to 2019.

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.