‘Tiny Times,’ Gargantuan Grosses


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by Robert Cain for China Film Biz

July 4, 2013

Happy 4th of July everyone, it’s America’s Independence Day. As a person who enjoys the uninfringed right to express my thoughts to readers around the world, I’m extremely grateful for the precious freedom America’s founders fought for and bequeathed to their descendants.

On another note, I’m dedicating this post to Dominic Ng, Bennett Pozil, and their superb team at East West Bank. They recently hosted me at two of their events and made invaluable introductions for me to their clients. Dominic was kind enough to publicly recognize my work in a room full of heavy hitters at his “U.S.-China Economic Relations“ summit at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. And since Bennett has been after me to keep writing this blog, pleading that in its absence he’s been forced to read trade papers like the Hollywood something-or-other and another thing whose name I forget that starts with the letter “V”, I suppose anyone who gets some use out of this humble publication should thank Bennett for his persistent cajoling.

It has been an eventful month or so since I last wrote about China’s film biz. In recent weeks Iron Man 3 finished its run at $121 million, edging out local romantic drama So Young to become the second highest grossing film of the year so far behind Journey to the West. Dreamworks’ animated movie The Croods defied everyone’s expectations, including my own, running up a magnificent $63 million, which places it among the highest grossing animated films in Chinese history. Legendary East announced a partnership with China Film Group; local film American Dreams in China ran up an $86 million gross; Man of Steel opened on 6,500 screens, the biggest launch to date in China; and Paramount’s World War Z was barred by the censors, despite the producers having made pre-emptive changes to avoid offending them.

Also, the July release schedule was announced, and with four big Hollywood titles opening (After Earth, White House Down, Fast and Furious 6, and Pacific Rim) the U.S. studios might finally get a chance to make up some ground against their Chinese competitors. Finally, the release schedule for December 2013 has been set, and it looks to be a blockbuster holiday, with Tiny Times 1.5, Jackie Chan’s Police Story 2013, mega-director Feng Xiaogang’s Personal Tailor, and possibly Overheard 3 and the star-studded Monkey King (with Donnie Yen, Chow Yun-fat and Aaron Kwok) all set to open within a two-week period. My Chinese correspondent Firedeep predicts that four of these five films will wind up out-grossing Iron Man 3.

Which brings us up to the present. China’s exhibitors and producers are enjoying another stellar year so far, with almost $1.7 billion in grosses in the first half, nearly 40 percent ahead of the first half of 2012. Given the patterns of prior years, I expect a $3.7 billion final tally for the year. It’s worth noting that China is now routinely grossing more each month than it did in the entire year of 2006. At the current rate of growth the PRC market will surpass North America as the world’s largest territory in 2017, and even if growth slows considerably the succession will take place in 2018 or 2019 at the latest.

The week ending June 30th was the third biggest so far this year, at $87.5 million. Tiny Times set new records for the opening day of a local film at $12.4 million, and went even wider than Man of Steel, running on nearly 50 percent of China’s 15,000+ screens. Look for the teen female oriented Tiny Times to wind up at around $100 million when its run ends.Box office week ending 6-30-13

Man of Steel continued strong, with $21.1 million in its second week. Heavy competition from Tiny Times will curtail its grosses, and it will likely finish in the $55 million to $60 million range, which is where many recent U.S. blockbusters have settled.

Star Trek Into Darkness finished up its run right in that same range, with $57 million. To the surprise of many observers Star Trek outperformed in China, earning a healthy 13 percent of its worldwide gross in the PRC. Compare this to, say, Skyfall, Oz the Great and Powerful, and The Hobbit, each of which earned only 5 percent of their respective worldwide totals in China.

In the coming days I’ll write more about China’s first half results and the U.S. studios’  performance. Until then, happy independence day!

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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Is $50 Million the New $100 Million for Hollywood Movies in China?


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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

April 24, 2013

At this time a year ago American film producers and distributors had cause to be exuberant about China. The Chinese box office was booming, new theaters were opening at a rapid clip, and the grosses for Hollywood movies were going up, up, up. Whereas a $30 million gross would rank a film among the top 10 releases in China in 2010, in 2011 the top 10 threshold was $40 million, and in early 2012 $60 million became the new benchmark. American films were the primary drivers of this upward trend.

China had clearly fallen in love with Hollywood movies, and it seemed reasonable to expect that imported American tent-pole films would continue to ride the swelling box office wave.  Pictures like Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol ($102 million gross) The Avengers ($91 million) and Titanic 3D ($154 million) began fueling the expectation that $100 million totals would soon become routine.

In 2013 the wave has continued to roll, but somewhere along the way Hollywood got stuck in the shallows. China’s box office is still booming, and nearly 5,000 new screens have opened in the past 12 months, yet as Chinese language films have leaped ahead to $80 million, $120 million, and even $200 million grosses, American movies have drifted back to 2011 levels, when the Chinese market was half the size it is now.

Blame shifting audience tastes, blame government interference if you like, but whatever the reason, Hollywood’s releases in China have had trouble cracking $50 million in 2013. Only two U.S. films have reached that level this year: Skyfall at $60 million, and The Hobbit at barely $50 million. Others will certainly get there—G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a current possible candidate—but few if any will reach the numbers the U.S. studios were aiming or hoping for when they submitted their import applications to SARFT.

It’s not entirely clear at this point what Hollywood can do to reverse the trend. Co-productions might be one possible method for Hollywood to recapture market share, but whether China wants co-pros with big U.S. companies anymore is becoming a real issue. Even while announcements of U.S.-China tie-ups were flooding out of last week’s Beijing Film Festival, SARFT was dithering about whether to allow the biggest U.S.-China film collaboration in history, Iron Man 3, a favorable release date during the upcoming Chinese Labor Day/May Day holiday. If such a major, high profile joint-venture can’t get equal treatment with local movies, then the whole idea of the value of U.S.-China co-productions must be called into question.Box office week ending April 21, 2013

For only the fourth week out of 16 this year, a Hollywood film carried the top spot in the Chinese box office rankings. G.I. Joe: Retaliation ran up $33 million in its 7-day opening week, a good showing given the above-mentioned lowered expectations for Hollywood films in general. G.I. Joe slowed down considerably on Monday and Tuesday of this week, with less than $4 million over those two days, so it’s still uncertain that it will reach the $50 million mark.

Dreamworks Animation’s The Croods opened soft with $6.2 million in its first two days, signaling a probable final gross of less than $20 million. This is consistent with China’s pattern of giving short shrift to original animated features. Mostly it’s the sequels and pre-sold animation franchises like The Smurfs that bring in the big bucks in the PRC.

As I had predicted, aggregate national revenue in Week 16 fell short of the total for the same week last year, but not by much, which bodes well for the weeks ahead.

Year-to-date box office sales in China surpassed the $1 billion mark last Saturday, more than a month earlier than it reached that milestone last year. It won’t be a surprise if the PRC posts another 40 percent annual increase in 2013.

Since Iron Man 3 now looks unlikely to bow on its originally intended April 26th release date, the youth romance So Young should open big on Friday without much competition to impede it. Although a few of my Chinese friends think the film’s melancholy tone will dampen its grosses, most believe the film’s star appeal and excellent early reviews will drive it to blockbuster numbers. Check in later this week for more about So Young.

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 Bests Previous Weekly Record by 61 Percent With Scant Help From Hollywood


Follow me on Twitter @robcain or Sina Weibo @robcain, or connect with me on LinkedIn. For info on China Pooch email info@chinapooch.comSay Yes one sheet

By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

February 22, 2013

What a difference a year makes. Last February, Hollywood action pictures like Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island dominated China’s multiplexes, seizing a 70 percent share of the market and leaving only crumbs for local Chinese films. Tom Cruise reigned as box office king with his Mission Impossible hitting $100 million, only the fourth film to reach that plateau in Chinese history. Hollywood’s long-term hegemony over the Chinese movie landscape seemed secure.

A year later, the situation could scarcely be more different. So far this month Hollywood’s share of Chinese theatrical revenue is barely 10 percent. Tom Cruise, whose new action flick Jack Reacher debuted to a tepid $5 million last weekend, has been supplanted by a Chinese star named Bo Huang, who has notched three successive breakout hits: Lost in Thailand, Journey to the West, and now the China-Japan co-pro (!) romance Say Yes. Chinese action-comedies are routinely cracking the $100 million threshold, while Hollywood action movies are underperforming to a troubling degree.

One non-Chinese player that has fared exceptionally well in China of late is Village Roadshow Pictures Asia, which nabbed the number one and number two box office rankings last week with its co-pro entries Journey to the West and Say Yes.Box office week ending Feb 17, 2013

Journey to the West broke numerous records, including the biggest single-day gross with nearly $20 million on Valentine’s Day, the biggest weekly gross ever ($93 million) and the fastest arrival at the $100 million mark (8 days). As of Tuesday, its tenth day in release, the film’s cume stood at $122 million. I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb here in predicting that Journey will break Lost in Thailand‘s all-time record Chinese language film gross of $201 million.

Say Yes, a Chinese-language remake of the hit 1991 Fuji Television drama “101st Marriage Proposal,” debuted to an impressive $19 million. Journey and Say Yes combined gave Village Roadshow and its partners an 83 percent share of the week’s $135 million nationwide gross, also an all-time record. The previous weekly record gross was $84 million.

Year-to-date, China’s aggregate box office is up by 30 percent, while U.S. films are down by 59 percent. Some might blame the U.S. films’ decline on long release delays or on the individual films themselves (Skyfall, Gone and Jack Reacher), and they may be right, but I believe the most important factor is that Chinese audience tastes have shifted.Weekly box office 2012 vs 2013

Not only have several Chinese language films caught on with audiences, but the non-Chinese films that are indexing well now are different than the ones that indexed well a year ago. During the past several months the foreign pictures that have over-indexed in China have been more offbeat or intellectual movies like Life of PiLooper, and Cloud Atlas, or the more quirky action films like Bait and Expendables 2.

The trend could turn again in favor of Hollywood’s tent-poles, with upcoming releases that include The Hobbit on February 22nd, Les Miserables on February 28th, and Oz: The Great and Powerful and a Good Day to Die Hard in mid-March (I had previously been advised that the latter two films might open on the same day, but I’m now told it’s more likely they’ll be spaced at least a few days apart). The only certainty in China is change, and for the moment, anyway, it is trending in favor of China’s local producers and those foreign producers who have committed to serving the Chinese market.

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.

“Journey to the West” Smashes China Box Office Records


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JTTW poster

 

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.

Box office week ending February 10, 2013

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 rob@pacificbridgepics.com and at www.pacificbridgepics.com.

“Cloud Atlas” Crosses $20 million in China; Stephen Chow’s “Journey” Will Go Big


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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

February 9, 2013

Happy New Year, dear reader! May the Year of the Snake bring you much prosperity and happiness.

Theaters went dark for much of the day on Saturday as China’s population turned its attention to New Year’s fireworks and lion dances.

The multiplexes reopened on Sunday with high expectations—and a massive screen count—for the release of Stephen Chow’s new action comedy, Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons. Based on the Ming dynasty literary classic commonly known as “Monkey” in the west, the film is a silly, slapstick parody with director Chow’s usual collection of rapid-fire gags.

Chow’s prior films Kung Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer were major hits both in Greater China and abroad, due largely to Chow’s zany energy as a leading man. This time, however, Chow will be absent from the on-screen action, leaving a hole that will be difficult to fill. Whether this picture works in pleasing audiences—reviews so far have been mixed—it is sure to open big, as it has reportedly racked up very strong presales.  Early word is that it cracked the $10 million mark on its opening day. Don’t be surprised if it goes well over $100 million in the next few weeks.

To accommodate the opening of Journey and four additional films on Sunday, Cloud Atlas and Skyfall will have to relinquish most of their screens, which will effectively slow the remainder of their China runs down to a trickle. Skyfall, as I previously noted, will wind up with $60 million or a bit more. Cloud Atlas, which crossed the $21 million mark on Saturday, could still possibly surpass its U.S. total of $27 million. While $27 million is only a middling tally for a foreign film in China these days, this would nevertheless represent some 25 percent of the movie’s worldwide gross, which would set a new record for a foreign film release in the PRC. The previous record-holder, The Mechanic, earned roughly 22 percent of its worldwide revenue in China in 2012.

Expect these percentages to keep climbing as China accounts for an ever-increasing share of the global box office. Chinese moviegoers’ tastes, which are proving to be very different than those of American audiences, will exert a steadily increasing influence over what movies get made and whom they target.

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.

“Cloud Atlas” Floats to Top Among New Debuts in China


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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

February 5, 2013

China may not completely save Cloud Atlas from sinking in red ink, but it will definitely keep the $100 million picture alive and afloat for a little longer. In its first four days in the PRC the film has grossed $11 million, a 14 percent boost to its anemic $78 million worldwide total.

Word-of-mouth for the Wachowski/Tykwer directed sci-fi/fantasy flick has been reasonably good in the Middle Kingdom, despite a reported 40 minutes of footage cuts at the hands of the SARFT censors. If it gets a pre-holiday boost, and if it doesn’t get clobbered by the New Year’s day release of Stephen Chow’s highly anticipated Journey to the West, Cloud Atlas’ gross in China could possibly surpass its $27 million North American total.

Overall it was a decent week at the multiplexes, with several family-oriented releases enjoying solid debuts. As I’ve noted previously, Chinese audience tastes appear to be broadening, and for the first time since October nine films grossed 8 million RMB ($1.3 mm) or more in the same week.Box office for week ending February 3, 2013

Still, aggregate weekly revenues of $53 million were down 12 percent from the same frame in 2012, when ticket sales exceeded $60 million. The culprit in the drop-off from last year is Skyfall, which continues to lag far behind last January’s box office champ Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. I won’t rebuke those who doubted my accurate call regarding Skyfall’s under-performance after the first day of its release in the PRC, but I will say–to paraphrase Kevin Spacey’s line in the new “House of Cards” TV series–“After 20 years in China’s film biz, I can smell which way the wind is blowing.”

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.

“Skyfall” in China: Good, Bad or Ugly?


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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

January 31, 2013

Skyfall finished its opening week in China last Sunday with a $35 million 6-day gross, a figure that only a handful of films have matched or exceeded in their PRC debuts.

So does that mean Skyfall can be considered a hit?

I wouldn’t say so.Box office week ending 1-27-13

Given the China results of prior Bond films Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, given Skyfall‘s massive success outside of China, and especially given the $102 million total mainland gross of last January’s comparable action film Mission Impossible 4, I believe Skyfall would need to reach $130 million in its China run to be considered a success there.

But given its current trajectory after 10 days in release, with a second week drop so far of nearly fifty percent, it seems likely the film will wind up with only about half that $130 million benchmark number.

So if my projection is accurate, Skyfall will earn less than 6 percent of its worldwide box office receipts in China. The average Hollywood film released in the PRC this year will earn about 11 or 12 percent of its worldwide revenue in that market.

Consider Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. When those films played in China, both were solid hits that ranked among the top 7 or 8 grossers in their respective years. Quantum of Solace grossed a then-impressive $20 million back in 2008, at a time when China’s total annual box office was only a fifth the size that it will reach in 2013. By that metric, Skyfall ought to gross at least $100 million.Skyfall vs comps

For reasons I expressed in an article last week, Mission Impossible 4 is a reasonable and logical comp for Skyfall, and because the Chinese market has grown 30 percent since last January, Skyfall ought to be running 30 percent ahead of Mission Impossible‘s 2012 numbers. But in fact Skyfall is now running about 30 percent behind.

So I don’t think Skyfall can rightly be termed a hit in China. Not “ugly,” not “bad,” but not very good either.

In other box office news, the latest installment of the “Pleasant Goat” serties, The Mythical Ark, opened with $10 million, about 15 percent off from last January’s installment. The franchise is showing its age, but since the films only cost a reported $3 million each to produce and they consistently gross at least $20 million, it’s likely that Toonmax will continue to churn them out.

Another underperforming opener was Mysterious Island 2, the sequel to the 2011 hit horror flick. The prior film wound up with a $14 million PRC gross, but the sequel scared up just $920,000 in its 2-day weekend debut.

The smash hit Lost in Thailand finally ended its run on Sunday with just over $200 million. The $3-4 million budgeted comedy became only the second film in Chinese box office history after Avatar to exceed $200 million, and only the second non-U.S. film (after Japan’s Spirited Away) ever to gross over $200 million in its home territory.

All told, cumulative box office for the week was $60 million, a ten percent shortfall from the same week last year.

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.

“Skyfall” Fallout


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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

January 23, 2013

I caught some flak yesterday from friends who were surprised by the tone of my article “Skyfall’s Hard Landing in China,” in which I described the latest Bond film’s opening day in China as “disappointing.” These friends, who are significant stakeholders in Skyfall’s success, called me out for being too hasty in judging the movie’s opening based solely on the first day’s grosses, and they were right. I want to clarify why I wrote what I did, and more importantly, to offer a mea culpa for suggesting that Skyfall may already be a failure in China, which was certainly not my intent.

Success or failure can only properly be judged against the backdrop of time and prior expectations. To be fair to Skyfall and those who have labored to release it in China, we should give the film a week or two to fully assess its trajectory.  As for everyone’s pre-release expectations, I surely don’t know what every individual stakeholder was hoping for, but I would be surprised if most aren’t looking at last January’s release Mission: ImpossibleGhost Protocol (“MI:4”) as the comparable against which they are gauging Skyfall. That’s where I was looking when I wrote yesterday’s article.

MI:4 is a good comp for Skyfall in several important ways. Both are big budget stunt- and effects-driven action vehicles that performed exceptionally well around the world before they arrived in the PRC (according to IMDB, MI:4 grossed $693 million worldwide, and Skyfall has just crossed over the $1 billion mark). Both experienced unfortunately long delays between their U.S. and China releases. Both opened during the late January, pre-Chinese New Year lull against little-to-moderate competition. And both faced the challenge of overcoming heavy pre-release piracy that undoubtedly cut into their Chinese theatrical grosses.

I also felt that Skyfall had two meaningful advantages over MI:4. China’s theatrical film business is 30 percent bigger now than it was last January, as measured both by screens in operation and by average weekly theatrical revenue. And Skyfall also opened on far more screens—at least 30 percent more by my calculation—than MI:4 did. Indeed, with some 5,500 prints and perhaps 7,000 engagements, Skyfall enjoyed the widest theatrical opening in China’s history.

Given all these considerations, my logic in looking at Skyfall is that it ought to gross at least 30 percent more than the $102.7 million MI:4 did last year in order for it to be considered a comparative success. So let’s call that a $133 million target. That may seem an unfairly high bar for Skyfall, but let’s not forget that in the past month alone China has seen Lost in Thailand and CZ12 easily exceed that threshold, while Life of Pi, a movie that grossed less than half globally what Skyfall has done, neared $100 million despite being pulled from mainland multiplexes after 30 days.

So when Skyfall took in 31 million RMB (US $5.1 million) after its first day, compared to the 57 million RMB that MI:4 earned in its first day a year ago, I saw that as a disappointment. After its first two days MI:4 stood at 101 million RMB, or $15.7 million; Skyfall is now at 62 million RMB and US $9.8 million after its first two days. There’s an important difference in that MI:4 opened on a Saturday whereas Skyfall debuted on a less desirable Monday, but even so, I expected and hoped for more from Skyfall. It is entirely possible that the Bond film will kick into gear in the coming days and prove me wrong, and I sincerely hope that it does for the sake of my many friends who are involved in the movie, but to my mind the signs aren’t pointing that way.

Still, I welcome the sort of feedback that my friends offered, and I was reminded by them that these humble musings of mine reach a large and important audience, so I ought to have chosen my words more carefully. I always welcome well-reasoned feedback that corrects any errors I may have made. I can’t say yet that I was wrong about Skyfall’s ultimate China numbers, but I do regret having inadvertently upset some of the film’s backers, and for that I wish to apologize.

As always, please feel free to write me at rob@pacificbridgepics.com with your thoughts.

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.

Skyfall’s Hard Landing in China


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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.

“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.