This weekend ushers in Chinese New Year, aka Spring Festival, and along with it are hopes that the holiday sparks some festive mainland box office. While last year got off to a great start, a slowdown at Chinese turnstiles resulted in just 3.7% growth across all of 2016. The beginning of 2017 has seen Hollywood releases in China include Rogue One: A Star Wars Story ($61.3 million through last weekend), Passengers ($33.5M) and Arrival ($7.4M). Local holdovers from 2016 that have had some staying power include Some Like It Hot ($83M), Railroad Tigers ($98M) and The Great Wall ($167M).
Now comes what is typically the most lucrative time of year for local films. Given the recent state of Chinese box office, which last year came back down to Earth, it will be interesting to see how the New Year fortunes fare. There was a crackdown on fraudulent box office reporting in 2016 after a dodgy 2015, and that contributed to the overall slowdown, while ticket subsidies were cut and audience tastes became more discerning. Wonders one exec, “Was moviegoing a novelty for five years and now it’s not? That’s a terrifying perspective.”
But there are several incoming offerings to refresh Middle Kingdom screens, led by Journey To The West: The Demons Strike Back, a follow-up to Stephen Chow’s 2013 hit Journey To The West: Conquering The Demons. Comedies Kung Fu Yoga (starring Jackie Chan) and Buddies In India are also on deck, as is the Deng Chao-starrer Duckweed and the fourth installment in the kids franchise, Boonie Bears: Entangled Worlds.
The pic with the biggest profile and potential is roundly considered to be the Journey To The West sequel, and comes with a big Imax component. Chow last year directed The Mermaid which also opened during the Lunar New Year period and went on to $527M in Middle Kingdom box office to become the biggest local title ever. Chow returns as producer and co-writer, handing the helm to Tsui Hark. That Hong Kong director has such hits as Flying Swords Of Dragon Gate and the Detective Dee franchise under his belt. His last outing was 2014’s The Taking Of Tiger Mountain which grossed more than $140M during the Christmas period that year.
One U.S. exec says, “The expectation is that box office on Journey To The West will be massive,” particularly given “there hasn’t been a lot to capture the excitement of the Chinese audience” in recent months.
Pre-sales as reported this week by Ent Group had JTTW2 at about $7M, followed by Buddies In India at about $5M and Kung Fu Yoga at $2.8M. All three open tomorrow. As it did with The Mermaid, Sony has some international rights on JTTW2 and is releasing day-and-date with China in Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Cambodia, Australia and New Zealand. The UK and U.S. follow on February 3, with Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand later in the month.
Of the top 10 films in China in 2016, three were launched with the Spring Festival, accumulating $884M in combined box office. Adding in Kung Fu Panda 3, which was a U.S./China co-production and bowed a week early, the total rises to $1.04B.
Also last year, February box office hit a record RMB 6.87B, the first time Chinese turnstiles outspun those in the U.S. and Canada combined during a single month. We’ll know more about how this year is shaping up on Sunday.
Check out another JTTW2 trailer below as well as promos for all the films above:
JOURNEY TO THE WEST: THE DEMONS STRIKE BACK
This latest adaptation of the ancient Chinese fantasy novel marks the first major collaboration between Hong Kong legends Stephen Chow and Tsui Hark (who appear at the end of the trailer below). Chow directed the previous JTTW which grossed about $200M in 2013. His 2016 pic The Mermaid became the highest-grossing PROC movie ever with $527M — Tsui had a cameo in that film. Among the notable cast here are Kenny Lin (The Great Wall, The Taking Of Tiger Mountain), Yun Lin (The Mermaid, L.O.R.D.: Legend Of Ravaging Dynasties) and Kris Wu (The Mermaid, L.O.R.D., xXx: Return Of Xander Cage). Sony has several offshore markets.
KUNG FU YOGA
A Chinese-India co-production, this culture-clash comedy stars Jackie Chan as an archaeologist on an international search for an ancient Indian treasure. Disha Patani also stars. Rumble In The Bronx’s Stanley Tong directs. Well Go USA is releasing this one in the U.S.
BUDDIES IN INDIA
Another pic with an Indian backdrop, this Beijing Enlight action comedy hails from actor-turned-director Wang Baoqiang who was also in 2012 hit Lost In Thailand to which this film owes a debt. China Lion has this in the U.S. with release set for today.
The Continent’s Han Han directs this reconciliation dramedy about a son who travels back in time to experience his father’s legendary past alongside him. The Mermaid’s Deng Chao stars with Eddie Peng (The Great Wall, Operation Mekong). China Lion has offshore rights.
BOONIE BEARS: ENTANGLED WORLDS
The fourth film in the Fantawild Animation franchise, this multiverse installment sees the bear brothers try to thwart an elite team of thieves out to steal the Deer Clan’s Golden Antlers. China.org estimates this will be the pic to harness kids over the Spring Festival period. Directed by Lin Huida and Lin Yongchang, it made about $3M in advance screenings last Saturday.