Wanda Film’s ‘Detective Chinatown 2’ has come from behind to overtake ‘Monster Hunt 2’ as the holiday period’s biggest blockbuster.
China’s movie box office generated a record $901 million (5.72 billion yuan) in ticket sales during the week-long Lunar New Year holiday, also known as Spring Festival.
The staggering total represented growth of 67 percent over the same period last year, according to the country’s media regulator, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television of China.
The big holiday returns suggest that China’s theatrical film market has fully rebounded from a slump in growth over the past two years, which had been a cause of consternation at movie studios both in Beijing and Southern California (Chinese ticket sales grew just 3.7 percent in 2016 and 15 percent last year, down from an average of at least 35 percent over the preceding five years).
Half a dozen major new releases opened simultaneously last Friday, as the Year of the Dog was officially getting underway. This year’s surprise big winner was Wanda Film’s Detective Chinatown 2, a slapstick action mystery set in New York City. Directed by Chen Sicheng, the film had earned $299 million as of Wednesday, slightly more than Edko’s early favorite Monster Hunt 2, which totaled $268.8 million.
Directed by former DreamWorks Animation veteran Raman Hui, Monster Hunt 2 came out of the gate with a strong lead on day one, earning $85 million over DC2‘s $53.4 million. But less favorable word of mouth has dragged on the fantasy sequel, and its holiday total may slip to third place by the end of the upcoming weekend.
The surprise mid-week shakeup repeats the comeback staged by Jackie Chan’s Kung Fu Yoga ($254 million) during Chinese New Year in 2017, when the Hong Kong icon’s latest came from behind to ultimately top Tsui Hark’s Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons ($215 million).
Although such volatility might strike some overseas observers as a sign that the Chinese market is still at an early stage of development, it’s worth noting that the North America box-office has no comparable one-week release window that’s so enormously valuable that the U.S. studios would risk opening their strongest tentpoles head-to-head. Jumanji may have opened just one week after Star Wars: The Last Jedi during the last U.S. holiday season, staging a surprise win on New Years Day — but just try to guess what might have happened if The Last Jedi, Jumanji, Wonder Woman, Jurassic World 2 and Coco had all opened on the exact same day.
Currently in third place in the Chinese charts but climbing fast is Bona Film Group’s big military action movie Operation Red Sea, directed by Dante Lam. As of Wednesday, it had earned $188 million, but its daily totals have begun to overtake the frontrunner sequels — so quickly that some analysts are now predicting that it might ultimately total more.
Operation Red Sea trades on the same sort of patriotism as 2017’s mega-blockbuster Wolf Warrior 2; it’s loosely based on the Chinese military’s real-life evacuation of hundreds of Chinese citizens from a sea port during the 2015 civil war in Yemen.
The Monkey King 3: Kingdom of Women, the latest adaptation of the beloved Chinese literary classic Journey to the West, landed in fourth place for the week, bringing in a total of $96.8 million.
And children’s animation Boonie Bears 5: The Big Shrink has pulled in a healthy $65 million despite its positioning in the shadow of four much bigger movies.
China’s Spring Festival officially stretched from Feb. 15 to Feb. 21 this year, but many local companies remain closed through Friday (Feb. 23), meaning more strong box-office returns are still to come.
Hollywood, of course, was again intentionally left out of the holiday box-office bonanza. Beijing regulators generally refuse to schedule imported movies during the country’s most lucrative release windows. U.S. trade officials, with the urging of the MPA, have been pressuring China for years to give up such tactics, along with other mechanisms of market manipulation — thus far, to no avail.