“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.

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Post Lunar Holiday Box Office Update: The Official Numbers From China


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by Robert Cain for China Film Biz

October 9, 2012

The official numbers from China for the box office week ending September 30th are in, and they confirm the figures I’ve been publishing since last Wednesday, albeit with a couple of minor adjustments. With 6 new high profile releases opening over a 4-day span, it was an extremely tight field with a sharply divided audience and no runaway box office winner.

Taichi 0 took the weekly revenue crown, while Looper led the field in admissions during the Friday-Sunday weekend. With its higher average ticket price due to its strong attendance in IMAX theaters, Taichi edged out Looper in total weekend revenues. Assassins, which ran in theaters for two days longer than Looper, held its lead and grossed more than the latter film did for the week, although Looper’s cume vaulted ahead early in the following week.

Huaxia tried to counter-program against all the male-oriented action films with a romance starring Zhang Ziyi, but Zhang’s appeal has faded over the years and her film, a Chinese take on the 18th century French novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses, barely nosed into the week’s top 5.

Sunday the 30th marked the end of the 3rd quarter, the summer period, which would normally have seen a sequentially higher gross than the 1st and 2nd quarters. But because the SARFT-imposed blackout kept June and July clear of most major Hollywood films, attendance dipped in the summer, with the unusual result that the summer total was about five percent lower than the spring.

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

Did ‘Deadline’ Commit a China ‘Looper’ Blooper?


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by Robert Cain for China Film Biz

October 3, 2012

Over the past several days I’ve received an unprecedented volume of calls, emails, texts and tweets, all asking me whether Looper had just become the first film to earn more revenue in its China debut than in its U.S. debut. Apparently the “Deadline Hollywood” blog reported on Saturday evening that Looper had earned “between $23M to 25M grosses” in China over the weekend. The story was quickly picked up by other media outlets, and within 24 hours it was accepted as fact around the world that Looper had smashed all sorts of records in China.

I was immediately doubtful of this report for two reasons: 1) Looper could not be the first film to gross more in its China debut than in the US because Titanic 3D had already achieved that feat back in April; and 2) The $23-25 million opening over 3 days seemed unlikely for reasons I’ll explain below. I checked around with my sources in China and found that almost no one believed the Deadline story to be true. Most felt that Deadline had gotten its currencies confused, and that the real number was around 27 million Chinese yuan, which equates to roughly 4.3 million US dollars. If correct, that figure would put Looper’s China opening far short of its $21 million US debut.

I’m unwilling to go on record as saying that Deadline is wrong, because I won’t know for certain until SARFT publishes the official box office figures. But because it’s a holiday week in which the SARFT report will be delayed for at least several days, and because there is so much international interest in this story, I’m going to weigh in with a few thoughts and some figures of my own, with the disclaimer that much of what follows is speculative and based on what I consider reasonably reliable, but unofficial numbers. I will say that if Deadline had someone on staff who understood the Chinese market, it’s unlikely that they would have rushed to put out their report.

Following are a few reasons why I’m more inclined to believe the $4.3 million weekend figure for Looper than the $25 million one.

  1. Only two films have grossed $25 million or more in their opening weekends in China this year—Titanic 3D and Men in Black 3. Both were heavily pre-sold blockbusters with strong, dedicated followings in China, and both had little competition when they debuted. As good as Looper is, it had none of that going for it.
  2. Many of Looper’s prints didn’t make it to theaters in time. Because SARFT only decided at the 11th hour to grant Looper co-production status, distributors and exhibitors didn’t know until a few days ahead of time that they would be allowed to release the film. Looper’s marketing and distribution were hence severely disadvantaged.
  3. This past weekend was a major travel period for China, the biggest in its history. Hundreds of millions of Chinese were traveling in advance of the National Day holiday week. Lots of people who might have ordinarily gone to the multiplex were busy getting from one place to another, welcoming guests, or making preparations for the holiday.
  4. This past weekend was also probably the most competitive film weekend China has ever seen. In addition to Looper’s opening, four major Chinese movies featuring big stars—among them Chow Yun-fat, Tony Leung, Daniel Wu, Fan Bingbing and Zhang Ziyi—opened against it. With only about 12,000 total screens China’s box office capacity is limited, and for Looper to earn $25 million it would have had to thoroughly dominate all the other films. It’s unlikely that’s what happened.
  5. Although Looper’s U.S. producers Sony and Endgame apparently insisted that the film earned $23 – 25 million in China, no one else backed up that figure.

I’ve presented below the figures I’ve received through back channels in China:

That’s the story so far as I see it; if I’ve been wrong about this I’ll eat my words. As soon as the SARFT numbers come through I’ll publish an update.

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

Daniel Radcliffe Starrer ‘Woman in Black’ Falls Flat in Soft Week at Chinese Box Office


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By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

September 25, 2012

Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe couldn’t bring his magic to the China debut of his horror vehicle The Woman in Black, and two new Chinese language releases—Great Rescue and That Year School Ended—failed to connect as China’s box office take slipped last week to $29 million, its lowest level since March.

Although the last four Harry Potter films were solid hits in China, that franchise’s popularity failed to carry over to Woman in Black, which suffered one of the year’s worst openings for an English language film, with $1.45 million in receipts over its first four days. Among 2012’s nearly 50 English language releases so far, only The Lincoln Lawyer, The King’s Speech, A Man Apart and Ninja have fared worse.

Horror still hasn’t firmly established itself as a reliable genre in China. A few modest Chinese language successes like Bunshinsaba ($9.5 million total), Blood Stained Shoes ($7.2 million), and 2011’s Mysterious Island ($14 million), have been outnumbered by flops. It may be that Chinese audiences haven’t yet caught on to the pleasures of a good scary movie, but it’s more likely that the problem lies in China’s censorship strictures, which don’t allow much room for a true horror film, with blood, gore, torture, ghosts, demons, and “excessively terrifying scenes” all strictly prohibited.

On a brighter note for Chinese filmmakers, White Deer Plain out-grossed The Expendables 2 to take the week’s number one spot, the first time in a month that a Chinese film has taken that honor. Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises, and the Amazing Spider-Man, all nearing the end of their PRC runs, rounded out the rest of the top five.

Business should be brisk next week as six new Chinese films and the U.S.-China co-pro Looper will open just ahead of October’s Golden Week holiday. Look for the Stephen Fung steampunk comedy Taichi 0 to lead the pack, with China’s divas Zhang Ziyi in Dangerous Liaisons and Fan Bingbing in Double Xposure giving Taichi 0 some serious competition, especially with their female audience appeal. Although Looper’s Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt don’t have major fanbases in China, that movie’s genre, action-SciFi, tends to over-perform in China, so don’t count it out.

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