Patriotic action film “Homecoming” dominated cinemagoing in China over the weekend with a nearly $60 million haul. But the National Day holiday season is in a deep slump compared with recent years.
Directed by Rao Xiaozhi, the film is yet another tale of a heroic rescue of Chinese citizens in danger in foreign lands. In this instance, two Chinese diplomats must return to war-torn 2011 Libya to save 125 people who have been left behind.
The film opened on Friday and garnered an impressive $59.3 million (RMB421) according to data from consultancy Artisan Gateway. It accounted for a thumping 67% market share. Imax reported that the film had been shot with Imax-certified cameras and that $3 million of the total came from its screens in China.
While the Friday-Sunday nationwide aggregate of $88 million was an impressive leap from the theatrical doldrums of the previous two weekends, the numbers were in reality a continuation of the box office weakness that China has endured for most of this year. The October 1 weekend should have been so much bigger.
The list of problems afflicting the Chinese theatrical sector includes: a waning supply of attractive local titles; growing dependence on holiday seasons; a severe shortage of foreign titles, Hollywood especially; and, China’s continuing ultra-strict anti-COVID measures which require city lockdowns, mass testing and travel restrictions.
To the list can now be added China’s economic problems – especially growing unemployment and a deep property crisis – which may be affecting people’s spending power.
The opening for “Homecoming” is puny compared with “The Battle at Lake Changjin” which headed the National Day weekend last year with $203 million in three days. “Homecoming” falls short even beside the second-ranked film “My Country, My Parents,” which took $76 million in its first weekend in the same slot last year. And the $88 million nationwide weekend aggregate represents a 70% slump compared with Oct. 1-3, 2021.
A week ago, the box office outlook for the weekend had looked brighter. And local analysts had predicted that the seven-day National Day holiday could throw up revenues of RMB3.3 billion. That compares with RMB4.2 billion in 2021 and RMB5 billion in pre-COVID year 2019.
Seven films had been lined up with slightly staggered release dates to hit the market over the period. Four were labelled as fitting the “main melody” description of “realistic patriotic works focusing on stories about the nation, the Communist Party of China and the People’s Liberation Army.” Another three are animated movies.
Unfortunately, the launch of front-runner “Born to Fly” was indefinitely postponed on Tuesday (Sept. 27, 2022), just three days before its scheduled take-off.
The film is an airborne action adventure about Chinese test pilots, which had been described as China’s answer to “Top Gun” in some quarters. (“Young, excellent Chinese pilots put China’s self-produced stealth fighter through its paces and protect the motherland’s territorial air space without fear of difficulties or danger,” according to the Global Times newspaper.) Directed by Liu Xiaoshi, it stars a gruff-looking Hu Jun alongside Wang Yibo, Yu Yosh and Zhou Dongyu.
The producers’ explanation for the delay pointed to a need to improve the film’s special effects. But online commentators pointed out multiple overt similarities with “Top Gun.” The trailer for “Born to Fly” remains available outside China on YouTube. “Top Gun Maverick” was not permitted a release in China.
Artisan Gateway’s data shows “Ordinary Hero” taking second place over the weekend, with an $8.6 million (RMB61 million) haul, ahead of holdover “Give Me Five,” in its fourth weekend of release with $4.9 million (RMB34.7 million).
Fourth place over the weekend belonged to one of the animation titles, “New Happy Dad and Son 5: My Alien Friend,” which was released on Saturday and earned $3.5 million (RMB18.2 million) in two days. Fifth place belonged to another patriotic title “Steel Will.” It took $2.6 million (RMB18.2 million).
At the year-to-date level, Artisan Gateway calculates that box office this year in China is lagging by 27% compared with 2021. The running total is $3.70 billion, compared with $5.09 billion.
“The year-to-date downtrend is most likely to continue into next weeks as year-on-year comparisons look challenging,” the company said.
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