Just as Fifty Shades Of Grey is expected to dominate the domestic market this weekend, Ana and Christian are poised to continue frolicking atop the international box office. But this is also a frame heavy on Chinese movies which are expected to take leading spots on the overseas chart from just a handful of territories come Sunday. Billed as the most competitive Chinese New Year film season ever, the holiday period kicked off today with at least seven major local titles bowing head-to-head in the Middle Kingdom (two based on the same TV show). With the onslaught, it’s a good thing The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 already bested its two previous installments there ahead of the logjam.
While China regularly loads the end of the Gregorian calendar year with local movies, and blocks out most Hollywood fare to help ensure box office share tips in its favor, this is the first time there has been such a crowd of potential draws for the increasingly lucrative New Year/Spring Festival holiday. Releasing in the comparable frame in 2013, Journey To The West: Conquering The Demons went on to become the top-grossing film of the year at about $200M. In a record last year, three movies grossed $231.7M during the frame, which is akin to Thanksgiving, as second- and third-tier theaters sold more tickets to audiences home for the holidays, China Daily noted. Both 2014 New Year titles The Monkey King and Dad, Where Are We Going? ended the year in the Top 10, at Nos. 3 and 8, respectively.
So how will it go this time around? Such a stack of movies could work to cannibalize itself, but also looks to have something for everyone — from fantasy to action to comedy, local and Hollywood stars, and not one, but three, TV transfers. There’s also the romance holdover Somewhere Only We Know which released last week and has already made over $40M.
Here’s a look at which films are vying for new records as of today, and before the next Hollywood title, Big Hero 6, arrives on February 28:
Jackie Chan-starrer Dragon Blade is a historical drama directed by Daniel Lee. Played out during the Han Dynasty, with Chan as a Chinese military officer and John Cusack and Adrien Brody as Roman generals, it’s got a coveted IMAX 3D release:
Zhong Kui: Snow Girl And The Dark Crystal may have a shot at jumping out of the crowd given it’s the only true fantasy movie to release this frame. Li Bingbing, who appeared in China’s top-grossing film of all-time, Transformers: Age Of Extinction, plays a snow demon opposite Kun Chen’s Zhong Kui, a ghost who maintains order in the afterlife. Village Roadshow and Warner Bros boarded as co-financiers and co-producers during the Shanghai Film Festival in June and Well Go releases in the U.S. next week:
Several years in the making, Wolf Totem is based on the bestselling, award-winning Chinese novel. It’s directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud whose Seven Years In Tibet was previously banned on the mainland. The story follows a Chinese student who is sent to inner Mongolia to teach the local shepherds during the Cultural Revolution, but ends up becoming fascinated by the wolf population:
Looking to repeat success found during the last Spring Festival, The Man From Macau II (alternately referred to as From Vegas To Macau II) is the sequel to 2014’s New Year release which earned about $85M locally, although it didn’t have as big a start as films like Monkey King and Dad, Where Are We Going? Chow Yun-fat stars in the gambling action/comedy that’s directed by Wong Jing and produced by Andrew Lau:
Triumph In The Skies, a transfer of the Hong Kong TV series about a group of pilots and cabin crew that’s loosely based on Cathay Pacific airlines, already released on Valentine’s Day in Malaysia. It took the No. 1 spot for the weekend there with no competition from Fifty Shades Of Grey which has been banned in the growing box office market. It takes flight today in China, and North American audiences will get a look at it when it’s released tomorrow:
Dad, Where Are We Going? 2 is the sequel to last year’s $111M grosser which debuted in the New Year frame. It set a record for a 2D Chinese film on opening day with $14.2M and earned $40M in its first weekend. Extrapolated from the reality TV series that follows a group of celebrity fathers connecting with their children, it could face stiff competition — from itself? The other TV transfer releasing today is Emperor’s Holidays — which is also based on the Dad, Where Are We Going? series. Rather than acting as a big-screen version of an episode, this film is a dramatized take on the family comedy and likewise incorporates dads and kids, but stars the cast from the first TV series. Here’s an original-language trailer for Emperor’s Holidays:
Each of the films above will have an unfettered run — apart from facing off against one another — until Big Hero 6. In March, Jupiter Ascending, Cinderella and Taken 3 are all primed for release. UK hit Paddington also has a ticket to Chinese cinemas that month, with a local premiere to be attended by Prince William.