Culture | The Great Wall unassailable in its first week in China
Matt Damon in The Great Wall ... a much earlier and ultimately futile and costly protectionist measure.
Matt Damon in The Great Wall ... a much earlier and ultimately futile and costly protectionist measure.

The Great Wall unassailable in its first week in China

Zhang Yimou's blockbuster makes a solid start, while Star Wars release is beaten into second spot in Japan

December 20, 2016 4:26 PM (UTC+8)

The verdict on how great it actually is may be divided, but this week The Great Wall – Zhang Yimou’s attempt to straddle two film cultures – towered over its competitors at the Chinese box office. In its opening weekend attack, the English-language action fantasy with almost as many scriptwriters as it has actors, grossed US$69.9 million over a three-day period. Detractors have said that despite enlisting Matt Damon and Andy Lau, the movie is built on weak foundations and that Chinese audiences will rapidly retreat. Even so, its solid start will satisfy Zhang’s producers.

The question for the investors, both Chinese and American, is: how will The Great Wall stand up in international territories? A cautious end-of-year rollout in Sino-favourable markets such as Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and, of course, Hong Kong, over the New Year period will act as a stress test of The Great Wall’s crowd-bearing capabilities, before its vital assault on the United States in February.

Taking an additional US$17 million this week, Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge maintained second place in China, while the number three slot went to the long-awaited The Wasted Times. With a well-crafted if nonsensical trailer that has been doing the rounds for many, many months, Chang Er’s elegant but dull reunification of Zhang Ziyi and Ge You wasted no time in accumulating US$9.3 million over its opening weekend.

Feng Xiaogang’s I Am Not Madame Bovary has shown arthouse movies can enjoy success, albeit of a limited sort, in the Chinese market. Now in sixth place, the tale of a determined woman who won’t take no for an answer gathered a cumulative tally of US$65.7 million over the past month – which is less than the amount The Great Wall took over the past weekend.

Another film featuring a Chinese treasure was a surprise hit this week. Lurking in the number 10 spot, behind Zhang Mo’s romantic comedy Suddenly Seventeen (which earned an additional US$7 million in its second week to reach US$17.2 million earned so far) and Shupeng Yang’s pulsating crime drama Blood Of Youth (debut tally US$1.2 million), was Masters in the Forbidden City. This documentary about restoration professionals in China’s Imperial Palace built on its popularity as a CCTV three-part series to pull in around US$550,000.

In South Korea, disaster movie Pandora maintained its dominance over Hollywood musical La La Land, grabbing 42% of the market. After its second week, the domestically-produced film has accumulated US$21.6 million, but having chalked up only 3.1 million admissions it’s still a long way from the level of popularity of the Korean industry’s biggest hits – K-films started hitting the 10 million admissions mark in the early to mid 2000s with Silmido and The Host.

A new entry, the time travel melodrama Will You Be There?, made its presence known, claiming South Korea’s number three slot with US$4.5 million. That meant it snuck past My Annoying Brother, which managed to hang around in fourth place, reaching a cumulative gross of US$19.2 million.

Japan and South Korea make a strong point of collecting figures based on actual attendances. In contrast, Hollywood prefers to concentrate on the gross

While Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is being held over for later releases in Korea and China, in Japan the spin-off from the 30-year-old franchise had to play second fiddle to the release of an animé/live action hybrid titled, in full, Yokai Watch the Movie: The Flying Whale and the Grand Adventure of Double Worlds, Meow! But that depends on how you count.

The Rogue One vortex sucked in US$5.6 million – almost US$400,000 more than Yokai Watch. But, the third movie in the computer game franchise actually attracted more people – over 100,000 more, in fact. Japan and South Korea make a strong point of collecting figures based on actual attendances. In contrast, Hollywood prefers to concentrate on the gross, which means it can make tenuous claims like “Zoolander is more popular than Gone With the Wind”. Let’s keep our skepticism attuned.

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