• Box Office

China Box Office September 18, 2022

An interesting heads-up from Sonny Bunch writing in the Washington Post on September 15 – Chinese businesses are increasingly buying up international video game companies. Why this is worrying is that the size of the international gaming market dwarfs that of the global box office, and all video games bought by the Chinese are subject to the same censorship that is applied by the ministry of culture to movies that are approved for the Chinese audience – no Tibetan references, no time travel, ghost stories, gambling, violence or nudity.

Oliver Holmes writing in the Guardian in July 2021 recounted the experience of American gaming developer Riot Games when the company sold a 93% stake to the Chinese company Tencent Holdings for $400 million. “In 2011, the designer at Riot learned of an unwritten rule that no video game can show characters emerging from the ground, as if rising from the dead. There were other rules of thumb, too. “There can’t be exposed bones or ribs hanging out,” she told me.” Holmes learned that if a game featured skeletons, developers reworking it for China will simply add on flesh. Nor could games feature realistic-looking blood – all vampire blood had to be black.

According to Holmes, “China is the world’s largest market for the world’s largest entertainment industry. Today, the number of Chinese gamers, about 740 million [according to nikopartners.com, a research and analysis firm that specializes in video game markets and consumers in Asia], is bigger than the entire populations of the US, Japan, Germany, France, and the UK combined. Its domestic market is worth more than $45 billion a year.”

Tencent, an investor in movies such as Monster Hunter, Terminator: Dark Fate, and Bumblebee, was in the headlines recently as they pulled out of Top Gun: Maverick over the controversial patches on Tom Cruise’s flight jacket which showed Taiwanese and Japanese flags, foregoing millions of dollars in revenue to appease the Chinese government.

Since many blockbuster movies are based on video games, the concern is that all creativity will be sanitized in case it “endanger[s] social morality or national cultural traditions” or “promote[s] cults and feudal superstitions,” setting up the Chinese censor as a moral arbiter. It remains to be seen whether video game companies will resist selling to the Chinese and whether art or commerce will win out.

On another note, IMAX has contracted to open 6 new cinemas in China. The company has been in China for over 20 years and has 788 theaters in the country with plans for another 198. CEO Rich Gelfond announced the contract during a Goldman Sachs media conference Q&A, according to Deadline.

Here are the top ten films for the weekend of September 16-18.

Last week’s No. 1 film, Give Me Five, stays at the top this weekend as well, making $37.16 million in ten days of release with $7.22 million grossed over the weekend. The Chinese film tells of a young man who magically time-travels to the 1980s to help his Alzheimer’s-afflicted father revive his memories of his mother and his life. It is directed by Zhang Luan and stars Chang Yuan.

The animated Xin Shen Bang: Yang Jian (New Gods) stays at No. 2 on Sunday after briefly falling to fourth place on Friday, making $67.93 million in 31 days of release with a weekend take of $2.85 million. It is directed by Ji Zhao and stars voice actor Kai Wang. Gkids has acquired the rights for both Chinese and English-dubbed versions for theatrical distribution in North America next year.

Moon Man, the Chinese sci-fi blockbuster comedy, stayed at No. 3, earning $446.88 million in 51 days with $2.68 million over the three-day weekend.

Table for Six ends in fourth place on Sunday (it was No. 2 on Saturday), earning $2.44 million over the weekend for a total gross of $8.09 million in its second week. This comedy is another Covid holdover and premiered at the Far East Film Festival in April where it was nominated for Best Screenplay. The film is about the complicated relationships of three brothers played out over a family reunion. It stars Dayo Wong, Stephy Tang, and Louis Cheung and is directed by Sunny Chan.

Minions: The Rise of Gru takes fifth place after falling to No. 10 on Friday but regaining ground by Sunday to end with $1.37 million over the weekend, for a total of $35.37 million in 31 days of release.

Mother-daughter weepie Song of Spring is at No. 6 this weekend. It stars Estelle Wu as the mother who takes care of her Alzheimer’s-afflicted daughter played by Xi Mei Juan. The film is directed by Yang Lina. Its total gross is $7.76 million in 9 days of release.

In Search of Lost Time edged out Hero with $0.62 million for the weekend and placed seventh with a total gross of $4.24 million over ten days. It is based on the true story of the orphans known as ‘children of the country’ that were adopted by nomads in Inner Mongolia between 1960 and 1963 after their families were wiped out in a famine. The film opened the Beijing Film Festival in August and is directed by Derek Yee and stars Chen Baoguo, Ma Su, and Ayanga. 

The first film in the Chinese film industry made entirely by women, Hero (Her Story) comes in at No. 8 with $0.59 million over the weekend for a total of $7.02 million in ten days. The film is co-directed by three women – Li Shaohong, Joan Chen, and Sylvia Chang, and produced by a woman, Jennifer Wenjie Dong. Set in 2020, the film tells the stories of ordinary people in the pandemic who face death, loss of jobs, fractured relationships, etc. It is in the form of three short interconnected stories simultaneously unfolding in Hong Kong, Beijing, and Wuhan.

No. 9 is the animated Quing Wa Wang Guo (Frog Kingdom), about a Frog Princess who runs away from her kingdom dressed as a commoner. It made $4 million in nine days of release.

Rounding out the top ten is the military thriller Wolf Pack, earning $3.19 million in ten days of release. It is described as the story of a mercenary who goes to a foreign country to rescue missing children. It stars Zhang Jin, Aarif Rahman, and Jiang Lu Xia and is the directorial debut of Michael Chiang.