“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.

Chinese Audiences Embrace Non-Studio Hollywood Movies

By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

August 11, 2012

China’s on-again, off again love affair with Hollywood movies heated up last week, abruptly ending a summer fling with Chinese filmmakers, at least for the moment. After a month’s vacation from late June to late July when American films were embargoed from China’s multiplexes, Hollywood movies have roared back to reclaim the lion’s share of the box office, with 82 percent of last week’s total ticket revenue.

Even though SARFT has only partially, temporarily opened the door to US imports, allowing two animated features and two non-studio pictures into domestic theaters in the past few weeks, there’s been enough pent-up demand to propel three of those films—Fox’s Ice Age 4, the Simon West/Jason Statham crime thriller The Mechanic, and Lionsgate’s John Singleton action-mystery Abduction—to the top 3 ranks of the box office chart for the week ending August 5th.

The Mechanic and Abduction were only modest performers stateside, earning $29.1 million and $28.1 million during their North American runs in 2011.  But the Chinese audience is clearly hungry for new Hollywood fare, and in the absence of new live action American studio films, PRC moviegoers showered the two non-studio pictures with solid, if not spectacular, welcoming parties. At nearly $8 million, The Mechanic enjoyed the second best non-studio foreign film opening of the year so far, behind the $10 million June bow of Lionsgate’s The Hunger Games.

Ice Age 4 reached a key milestone by becoming the second highest grossing animated film ever in China, with almost $45 million in ticket sales in its first 10 days. With little real competition for the family market in coming weeks, Ice Age could challenge Kung Fu Panda 2’s Chinese box office record of $92 million.

This week the door will close again to Hollywood, although two non-Chinese films will debut: the China-US co-pro Shanghai Calling, and Europa Corp’s Guy Pearce starrer Lockout, which earned $14 million in the US and $25 million worldwide earlier this year. Four new Chinese animated features also bow this week and on August 15th another Lionsgate film, The Lincoln Lawyer, will open against a handful of new Chinese releases.

August box office will remain subdued until the 30th, when The Dark Knight Rises is scheduled to open. Whether China Film Group will move The Amazing Spider-Man off that same release date remains to be seen.  But the fickle attitude of China’s film czars toward Hollywood’s studios has become exceedingly obvious, and chatter about co-productions is now on the rise.

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