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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz
February 13, 2013
With its $12.8 million Chinese New Year’s day debut, Stephen Chow’s Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons set a new record last week for the biggest opening day gross ever for a local Chinese film. The Huayi Brothers/Village Roadshow Pictures fantasy-action-comedy ranks second only to Transformers 3 for the all-time biggest opening day in Chinese box office history.
Journey blew past holdovers Cloud Atlas and Skyfall to take first place for the week of February 4-10 even though it had only one day, Sunday, to beat all its competitors for the weekly box office crown. I believe this is the first time such a feat has ever been accomplished in China.
Including its results through February 13th the film has now cumed a massive $50 million in its first four days. On Thursday Journey can look forward to a robust Valentine’s Day, a major date night holiday in China, when it could well set a record for the biggest single-day gross ever. If word of mouth doesn’t slow down attendance the picture will match or even surpass Titanic 3D’s $74 million single-week record. A $150 million total cume now looks increasingly likely, and there’s a reasonably good chance at this point that Journey will even surpass Lost in Thailand‘s all-time record gross of $201 million.
At $45 million, aggregate box office for all films last week was down about 8 percent from the same period last year, when Mission Impossible 4 and Journey: The Mysterious Island led the way to a $49 million weekly cume.
Cloud Atlas boosted its cume to a healthy $21.6 million after 11 days, which now puts it in the rare company of only a handful of non-Chinese films that have earned 20 percent or more of their global box office revenue in China. Skyfall notched another $6.4 million to extend its cume to $58 million.
The next Hollywood films to open in China will be Paramount’s Jack Reacher on February 16th and New Line/MGM’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which will bow on February 22nd. It will be an interesting test to see how well both films stand up to the Journey in the West juggernaut. Although Hobbit has had an extraordinary global run and is nearing a $1 billion worldwide gross, it is by no means a certainty that it will enjoy equally robust business in the PRC.
Special mention must be made that an international production company, Village Roadshow Pictures Asia, played a key role in investing in and supporting Journey to the West‘s success. This kind of strategic engagement in Chinese language feature films is precisely what Hollywood and other foreign players must pursue if they hope to remain relevant in China.
For the past few years I’ve suggested that English language Hollywood films would soon be eclipsed in China by local language productions. That moment has arrived. With relatively few exceptions, Chinese movies will increasingly rule at China’s multiplexes. For those studios that haven’t made a commitment like Village Roadshow and Fox have to local language Chinese productions, the window is closing on their ability to participate meaningfully in China’s rise to its inevitable position of global primacy in the movie business. For those who still wish to enter the Middle Kingdom in a strategic and sustainably competitive manner, my colleagues and I at Pacific Bridge Pictures stand ready to assist.
[Correction: In a previous version of this story I mistakenly attributed the international co-financing and co-producing role in Journey to the West to the wrong company. I had misinterpreted a conversation I had with Fox International Pictures (FIP)–my mistake, not theirs–and cited that company as a financing and producing partner in the film when I should have properly cited Village Roadshow Pictures Asia instead. FIP’s role with the picture is as a distributor in Taiwan and Malaysia. Thanks to Village Roadshow for kindly pointing out my error. It was an honest mistake; rest assured that I have reprimanded my entire research and fact-checking staff, and I am flagellating myself as I write this. Humble apologies all around.]
Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at email@example.com and at www.pacificbridgepics.com.
I think this is very well said. As the Chinese market opens up, the appetite of Chinese audience is also changing. Traditional Hollywood movies like 007 have to step up their paces or they will loose their share to local blockbusters.
The only foreign company listed as one of the movie’s investors is Village Road Show. I don’t know why you mentioned Fox.
Teng, thank you for your observation. I have amended the article to correct my error.
As far as my understanding goes, one major hurdle holding up most of the Hollywood Majors’ activities in China is China Film Group’s monopolistic position in that market, which is supposed to end per the WTO final ruling, but to date China has yet to fully comply in that front. But when (or IF) that happens, I expect the major studios to enter the market and form strategic partnerships with local companies for co-production and distribution activities.
True, CFG and SARFT make it difficult for Hollywood to participate in the Chinese market, but not impossible. CFG has a monopolistic position in the import of films, but not in local production and distribution. It would be a major mistake for the major studios to wait for China to fully comply with the WTO, because their value to and leverage with Chinese companies is rapidly diminishing. They should all be making major commitments to the market now, before it is too late.
I hear you Rob. Unfortunately, this appears to be the mentality — at least at the Hollywood Majors. CFG has a monopolistic position in the import of films, as well as the distribution of the imports (for all intents and purposes, CFG and Huaxia may be considered one and the same). This means that CFG basically controls which theaters/circuits get to release imported blockbusters, which also means a virtual monopoly on controlling and affecting all distribution activities in terms of release windows, etc. Most of the Majors seemed more interested in longer-term strategic partnerships rather than one-off opportunities. So they patiently wait, at least for now.
By the way Rob, whether the MPA studios were to make major moves in China or not may carry other implications as well, vis-a-vis the facilitation of market reforms/changes in China.
Way back when, the Chinese tried to convince the Hollywood studios that the revenue-sharing quota of 10 imports per year really shouldn’t be an issue at all, since there were plenty of flat sales import slots to accommodate any studio titles not making the revenue-sharing import quota. The studios refused to capitulate. They dug in their heels and ultimately, the revenue-sharing quota did double to 20 and then to 34, where it’s now at.
It pains me as well, but the studios were right to have stuck to their guns back then, and they are right to exercise restraint now by working closely with MPA and USTR without losing sight of the big picture.