China Box Office Pauses Ahead of Patriotic New Year Surge

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China’s cinema box office trod water in the weekend ahead of the Chinese New Year holidays and an imminent surge of new release titles. These mean that the next few days could add up to the biggest week in Chinese movie history.

Over the latest weekend, though, the nationwide aggregate was a paltry $21.4 million, the lowest weekend this year, according to data from consultancy Artisan Gateway.

“Fireflies in the Sun,” a Wanda Pictures-backed thriller, said to be a remake of “John Q,” climbed back to first place with a $4.1 million take. It was first released in mid-December and has now built a cumulative of $174 million.

Patriotic pandemic film “Embrace Again” slipped to second place with $3.9 million, giving a running total of $148 million. Comedy, “Another Me” took $2.9 million for a $73 million cumulative since release on Jan. 1, 2022. Chinese crime thriller “G Storm” earned $2.8 million over the weekend for a total of $99.9 million since releasing on Dec. 31. Paramount’s “Paw Patrol” clung onto fifth spot for the third week. It earned $1.7 million for a ten-day cumulative of $11 million.

Controversy over Keanu Reeves, who is under fire for apparent plans to attend a pro-Tibet benefit concert in the U.S., failed to damage the career of “The Matrix: Resurrections” in any meaningful fashion. The film is still on release, but far outside the top five and will likely be crushed by the Chinese New Year releases which arrive in cinemas from Tuesday (Feb. 1).

“Watergate Bridge” (aka “The Battle at Lake Changjin II”) is a sequel to the film that was released in October for the National Day festivities and broke a swath of records including the all-time, all-comers highest gross in China with a $913 million total.

State media are busily predicting that the sequel could beat this. “Watergate Bridge” is similarly militaristic, similarly patriotic, is made by the same Tsui Hark, Dante Lam and Chen Kaige directing team, and boasts the same top stars Wu Jing and Jackson Yee.

Also mining the Korean War-theme (known in China as ‘The War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea’) is “Snipers,” a film co-directed by veteran Zhang Yimou and his daughter Zhang Mo.

Other contenders are: drama “Nice View,” from “Dying to Survive” director Wen Wuye, also starring former pop star Jackson Yee; “Only Fools Rush in,” from actor-director-social media star Han Han (“Pegasus”) and “Too Cool to Kill”) directed by Xing Wenxiong and starring Ma Li (Never Say Die).

There are also three Chinese-made animation films, with the one to beat, the annual Boonie Bears franchise title, this time called “Boonie Bears: Back to Earth.” The others are “Dunk for Future” (part of the Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf franchise) and “Run Tiger Run.”

State media are predicting that the Lunar New Year holiday week will yield gross box office of RMB7-8 billion ($1.10-$1.25 billion), despite some COVID disruptions and competition for eyeballs from the Winter Olympics, which start Friday.

Pre-sales for “Lake Changjin II” have been particularly strong, and the film is set for an opening day in excess of $40 million.

On current trends (using data from Chinese ticketing agency Taopiaopiao) “Only Fools Rush In” is set for second place ahead of “Nice View,” “Too Cool to Kill,” “Boonie Bears,” “Sniper,” “Dunk for Future” and “Run Tiger Run.” But in several previous years the film that starts strongest on the first and second days does not always emerge as the ultimate winner.

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