China’s Box Office: Hong Kong Director Derek Yee Works Comedy Magic


By Robert D. Cain for China Film Biz

January 18, 2012

Hong Kong director Derek Yee spun gold last week with his new film The Great Magician, which knocked The Flowers of War out of the top spot and led the Chinese box office with $11.5 million.

For Yee, a writer-director- actor-producer who is perhaps best known for producing the hit Hong Kong crime dramas Overheard (2009) and Overheard 2 (2011), The Great Magician was something of a departure. It is the first comedy he has directed in over 20 years, and also one of the few films he has made on the Chinese mainland. SARFT censors required him to make numerous changes to the film before they would allow its production and release.

Second place was also claimed by a new market entrant, the fourth installment of the popular Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf children’s animation franchise, which took in $11.3 million. Based on a long-running Chinese children’s TV series, the Pleasant Wolf franchise is the only home-grown animated property that has managed to generate consistent, repeated success at the box office.

Taiwanese romance You Are the Apple of My Eye maintained its 3rd place rank with $5.6 million, for a $9.9 million cumulative gross.  Already this year’s Taiwanese films have exceeded the total gross for all of 2011’s Taiwanese releases in China. Quite a change from the days not so long ago in the PRC when mere possession of a cultural artifact from Taiwan could be construed as a political crime punishable by imprisonment.

Flowers of War and Flying Swords of Dragon Gate fell to 4th and 5th place, with respective weekly revenues of $4.5 million and $4.3 million. Flowers has now reached a $93 million total gross, but doesn’t have enough steam left to challenge Let the Bullets Fly as the all-time Chinese language box office champ. And unless it achieves the unlikely feat of grossing at least $100 million outside of China, it will fall well short of financial breakeven.

Flowers of War had a rough week in awards competitions: It lost out to the far superior Iranian film A Separation for the Golden Globes’ best foreign language film awards, and it failed to make the cut for the Academy Awards foreign language shortlist of nine films. For several years in a row the Chinese have tried to win over the Academy with big, crowd-pleasing melodramas. Perhaps they’ll learn their lesson next year and submit a movie that might actually have a prayer of winning. It must be particularly galling to the Chinese that a Taiwanese film, Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale, did make the shortlist.

American entry Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows, grossed a decent $2.9 million in its first day of release in Chinese theaters. If it performs as well in China as it has elsewhere, it should wind up with at least $15-18 million in total receipts there.

Independent distributor Bona Film Group had a rare indie trifecta with the number one, number two and number five films for the week.

Aggregate box office for the frame was 59 percent higher than the same period last year. With Enlight’s next installment of its hit All’s Well Ends Well franchise opening this weekend (last year’s sequel wound up with nearly $25 million) and with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol arriving on the 28th, January is shaping up as a very big movie month overall.

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 www.pacificbridgepics.com.


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A Sweet and Sour Week at the Cinema


By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

January 4, 2012

It was a December to remember in China, with the national box office hitting a new record at just over $2 billion. What has been most noteworthy about the past year—and the past decade—is the Chinese cinema industry’s extraordinary rate of growth. The quadrupling of the country’s overall economy in the decade since 2001 has been astonishing enough, but that was barely a blip compared to the nearly thirty-fold growth of China’s theatrical box office during the same period. In the blink of an eye China has matured from a minor film territory into an international powerhouse, the country to watch.

One of the bright spots in December was the ongoing competition between Zhang Yimou’s The Flowers of War and Tsui Hark’s Flying Swords of Dragon Gate. Both films performed extremely well, becoming the two highest grossing Chinese language films of 2011, with nearly $77 million in revenue for Flowers and $69 million for Flying Swords so far.  Both are in contention to possibly break the all-time record gross in China for a Chinese-language film, which is currently held by the 2010 release Let the Bullets Fly with $105 million.

And yet, in some ways December was a disappointment. Without a single major Hollywood film released during the entire month, Chinese audiences had limited choices at the multiplex, and many stayed away. For the week ending January 1st, revenues declined by 4.5 percent compared with the same week in 2010, despite higher ticket prices and nearly 3,000 new movie screens in operation. Per-screen averages were down by about 40 percent from last year.

Six new films opened last week, but their combined revenue amounted to less than $6 million, with the Chinese action pic Speed Angels leading the way at $2.4 million. Speed Angels was the seventh film of the year released by the successful indie distributor Enlight, but it fell far short of the company’s 2011 hits Mural ($27 million gross), All’s Well Ends Well ($24 million), and White Vengeance ($23 million).

The lone American opener was the Daniel Craig-Rachel Weisz ghost thriller Dream House, which echoed its weak U.S. opening with a tepid $1.4 million take at the Chinese tills.

Flowers and Flying Swords should continue to lead the market for the next two weeks, as there won’t be any serous competition until January 15th, when Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, hits the theaters. Things will heat up after that, with the Jay Chou action vehicle The Viral Factor opening on the 19th, and All’s Well Ends Well 2012 opening on the 20th.

Late in the fall American movies’ share of the Chinese box office was above 50 percent, but because the last Hollywood blockbuster release of the year—The Adventures of Tintin—came all the way back in mid-November, U.S. box office share drifted down to 46 percent by the end of the year. Home grown Chinese films captured a 24 percent share and China/Hong Kong co-productions took 22 percent.

        Share of China Box Office receipts by Film’s Country of Origin, 2011

Look for more 2011 box office analysis in an upcoming post later this week.

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.