'Amazing China' shines at home box office

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Asia / Pacific Roundabout

Theatrically released documentaries have traditionally had a hard time at the Chinese box office, as the genre has not been very popular with local audiences. But that arguably changed dramatically last year with the simple-titled Twenty Two, a domestically produced documentary recounting the heartrending stories of 22 surviving “comfort women,” local females forced by the Japanese Imperial Army in World War II into providing sexual services to soldiers. The film became China’s highest-grossing documentary of all time, grossing well in excess of CNY100 million ($15.85 million).

Their appetite now seemingly whetted, Chinese film fans have recently flocked to yet another local documentary. Released on March 2, Amazing China by March 18 had already earned an astonishing CNY327 million ($51.7 mil.), comfortably dethroning Twenty Two in the process. A co-production between the China Film Group Corporation and China Central Television, Amazing China runs 90 minutes and showcases the country’s achievements over the past two years, with a heavy focus on high technology. Permeated with clearly nationalistic undertones, the film looks at the world’s biggest maritime drilling rig, Blue Whale; the world’s largest radio telescope, FAST, as well as China’s great strides in the development of 5G mobile technology, just to name a few topics. Although ticket sales waned in the second half of March, Chinese ticketing platform Maoyan nevertheless estimates that box-office takings will reach CNY445 million. Not too shabby for an “unpopular genre.”

…and Tomb Raider, Pacific Rim Do Nicely, Too

For the time being, Chinese audiences seemingly have already eyed a new favorite, as Lara Croft has arrived in the country. Released on March 16, long-anticipated Hollywood blockbuster Tomb Raider pretty much…well, raided the box office on its opening weekend. Earning almost CNY260 million ($40.8 mil.), it effortlessly jumped to the chart’s top spot. The figure represents a very sizeable chunk of the total gross of CNY966 million the Chinese box office generated in the week of March 12-18, according to ticketing platform Maoyan. However, the next contender from Hollywood is already approaching with force and just might unseat Lara before too long. Sci-fi action film Pacific Rim: Uprising hit Chinese theatres on March 23 and raked up a respectable CNY135 million on its opening day alone. At press time it had accumulated some CNY232 million, inching closer and closer to Tomb Raider’s takings, which are already slowing down somewhat. Maoyan is expecting that the film’s box-office results will eventually exceed CNY896 million. Fight, Lara, fight!

China to Adapt Puccini’s Turandot

Documentaries, adventure, action, romance, comedy, science fiction…Chinese audiences at the moment really are spoiled for choice. But how about an opera film for good measure? Well, it’s in the making. Shooting has reportedly recently begun on a Chinese film adaptation of Giacomo Puccini's classic opera Turandot. Chinese actor Wang Xiaoyi, who stars in the film with his female counterpart, French actress Sophie Marceau, posted still photos seemingly taken on set on local microblogging website Sina Weibo, which he captioned with “Turandot has started shooting. Wish the film good luck!" As the film will be an adaptation, it remains to be seen to what extent directorZheng Xiaolong is going to remain true to the source material. After all, the opera itself is quite a bit of a mess in terms of geography and ethnography. While Puccini placed the story in China, its main characters, Prince Calaf and Princess Turandot, are in fact Persians. Additionally, Zheng must of course try to make his movie appealing to local audiences, the vast majority of whom are hardly familiar with Puccini’s work.

Local Version of Korean Hit Tops Vietnam Box Office

Go Go Sisters (approximate translation), a Vietnamese version of South Korea’s bittersweet comedy drama Sunny (2011), has become an audience hit in the Southeast Asian nation. It attracted almost 300,000 film fans on its opening day, March 16, and sovereignly topped the box office during its first week of release.

Go Go Sistersis the first movie produced by CJ HK Entertainment, a joint venture formed by South Korea’s largest entertainment company, CJ E&M, and Vietnamese studio HK Film. According to a statement by CJ E&M, Sunny will also be released in domestic versions in Japan and the United States. The Japanese version is scheduled to open on August 31 under the title Sunny: Strong Feelings. Meanwhile, the U.S. version is set to begin casting after negotiations have concluded with an unnamed Hollywood studio.

Go Go Sisters follows in the footsteps of another hit CJ E&M movie last year, Miss Granny (2014), which apart from Vietnam also had been remade into versions for territories such as Thailand, Indonesia, Japan and China. The various versions altogether earned a combined $73.1 million. Remaking its movies into domestic versions using local casts and adapting screenplays to local tastes rather than simply exporting completed films and having them dubbed or subtitled for local audiences is a strategy that CJ E&M has pursued for some time now and intends to expand to a whole lot more of its titles in the future under what the company calls its “new vista.”

For feedback and inquiries, contact Thomas Schmid at thomas.schmid@filmjournal.com.