China Box Office: ‘Operation Mekong’ Storms Holiday Box Office

  • China’s holiday box office failed to grow for the first time in five years.
  • Operation Mekong overcame modest box office expectations to win the holiday period with an estimated RMB 490 million ($73.5 million).
  • I Belonged to You, a romantic comedy rode the popularity of its leads to a second place finish during National Day.


China’s National Day Holiday (国庆节), celebrated annually from October 1-7, provides Chinese citizens one week of uninterrupted leisure time, a period when moviegoers flock to cinemas in record numbers.

From National Day 2012 to last year’s holiday, ticket sales exploded nearly 500 percent, mirroring the boom in China’s box office over the same period. (See above chart). However, just as 2016’s B.O. has fallen off its once-blistering pace of growth — annual revenue after Q3 sits at RMB 35.45 billion (US$5.31 billion), only 7 percent over the same period in 2015 — this year’s National Day Holiday will fail to reach last year’s heights.

The week wasn’t without its surprises. Of the top three domestic wide releases, action thriller Operation Mekong (湄公河行动) overcame modest box office expectations, wowing audiences and critics alike with taut action scenes and unexpectedly won the holiday period with an estimated RMB 490 million ($73.5 million) through Thursday, October 6. 

Helmed by Hong Kong director Dante Lam, Operation Mekong is based on a 2013 incident when a Burmese drug gang ambushed two cargo ships and killed 13 Chinese nationals. The incident and subsequent trial are still fresh in many minds and moviegoers appeared eager to see it play out on the big screen.

Operation Mekong had been expected to play third fiddle to romantic comedy I Belonged To You (从你的世界路过) and the fantasy/adventure L.O.R.D (爵迹), two films with A-list talent both in front of and behind the camera as well as massive built-in fanbases.

L.O.R.D. — short for the clunky Legend of Ravaging Dynasties — is written and directed by Guo Jingming (郭敬明). Guo rose to fame as an author in the early 2000s and later transitioned to film as the writer/director of China’s most lucrative film franchise Tiny Times. But Guo’s legions of fans couldn’t help overcome toxic word of mouth aimed at the film’s video game-like motion capture effects, hollow plot, and indistinguishable characters.

L.O.R.D’s daily box office totals dropped significantly after opening day, a sign of the aforementioned word of mouth, and finished in a disappointing third place over the holiday, with estimated RMB 324 million ($48.6 million) through Thursday, October 6.

I Belonged to You, a romantic comedy starring current Chinese box office king and queen Deng Chao (Mermaid – $554 million) and Bai Baihe (Monster Hunt – $391 million) rode the popularity of its leads to a second-place finish during National Day. The film opened a day earlier than the competition and easily won the first three days of the holiday. It has grossed RMB 564 million ($84.6 million) through Thursday, October 6, but has relinquished its daily crown since Tuesday to the surging Operation Mekong.