On Screen China: A Chinese ‘Ghost’ Story

Paramounts hopes to offset Ghost in the Shells flameout at the North American box office will rely on a breakout Chinese performance this weekend a la xXx or Resident Evil, but lack of awareness for the original IP and a less-than-ideal release date will keep the futuristic cyborg thriller squarely in the black.

Ghost in the Shell (攻壳机动队)

China Distribution – China Film Group Corporation (中国电影集团公司)
US Distribution – Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures’ Ghost in the Shell couldn’t shake overwhelmingly negative reviews atop a well-publicized whitewashing controversy when it debuted with just $18.7 million in North America and $62 million worldwide this past weekend on an estimated $250 million combined production/P&A budget.

The Scarlet Johnannson-topping cyberpunk thriller adapted from a popular Japanese manga still has two major overseas territories to add this Friday in Japan and China, but based on final global projections by Deadline, Ghost in the Shell will land squarely in the black.

In terms of Chinese box office potential, the film is unlikely to be hobbled by the whitewashing clamor that seemingly affected its North American reception: the racial politics surrounding the conception and casting of Doctor Strange and The Great Wall were largely shrugged off by mainstream Chinese moviegoers — and to an extent other Asian audiences as well.

Instead, general lack of awareness of the original Japanese manga seems to be playing a role. One day before release, Ghost in the Shell’s “Want to See” index on several major Chinese internet portals is lagging well behind recent Hollywood fare including xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, Logan, and Kong: Skull Island, all of which were based on well-known properties in China.

Straitjacketing the film’s box office chances even more is its unfortunate release date. Ghost in the Shell will run essentially competition-free for just one week before The Fate of the Furious races into Chinese theaters Friday, April 14. (And speaking of the sequel to China’s highest-earning imported film of all-time, opening day presales point to a potentially historic opening weekend during which a certain American sci-fi blockbuster’s record breaking debut could fall by the wayside. More on that next week.)

These major hindrances to a breakout Chinese run for Ghost in the Shell come despite local marketing help from China’s largest online ticketing app, Weying Technology, which grabbed a ten percent share of global box office revenue and an “in association” credit through a joint investment with China Everbright, a leading financial services company.

Weying had previously teamed with Paramount as a local marketing partner on the successful Chinese box office run for xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, currently the 11th highest-grossing imported film of all-time in China, and the company has not shied away from asserting its future global ambitions.

In a statement during the announcement of Weying’s investment in Ghost in the Shell, CEO Lin Ning stated: “Weying Technology is actively seeking overseas opportunities. As early as 2015, we launched online ticketing services in Hong Kong and southeast Asia. We strategically invested in Vista, the leading provider of software solutions to the global film industry, and we’ve started connecting with Hollywood’s Big Six studios from our Los Angeles office. This investment in Ghost in the Shell is only the beginning. In the future, we will have more formal collaborations with all Hollywood studios.”

In the end, Weying’s participation won’t boost Ghost in the Shell’s Chinese box office even close to the heights achieved by xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, nor will it push Ghost in the Shell into the red for Paramount; however, an opening weekend near RMB 200 million ($~30 million) and a final gross in the RMB 350-400 million range ($~55 million) — both surpassing North America’s disappointing run — will represent another victory for Weying and should get other studios outside of Paramount lining up to cooperate with the company.

 

Here at On Screen China, weekly box office analysis primarily concerns the weekend’s widest releases, films with the biggest breakout potential, and other newsworthy titles. But each weekend, smaller films, frequently referred to as “cannon fodder” in the Chinese media (paohui or 炮灰), squeeze into theaters, rarely selling more than a few hundred thousand dollars’ worth of tickets before disappearing into obscurity. The following table details these lesser releases in order to provide a sense of the huge scope of the world’s second largest film industry.

Film Title Genre Production Company Distribution Company
An Idiot Lost in Xiangxi

鸡飞狗跳

Comedy Shenzhen Zhihui Media Co.,Ltd

深圳市知慧文化传播

Beijing Fengshang Jiayi Media

北京枫尚嘉艺文化传媒

Eternal Love

海角有个五店市

Romance Haishi (Fujian) Film Co.

海视(福建)影业

China Film Group Corporation

中国电影集团公司

Inside

惊悚小

Horror Kunni Media

坤倪文化传媒

霍城指南影业
June and Arrow

六月与弓箭

Romantic Comedy 四川福森时代影业 晟美嘉禾文化艺术
Weeds on Fire

点五步

Action 敏光有限公司 Beijing Forbidden City Distribution

北京紫禁城三联影视

Mad World

一念无明

Drama 一念无明有限公司 Zhejiang Bona Production

浙江博纳影视