Skyfall’s Hard Landing in China


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

By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

January 22, 2013

Skyfall opened on Monday in China on nearly 5,500 screens, which makes it the widest release ever in the PRC. But a nearly 3-month delay in its release, widespread piracy, and mixed-to-poor word of mouth among theatergoers doomed the Bond film to a disappointing $5.1 million opening-day mainland gross.

Sunday’s midnight screenings also fell below expectations at roughly $300,000. It now appears unlikely that Skyfall will come anywhere close to matching the take of last year’s first big Hollywood release, Mission Impossible 4, which opened in January, 2012 and went on to a final gross of $102 million.

As China’s film business has grown and as its audience has broadened deeply into the second and third-tier cities, it has become increasingly difficult to guess how the country’s audiences will respond to individual films. Skyfall seemed a natural given last year’s successes of action blockbusters like Mission Impossible, The Avengers, and Men in Black III. But to paraphrase the late, great Yogi Berra, “If people don’t want to come out to the theater, nobody’s going to stop them.”

Among the common complaints I found on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, were that the film’s rhythm was too slow and that there were too few action scenes. Some exclaimed that they felt “completely robbed.” Never mind that the film was both a critical and commercial smash in the rest of the world, it will severely under-index in the PRC.

Other recent surprises include the $13 million haul taken in the week ending January 20th by Bona’s Bring Happiness Home, a spin-off of a popular Chinese cable TV show that nearly knocked Grandmaster out of its number one spot. And the animation team at Shanghai Hippo, creators of the Animen films, must have been sorely disappointed by the tepid reception to their latest animated film Jungle Master, which grossed only $800,000 in its first 6 days.
Box Office week ending Jan 20, 2013

With audiences continually defying expectations in recent months, both to the upside and to the downside, 2013 looks to be an eventful and unpredictable year in China.

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.

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“Grandmaster” Flashes to Top of China Chart


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

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.