A public spat between director Feng Xiaogang and Dalian Wanda Group boss Wang Jianlin didn’t seem to have a negative impact on Feng’s film’s performance.
The social media sparring between film director Feng Xiaogang and Wang Jianlin, China’s richest man and chairman of Wanda Cinema Line, the world’s largest film exhibitor, didn’t seem to affect the box office performance of Feng’s latest film I Am Not Madame Bovary, which debuted to an impressive RMB 205 million (US$29.8 million) over the weekend.
One of China’s most outspoken filmmakers, Feng took to Sina Weibo on Friday, penning an open letter to Wang after box office data indicated Wanda was limiting screenings of Madame Bovary at its own cinemas.
Writing in the voice of his film’s protagonist, Feng accused the media mogul of circumventing natural market forces and unduly bullying Madame Bovary’s distributor Huayi Brothers.
Wang Sicong, Wang’s son and board member of Wanda Group, fired back promptly, defending the company’s decision to allocate screens based on I Am Not Madame Bovary’s market performance.
The two media companies have been publicly tussling since March of this year when Wanda’s longtime executive Jerry Ye became CEO of its Huayi’s motion pictures division.
The scuffle is the latest in a string of questionable moves by Wanda in which the media behemoth has exploited its considerable might across China’s entire film industry chain to bolster its own assets.
To many industry observers, Wanda’s behavior is increasingly mirroring the monopoly Paramount Pictures and other studios held over Hollywood in the 1940s. The US Supreme Court ruled against Paramount in a landmark 1948 anti-trust decision that broke up the studios’ vertical integration across distribution and exhibition links.
Despite Wanda’s handicap, I Am Not Madame Bovary (我不是潘金莲) accounted for slightly more than half of this weekend’s total moviegoing business.
The film’s performance is even more striking given its experimental and art-house leanings. Billed as a comedy, Madame Bovary doesn’t contain the broad laugh-out-loud, physical humor favored by China audiences in films such as Jianbing Man or Lost in Thailand. Rather, Feng’s film is a slow burn, a sly social farce satirizing the current state of China’s bureaucratic officialdom that only gets funnier as it becomes more absurd.
Behind I Am Not Madame Bovary, Hollywood films took the next three spots at the box office this weekend.
Doctor Strange continued to exceed expectations, falling just 51 percent on its third weekend of release with RMB 76.1 million ($11.0 million). The Disney/Marvel original superhero film has now grossed RMB 702.8 million ($102.0 million) and sits as the fourth highest-grossing film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe behind Avengers: Age of Ultron (RMB 1.465 billion), Captain America: Civil War (RMB 1.246 billion), and Captain America: Winter Soldier (RMB 734 million).
Summit Entertainment’s Deepwater Horizon and Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk were neck and neck this weekend with the former pulling in RMB 25.8 million ($3.7 million) and the latter RMB 24.2 million ($3.5 million).
Deepwater Horizon was squeezed into Chinese cinemas after regulators relaxed this year’s film quota and has grossed a paltry RMB 54.3 million ($7.9 million) since opening last Tuesday.
Meanwhile Billy Lynn, while pushing away general Chinese audiences with an alienating plot, seems to have found a receptive demographic in first and second-tier cities and has now grossed RMB 135.5 million ($19.6 million) through 10 days.
Rounding out the weekend’s top five, the Sino-French coproduced fantasy film The Warriors Gate stalled out of the gate debuting with just RMB 17 million ($2.5 million) on an outrageous $48 million budget.