Keanu’s Big Swing and a Miss in China


Follow me on Twitter @robcain or Sina Weibo @robcain, or connect with me on LinkedIn.Man of Tai Chi

By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

July 8, 2013

Nearly a decade in development and more than two years in production, Keanu Reeves’ directorial debut, Man of Tai Chi, was supposed to accomplish several ambitious goals:

  1. Enable Reeves to make the leap from actor to respected film director.
  2. Propel Reeves’ friend and Matrix kung fu mentor Tiger Chen to his own breakout as an action star.
  3. Establish a China beachhead for Reeves and enable him to make more movies there.
  4. Earn lots of money for the film’s investors, who include China Film Group, Wanda Media, Village Roadshow Pictures Asia, and Universal Pictures.

But the tepid audience response to Man of Tai Chi’s opening in China last weekend spells disappointment for everyone involved.  Although Reeves may still have a directing career ahead, his first film now appears more hindrance than help in advancing him toward that goal. I haven’t yet seen the movie so I can’t comment on Reeves’ directing capabilities, but the trailer has an odd direct-to-video feel to it and, according to Weibo chatter, lacks appeal for many in its targeted demographic.

At a reported $25 million budget, the picture will need to do a much better job drawing audiences in the U.S. and other territories if it is to turn a profit.  Wanda is said to have put up a substantial percentage of the negative cost in exchange for Chinese distribution rights, and turned over some 60 percent of its 1000+ screens to the picture. In hindsight that looks to have been a costly decision; given its $2.87 million nationwide total for the 3-day weekend, Man of Tai Chi will likely finish with less than $10 million in theatrical gross receipts over its entire China run. Wanda would have been better off allocating more of its screens to local hits Blind Detective and Tiny Times, or to the popular Warner Bros release Man of Steel.

Wanda and its partners in Man of Tai Chi  made a bet that audiences would turn out for Reeves because of his Chinese heritage and his track record as an action star with a genuine martial arts pedigree. My feeling is that the core moviegoing audience may simply be too young to know who Reeves is, and so he didn’t draw as well as had been hoped.

The U.S. market probably won’t offer much support, as the film still doesn’t have a scheduled release date there. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Weinstein Company’s Radius division picked up U.S. rights at Cannes with intentions for a fourth quarter U.S. release, but has not yet announced any firm plans. Universal’s decision not to handle the film despite having invested in it suggests they lack confidence in its North American prospects.

In Reeves’ and his backers’ defense, their task was not an easy one; few recent action or martial arts films have been successful both in China and abroad. Here’s hoping  Man of Tai Chi finds better luck in the global 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.

Wanda’s New Summer Slate for AMC Theatres


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by Robert Cain for China Film Biz

June 15, 2012

While waiting and wondering what changes the new Chinese owner Wanda Group might bring to AMC Theatres, I’ve been imagining a future news story that might go something like this:

With its acquisition of the AMC movie theater chain well underway, Wanda Group on Thursday revealed its new plans for the giant American cinema circuit. Contrary to its earlier assurances, Wanda’s senior management outlined several major modifications it has planned for the 5,048 screen chain’s management and operations. Key changes include:

Staffing

Effective as of today, all 21,000 AMC employees will be replaced with lower-cost Chinese substitute workers. Taking advantage of President Obama’s new EB-50 immigration program which allows for bulk purchasing of Green Card work visas for $50.00 each, Wanda has arranged for the immediate relocation of 21,000 displaced cement factory workers to staff AMC’s 350 cinema locations. Because none of the new workers speak English, cinema patrons will be asked to converse in Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien, and 16 other Chinese dialects when purchasing tickets and concessions, when asking for directions to bathrooms, or when otherwise interacting with AMC employees.

Concessions

Cinema-goers will be relieved to know that the popcorn, Butterfinger bars and Jolly Rancher candies at AMC’s concession stands will not be replaced with rice balls, dim sum, and other Chinese snacks. Instead, under the direction of China’s Ministry of Agriculture, and to help relieve pricing pressures due to this year’s surplus Chinese soybean crop, concessions will be stocked entirely with soy-based candies and food products. Delicious new items will include buttered or unbuttered soycorn (popped soybean kernels, delicious when dipped in soy sauce!), Soy Duds candies, Soynut M&Ms, and Reese’s Soy Butter Cups. Depending on the results of this coming autumn’s crop, additional millet and turnip-based snacks may also be added to concession menus.

Programming

AMC’s patrons will still be able to look forward to the usual mix of action, comedy and fantasy fare that typically fill movie screens in summer, but this year there will be a slight twist. Having anticipated the AMC acquisition for the past two years, Wanda Group has been hard at work producing its own slate of summer blockbusters, which it will begin to roll out in the coming weeks. Here’s a sampling of films coming soon to a theater near you:

“Titanic 2” – In this $1.2 billion budgeted sequel to the beloved 1997 film, a team of Chinese scientists sets out to prove that the Titanic could—and should—have survived its ill-fated crossing, if only it had been designed and captained by Chinese experts. To achieve total authenticity, writer-director James Cameron raised the original Titanic from the ocean floor and had it rebuilt in the Guangzhou shipyard according to exacting Chinese specifications. The film features Kate Winslet playing Rose II, the morally correct granddaughter of her Titanic I character; the modern-day Rose II would never dream of exposing her breasts to a strange man. This time it is the iceberg that sinks to the bottom of the Atlantic, and Rose II passes up on the chance to cavort with a poor young ne’er-do-well, saving her virginity instead for a rich man who drives a BMW.

“Bo Xilai: Hero of the People” – This epic tale of selfless heroism tells the real, true story of Bo Xilai, friend, patron and benefactor of Wanda-AMC chairman Wang Jianlin. Bo, played by martial arts master Jet Li, is portrayed as the great communist hero he really is, selflessly fighting for the great Chinese proletariat through his daring acts of generosity and sacrifice. Actress and businesswoman Zhang Ziyi plays herself as the brilliant, $1 million per night financial adviser who engineered China’s economic miracle. Once you’ve seen this movie you’ll leave the theater convinced that any reports you may have heard of murder, corruption, blackmail, prostitution, or perjured testimony were all just a really, really big misunderstanding.

“Red, Red Dawn” – China and North Korea unite in a military rescue mission to emancipate America from the evils of capitalism. The heroic armies of the PRC and the PRK overwhelm the puny defenses of the American one percent, and liberate the enslaved American workers who welcome their rescuers with tears of elation and spontaneous singing of “The Internationale.” Then everyone joyously joins hands and marches to the farms of Iowa for collective re-education.

“Screw You, Richard Gere” – A scintillating series of academic discussions–set to a Philip Glass score and background images shot at Guantanamo–exposes the fallacious theories of such CIA-backed “activists” as Richard Gere, Christian Bale, and Sharon Stone, and their absurd notions about “human rights.”

To allay any potential concerns AMC moviegoers may harbor regarding these changes, new AMC Theatres CEO 姚明 offered the following reassurance: “不用担心, 只是享受电影 和 基于大豆的小吃.”

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.