China’s Box Office: The Calm Before the Storm?


By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

December 14, 2011

For the week ending December 11th, White Vengeance held the top spot for the second week in a row in a disappointingly sluggish frame at the Chinese box office. While Vengeance grossed a respectable $8.3 million for the week to up its cume to $21.4 million, the 5 new openers combined mustered an aggregated gross of only $5 million between them.

Tops among the new entrants was South Korea’s monster flick Sector 7, which picked up $2.5 million, good enough for second place and also making it the highest grossing Korean film in China this year. Far behind among the new releases was India’s Bollywood smash hit from 2009, the Aamir Khan starrer 3 Idiots, which despite amassing a $55 million total in India, managed a scant $1.2 million from Chinese theaters.

Priest and The Adventures of Tintin held onto the 3rd and 4th slots, respectively, raising their cumes to $5.3 million for Priest and $20.4 million for Tintin. Distributor DMG has done a respectable job in handling Priest; despite the conventional wisdom that horror doesn’t click in China—not to mention the fact that vampire movies are technically prohibited under SARFT rules—the picture has significantly over-indexed in its PRC release, earning an estimated 8 percent of its worldwide gross there.

White Vengeance became the 34th film of the year to join the 100mm RMB/$15mm club, double last year’s total of 17. Of those 34 films 17 are from Hollywood, 9 are from China, and 8 are China-Hong Kong co-productions.

Breakaway rom-com hit Love is Not Blind winds down its run with nearly $56 million, making it the second highest grossing Chinese language film this year behind Beginning of the Great Revival.

All told the week was one of the slowest of the year, with total receipts of $23.4 million, a 21 percent dip from the same week in 2010.  Many are hoping that the year-end box office will kick into high gear next week when the $35 million budgeted Tsui Hark/Jet Li wuxia action romp Flying Swords of Dragon Gate opens against the  Zhang Yimou/Christian Bale $90+ millon historical epic Flowers of War.  Both pictures represent big gambles for their backers, as each will need to make record or near record box office numbers in order to recoup its investment.

Indeed, with questionable prospects outside of China due to its dark subject matter and contrived, melodramatic plotting, Flowers of War will need to gross well over $200 million in China to pay back its reported $91 million investment. That would be double the existing record for a domestic release of a Chinese language film (Let the Bullets Fly at $111 million). Although director Zhang Yimou is a huge draw in China, and star Christian Bale is well known there, it’s unlikely that this film has the commercial juice to pull in the Avatar sized numbers it needs.

Flying Swords of Dragon Gate seems the likelier of the two films to achieve commercial success. The Tsui Hark/Jet Li pairing represents a potent box office combo with a long pedigree of success. The Once Upon a Time in China films they made together are well-loved around the world and propelled both of their careers as masters of the action genre. And it should also help that Flying Swords is a remake of the beloved classic 1966 King Hu film Dragon Gate Inn, one of my personal all-time favorites.

Still, as Chinese audiences have proven, nothing is certain and anything is possible. Both films should perform well, and it won’t be much of a surprise if this turns out to be the biggest week at the box office this 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.

Chinese Audiences Screaming For “Vengeance”


By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

December 9, 2011

Writer-director Daniel Lee’s period action epic White Vengeance led a crowded field of new entrants to take the Chinese box office crown last week with a gross of $13.1 million. This was enough to give the China/Hong Kong co-production the 7th best opening week for a non-Hollywood film this year, and the 13th best opening week amongst all films.

The rest of the field, which included a total of 7 new films, failed to excite moviegoers. Second place went to another China/Hong Kong co-pro, holdover East Meets West, which took in $3.4 million. Two of the openers were foreign imports: the critically panned Screen Gems action-horror flick Priest, which grossed $3.1 million for DMG, and Terry Gilliam’s France/Canada co-pro fantasy The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, which picked up just $1.2 million for Huaxia.

Still, total box office for the top 10 films amounted to $30.6 million, a decent if not spectacular week.

It will take some major hits in the next few weeks for China’s total theatrical revenue to cross the $2 billion mark in 2011, but that’s exactly what might happen, with two big Chinese blockbusters slated to open against each other on December 15th. Tsui Hark’s $35 million action film Flying Swords of Dragon Gate, starring Jet Li, will go up against the $100 million Zhang Yimou-Christian Bale historical epic Flowers of War.

The rivalry between the producers of these two films will add some spice to next week’s box office competition. The feisty and outspoken Zhang Weiping, producer of  Flowers of War, has banned Bona Group, the producer-distributor of Flying Swords from carrying his film in Bona’s company-owned theaters, claiming that Bona has dragged its feet in paying Zhang monies owed on previous films.

Whatever happens, look for box office records to be broken as these two highly anticipated movies kick-off China’s peak holiday season.

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.