Ang Lee Predicts ‘Huge’ China Box Office, but Maybe Not for Him

The Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk director sees China’s box office overtaking the US, but his own record in the China market has been mixed.


Two-time Oscar-winning director Ang Lee pointed to bigger box office numbers ahead for China, although his own work has not always found favor with audiences here.

“It’s huge, it’s going to be bigger in a few years,” the Taiwan-born, US citizen who won for Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi said on his way into the BAFTA in Los Angeles over the weekend.

“In a few years it’s probably going to be bigger [than the US] and then in the years to come a lot bigger,” he said.

China could become the world’s largest cinema market as early as next year, according to some estimates, although this year’s slowdown in ticket sales could impede its progress towards the title.

Lee gets to test those waters himself on November 11, when his awkwardly titled Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk releases in China. The film could falter in a market with minimal awareness or interest in NFL football, and during an autumn packed with other Hollywood releases, including Deepwater Horizon  and Keeping Up with the Joneses.

His own box office performance in China has been mixed. Lee’s best-known Chinese-language film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, was never released in Chinese mainland theaters, and therefore played no role in its global, US$200 million-plus take. However, Life of Pi‘s reception in China outperformed its North American box office run in 2012. A heavily-edited Lust, Caution took in $17 million in China, almost destroying the career of lead actress Tang Wei in the process, compared to under $5 million in North America, although in the US the film earned an NC-17 rating. Brokeback Mountain was never released in China.