Spring Festival film season takes in record-breaking $1.2B

By Zhang Rui
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, February 18, 2021
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Blockbusters that debuted during the seven-day Chinese New Year holiday smashed several box office records, raking in 7.82 billion yuan ($1.2 billion) — one of the largest box office takings in history.

A child browses posters for Chinese blockbusters displayed at a cinema in Beijing, Feb. 16, 2021. [Photo by Zhang Rui/China.org.cn]

According to Beacon, a box office tracking agency and big data platform, a total of 2.85 million Spring Festival blockbuster screenings attracted 160 million admissions during the holiday. Ticket sales had exceeded 2019's record of 5.9 billion yuan as early as Monday.

Top contributors were two monstrous tentpole productions, "Detective Chinatown 3" and "Hi, Mom." The former, the third installment of China's hugely popular detective action-comedy, had taken 3.55 billion yuan by Wednesday, while the latter, a mother and daughter-driven time-travel comedy, made 2.72 billion yuan. 

The two films' fight for top spot made for one of the most dramatic events during the national holiday. 

Chen Sicheng's "Detective Chinatown 3" launched as the most-anticipated Chinese New Year release after being postponed from last year's Spring Festival roster to this year's due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The film had sold tickets worth more than 1 billion yuan in presales alone and within three days after its debut, had grossed nearly 2.6 billion yuan — the fastest-earning film ever. Additionally, the film's colossal three-day debut grossed the equivalent of $398 million, not only making it the biggest opener in Chinese history but also the biggest ever single opening weekend for a film in a single market, overtaking the "Avengers: Endgame" North American launch total of $357 million in April 2019.

The film initially drew crowds for its borrowing of numerous nostalgic elements from pop culture, including the casting of familiar Japanese actress Honami Suzuki ("Tokyo Love Story") to Michael Jackson's song "Heal the World." However, mixed online reviews started to catch up with the film and by the fourth day "Hi, Mom" outsold it to take the box office crown.

"Hi, Mom" is the directorial debut of TV comedian Jia Ling, who dedicated her effort to make a touching remembrance of her mother, making audiences laugh and cry and leaving deeply touched. Rave reviews and word-of-mouth buzz helped the film dominate the second half of the holiday, a trend that will likely continue.

The third most popular film was "A Writer's Odyssey," an imaginative and creative fantasy movie by Lu Yang, grossing 539 million yuan. Two animated features, "Boonie Bears: The Wild Life" and "New Gods: Nezha Reborn" took fourth and fifth positions on the box office chart, taking in 368.46 million and 234.65 million yuan respectively. In addition, "The Yinyang Master," a fantasy film adapted from the popular mobile game Onmyoji, was at sixth and took 210.77 million yuan. "Endgame," a Chinese comedy-drama adaptation of the Japanese film "Key of Life" (2012) by Kenji Uchida, grossed 151.15 million yuan and was seventh on the chart.

IMAX Corporation also reported its best-ever opening weekend, making $25 million through Feb. 14. That result was buoyed by "Detective Chinatown 3," which was shot entirely with IMAX cameras and led the way with $23.5 million — IMAX's biggest three-day opening weekend ever for a Chinese film. Rich Gelfond, CEO of IMAX, said these early returns far exceeded even their most optimistic projections. "This is an important milestone on our road to recovery at the global box office and our long, successful history in China."

A combination of posters for seven Chinese blockbusters released in time for Spring Festival 2021, including "Detective Chinatown 3," "A Writer's Odyssey," "The Yinyang Master," "Hi, Mom," "New Gods: Nezha Reborn," "Endgame," and "Boonie Bears: The Wild Life." [Pictures courtesy of IMAX China, Huace Pictures, Huayi Brothers Media, Beijing Culture, Alibaba Pictures, Emperor Motion Pictures, and Fantawild]

The record-breaking Spring Festival film season has also demonstrated the huge potential of the Chinese film market, already the world's biggest. The rush to cinemas meant that many screenings had sold out a day in advance, forcing moviegoers to plan ahead. The records were made amid tightened conditions that meant that cinemas remained completely shut in areas defined as high-risk, while all cities enforced strict attendance control measures, keeping theater seating capacity limited to 50% to 75%.

Beyond the Spring Festival, "Hi, Mom" is expected to dethrone "Detective Chinatown 3" and become the biggest taker, considering its current momentum. Then on Feb. 26, Tim Story's "Tom & Jerry," the live-action/animated hybrid, will be the first Hollywood film to hit Chinese cinemas this year, just in time for China's Lantern Festival. 

China's booming market could witness even more records later in the year, as more than 240 domestic productions are projected to eventually open on Chinese screens, including the long-anticipated first installment of Fengshen Trilogy by Wuershan, and the war epic "Changjin Hu (Chosin Reservoir)," the combined effort by heavyweight directors Chen Kaige, Tsui Hark, and Dante Lam.

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