• Box Office

China Box Office November 20, 2022

The goal of being the No.1 film territory in the world (which it held in 2020 and 2021) no longer seems a priority for the Chinese administration. The strangling ‘dynamic zero covid’ policy is still in place with continuing lockdowns. Hollywood blockbusters, like all Marvel movies, are banned from release, most recently Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. The local film industry is also in the doldrums with intensifying censorship, approving mostly propaganda and patriotic films and pulling the release of those that seemingly show China in a ‘poor’ light, like the much-praised Return to Dust with its story of rural poverty. 

But piracy thrives in China despite some efforts by the administration to crack down on it. According to a 2021 Economist article, “For a generation of young Chinese, American television shows like The Big Bang Theory, Breaking Bad and Sex and the City were their first taste of life in the West. Growing up with limited English inside China’s “great firewall,” millions of them watched pirated versions online, with the help of subtitles produced by volunteers. Many of the translators were Chinese students, both in China and at universities abroad.” 

Some employees of the streaming company Renren Yingshi (with 8 million registered users) were arrested for copyright infringements last year, which drove other companies underground. What was most missed by viewers of pirated content was the fact that the shows were not censored and reflected the original intent of the creators without state meddling, according to the Economist.

Nevertheless, piracy continues. According to Variety, the crackdowns on piracy haven’t had much effect. “On some online platforms, vendors offered viewers deals such as the ability to view six new year titles for just $1.38 (RMB8.88), about a sixth of the average ticket price over the holiday . . . Small websites are the main channels through which links are disseminated . . . The second most common place where they spread was via social networking platforms, which accounted for 26% of those being watched. Nearly 80% of the small websites in question operated without an ICP license — the permit issued by Beijing that allows websites to operate legally in the country.” Thousands of piracy sites are not based in China but in countries like Hong Kong and the US.

So the Chinese box office staggers along, and some new releases, including a few old international ones, haven’t managed to lift the numbers. Here are the top ten films for the weekend of November 19-20.

Japanese film Detective Conan: The Bride of Halloween takes the No. 1 spot. The animated mystery film directed by Susumu Mitsunaka is based on a manga series and is the 25th iteration of the Case Closed franchise. It grossed $12.04 million in three days.

Last week’s No. 1 film The Tipping Point falls to No. 2 with $4.06 million this weekend and a total gross of $17.72 million over 10 days. It is a crime thriller based on a real-life story where the investigation of the suspicious death of a student uncovers a web of corruption. The film is directed by David Lam and stars Zhou Yiwei, Qin Hailu and Julian Cheung.

New Chinese drama Farewell Beijing takes the third spot earning $2.33 million over three days. It tells the story of three drifters – a businessman, a courier and a singer – who move to Beijing without registering with the city and struggle to make a life.

The low-budget US film Fall starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan which was released in the US in August by Lionsgate got a China release this weekend and comes in fourth with $1.43 million. The survival thriller is directed by Scott Mann and tells the story of the rescue attempt of two women stranded on a 2,000-foot radio tower. It has earned $16 million internationally so far.

The patriotic film Home Coming drops to No. 5 with $231.56 million earned over 51 days, grossing $1.31 million over the weekend. The Rao Xiao Zhi-directed film is about the heroic deeds of a Chinese diplomat and a civil servant who evacuate 125 Chinese from a war-torn North African country. It stars Zhang Yi and Karry Wang.

Give Me Five comes in at No. 6 after 73 days of release. Its total gross is $80.62 million. The sci-fi Chinese film tells of a young man who travels back in time to the 1980s to help his Alzheimer’s-afflicted father remember his life. It is directed by Zhang Luan and stars Chang Yuan.

Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie, a US animated film by Nickolodeon, got a Chinese theatrical release this Saturday and landed at No. 7. It grossed $0.39 million in two days. The film has been on Netflix since August. (China is one of four countries that doesn’t have Netflix.)

Steel Will, a drama based on real-life stories, returns to the top ten list at No. 8 after falling off last week. The patriotic film about iron and steel production revisiting a historic Chinese event has grossed $14.27 million over 52 days. it is directed by Ning Haiquiang, and stars Lin Yongjian and Liu Ye.

Deadly Illusions, a 2020 Russian thriller about the famous illusionists, the Romanov brothers, debuted this weekend on Saturday at No. 9 earning $0.15 million in two days. The film is directed by Oleg Asadulin and stars Andrey Burkovsky and Pavel Chinaryov as the brothers.

Rounding out the top ten is the animated martial arts comedy Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank (also known as Blazing Samurai), a UK-China-US coproduction. It has earned $0.43 million over nine days. Directed by Rob Minkoff, Mark Koetsier and Chris Bailey, it features the voices of Michael Cera, Ricky Gervais, Mel Brooks, Michelle Yeoh, Samuel L. Jackson and George Takei, and is loosely based on Brooks’ 1974 Blazing Saddles. The story of a dog called Hank who trains to become a samurai opened in the US through Paramount in July. It bombed. The Chinese producer is Huayi Brothers.