'Mermaid' busts China B.O. record

Asia / Pacific Roundabout

Mainland-produced romantic comedy The Mermaid (Mei Ren Yu) has effectively dethroned last year’s Monster Hunt as the highest-grossing Chinese movie of all time. Directed by Stephen Chow, the film had earned a staggering CNY2.45 billion ($376 mil.) within only ten days since its release on Feb. 8, the beginning of the traditional Chinese New Year holiday. By comparison, Monster Hunt, a highly acclaimed action fantasy-comedy directed by “the father of Shrek,” Raman Hui, had managed to rack up “only” CNY2.44 billion during its entire two-month run in Mainland theatres last year.

Despite having to compete against very stiff competition from rival blockbusters such as The Man from Macao Part 3 and The Monkey King 2, The Mermaid defied all odds and even broke new records for the biggest opening day and biggest single-day gross, and almost effortlessly breached the magical barrier of two billion CNY in the shortest amount of time ever. Starring heartthrob Deng Chao and newcomer actress Lin Yun in her first lead role, The Mermaid tells the story of a businessman (Chao) whose latest real estate project will involve large-scale land reclamations from the sea. This threatens not only the marine ecosystem but also the entire mermaid race, which dispatches one of their own (Yun) to assassinate the businessman in order to foil the land reclamation plans. But of course they fall in love with each other...

Strong EFM Pre-sales for Korean War Film

A Korean production dealing with the devastating war that ravaged the Korean peninsula from 1950 until 1953 has enjoyed strong pre-sales at this year’s European Film Market, which ran Feb. 11-19 on the sidelines of the annual Berlinale in Germany’s capital. Assigned Korean exhibitor Finecut reported that it had generated plenty of interest for Operation Chromite, which stars Liam Neeson as legendary General Douglas MacArthur. Potential buyers could only be treated to select clips from the movie because it is currently still shooting and will only wrap in March. Operation Chromite is then scheduled to hit Korean cinemas sometime in July.

The film, which chronicles the famous Battle of Incheon, a crucial turning point in the Korean War for the U.N. forces led by MacArthur, was nevertheless picked up by a number of distributors. According to Finecut, MovieCloud acquired Operation Chromite for distribution in Taiwan, Splendid for Germany, Austria and the Benelux countries, and Discovery Film & Video for Serbia and other ex-Yugoslav states. Distribution in Korea will be handled by CJ Entertainment, which also holds the rights for China, Indonesia, Mongolia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. Produced by Taewon Entertainment and directed by Lee Jae-han (who is better known under his western name John H. Lee), the movie has an estimated budget of around $12.6 million.

Taiwan Enjoys Brisk New Year B.O.

Taiwan’s movie fans were treated to a alluringly broad lineup of both local and foreign productions to celebrate this year’s exceptionally long Lunar New Year holiday, which thanks to bridging two weekends lasted a full nine days. Correspondingly, local cinemas reported brisk ticket sales. A sequel to the enormously successful 2013 local comedy hit David Loman, equally funny David Lomanunsurprisingly took the top spot initially, bagging NTD140 million ($4.2 mil.) during the holiday. It only had to relinquish its champion position from Feb. 9 onwards, when Hollywood’s superhero action film Deadpool hit Taiwan. The movie has since generated more than $8.2 million in ticket sales.

Another local production, Like Life, also made a relatively strong showing during the Lunar New Year, earning a respectable $130,554 during its short nine-day run. However, by the week ending Feb. 14, all domestic movies had been displaced from the top five spots, making way for Hollywood blockbusters. Warner Bros’ How to Be Single has since become the runner-up after Deadpool, grossing almost $1.5 million to date, followed by Disney’s The Good Dinosaur ($1.75 mil.), acclaimed transgender drama The Danish Girl, which earned $518,000 during its first week alone, and another UIP offering, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.

Malaysia Soccer Movie Yields to Foreign Competition

It was a nice idea: Make a film about soccer (football) to help rekindle the popularity of Malaysia’s formerly favorite team sport. But the idea apparently wasn’t on target, much like an ineptly aimed penalty shot flying off into the bleachers instead of crossing the goal line. Although director Keng Guan Chiu’s hopes were high, OlaBola performed relatively slowly compared with foreign blockbusters since its release on Jan. 28, failing to make it into the country’s box-office top 20.

Soccer used to be Malaysia’s quasi-national game, with the country enjoying its largest international tournament successes throughout the 1970s. The national team even celebrated an ecstatic 2-1 victory over longtime rivals South Korea in a qualifying match that earned them a spot in the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. Unfortunately, those were cancelled after almost all nations boycotted them in protest over the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. As the 1980s commenced, the country’s enthusiasm for soccer somehow evaporated almost completely.

With OlaBola Chiu wanted to “bring back that golden era [of soccer]” to encourage his fellow countrymen to not only rediscover their erstwhile passion for the sport but also learn the moral lesson that they have to work together as a team if they want to succeed as individuals and as a nation. “We have to believe in something to go further,” he told British news agency Reuters during a recent interview. Perhaps Chiu also banked on his fame as director of The Journey, which upon its release in 2014 set a new box-office record for locally produced movies, grossing some MYR17 million ($4.1 mil.). But perhaps as tough foreign competition from movies like The Boy and The 5th Wave has been dominating Malaysia’s charts since the beginning of the year, OlaBola never really had a chance to score high. 

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