On Screen China: ‘Crouching Tiger’ Sequel

A bus shelter ad for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny in Beijing. (Fergus Ryan)

A bus stop ad for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny in Beijing. (Fergus Ryan)

After Chinese moviegoers helped shatter multiple records during the Lunar New Year holiday, the box office looks to continue its hot streak for one more weekend before students return to school on Monday, February 22.

Fans of Stephen Chow’s comedy juggernaut The Mermaid (美人鱼) appear to have no intention of slowing down and the film could once again dominate this weekend’s charts. Distributed by Beijing Enlight Media, The Mermaid currently sits at RMB 2.35 billion ($360 million) in sales, over just 11 days in release, and will pass Monster Hunt sometime Friday to become the highest-grossing film of all time in China.

Several new films will debut in Chinese cinemas this weekend in a last-chance bid to draw students at the tail end of their holiday. These include two imported animated features: Thomas & Friends (托马斯和朋友们), which marks the first foray into the Chinese movie market for toy brand Mattel, and a rare Japanese import Boruto: Naruto the Movie (火影忍者剧场版:博人传).

But there is only one new release with a fighting chance to break the hold of the three big Lunar New Year films currently on the market (The Mermaid, From Vegas to Macau III, and The Monkey King 2), and that is the long-awaited sequel Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (卧虎藏龙:青冥宝剑), a U.S.-China co-production from the Weinstein Company, Netflix, and China Film Group. Below, CFI takes a look at several key metrics that will determine the film’s potential box office draw.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (卧虎藏龙:青冥宝剑)

China Distribution: Wuzhou Film Distribution (五洲电影发行有限公司)

Buzz 4/10

Coming at the tail-end of the hottest moviegoing period in Chinese history, Sword of Destiny has found it difficult to gain much traction on Chinese social media. Its official Weibo account was established nearly three months ago, but has woefully few followers — only 2,000 to date.

Press screenings also suggest that Chinese viewers are finding it difficult to accept American John Fusco’s adapted script of the Chinese novel by Wang Dulu, and they also complained about the use of Chinese-American actors. One Douban user put it bluntly: “It really made me angry that this film pretended to be a Chinese movie, yet used actors from the American TV show Glee,” referring to actor Harry Shum, Jr.

Audience 3/10

The original Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon came out in 2000 and was never released in mainland theaters. While there are some devoted fans of the first film—many of them lovers of the wuxia (martial arts) genre or followers of director Ang Lee’s films—the Chinese movie landscape has changed so drastically in the past 16 years that the younger filmgoers driving the current box office boom simply won’t be interested in this kind of “old” story.

Release Date 5/10

Sword of Destiny was originally scheduled for release on Lunar New Year’s Day, but in early January distributor Wuzhou—Wanda’s distribution arm—wisely chose to postpone its opening by 11 days to avoid a bloodbath amid strong competition. The movie will at least have three days with decent screen percentages and premium-priced IMAX tickets before the winter holidays conclude. Still, if the movie fails to generate good word of mouth, ticket sales will fall off considerably after the opening weekend.

Celebrity Power 4/10

Chinese star Zhang Ziyi pulled out of the sequel once director Ang Lee bowed out, and without the two of them and Chow Yun-Fat, who starred in the original, the sequel lacks considerable star power. Donnie Yen (Ip Man) joins the Michelle Yeoh (the only returning actress), bringing their considerable fan bases to the table.

CFI Score 3/10

There is something fundamentally wrong, and even offensive to some, about the production of a film adapted from a Chinese novel using a script written by an American writer, with two Chinese stars and a host of unknown ethnically Chinese performers, performing in English, and dubbed into Mandarin for a domestic mainland audience.

It may be expected (and even hoped) that Chinese audiences will shun Sword of Destiny and, in doing so, send a message that this should not become a model for future U.S.-China co-productions. Ang Lee’s 2000 film, entirely in Mandarin and subtitled, drew critical acclaim around the world and became the highest-grossing foreign-language film ever to play in the United States (by a very large margin) by offering a uniquely creative vision that transcended language and resonated deeply with audiences. Its sequel has far more limited prospects.

—Follow Jonathan Papish on Twitter @ChinaBoxOffice