On Screen China: Christmas Eve Date Night at the Movies

  • After a slow start, the New Year’s period box office is taking off.
  • “Devil and Angel” could best “Mojin” on opening day.
  • Gritty “Mr. Six” unlikely to appeal to Chinese mainstream.
Mr. Six ad inside public transportation in China. Courtesy Mr. Six official Weibo

An ad for Mr. Six inside public transportation in China—Courtesy Mr. Six official Weibo.


After a quiet start to the annual Chinese box office “New Year’s period” (贺岁档)—just $212 million grossed during the first 17 days of December—ticket sales exploded last weekend as homegrown blockbuster Mojin—The Lost Legend (寻龙诀) debuted with a record $93 million. Mojin will continue its trek this weekend as it attempts to topple Monster Hunt as the highest-grossing film of all-time in China. But the distributors of two new releases will try to take advantage of the considerable space left over in the market by an underwhelming run from Surprise (万万没想到).

Officially atheist, China doesn’t recognize Christmas as an official holiday, but that hasn’t stopped its commercialism from taking hold. A Christmas Eve tradition of dinner and a movie has emerged among upwardly mobile urban youth, in a romantic twist on American Jewish habits during the Christian holiday.

Over the past several years, the highest-grossing film of China’s December New Year’s period is the one released on or around December 18, and the runner-up has been the Christmas Eve debut.

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Playing Dasher to Mojin’s Rudolph this Christmas will be director Deng Chao’s comedy Devil and Angel, while the black comedy Mr. Six is likely to lag as a film that’s “well received but poorly attended” (叫好不好座 jiàohǎo bù jiàozuò).

Devil and Angel (恶棍天使)
China Distribution: Beijing Enlight Media (北京光线传媒股份有限公司)
U.S. Distribution: China Lion

Actor-director Deng Chao’s (邓超) stock rose considerably after his maiden work, The Breakup Guru (分手大师), grossed $103 million in the summer of 2014 with a brand of humor dubbed “homphobic and racist” by Variety’s Maggie Lee.  Devil and Angel once again sees Deng collaborate with writer Yu Baimei (俞白眉) for a picture likely to attract the same audience. Early reviews are heading south fast, with 70% of Douban users giving the film just 1 star, but the poor feedback is unlikely to stop fans of Deng and actress Sun Li (孙俪)—star of the recent hit TV show The Legend of Mi Yue—from showing up in full force on Christmas Eve. Look for Devil and Angel to start out red hot, perhaps even besting Mojin’s opening day, but flaming out quickly once its rabid fans head home.

Mr. Six (老炮儿)
China Distribution: Huayi Brothers (华谊兄弟传媒股份有限公司)
U.S. Distribution: China Lion

Feng Xiaogang (冯小刚)—one of the most successful commercial filmmakers of all time in China—won the best actor award at Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards for his portrayal of an aging Beijing gang leader trying to hold onto his turf in this gritty black comedy. Feng’s award and screenings of Mr. Six at the Toronto and Venice film festivals brought the film great press in the mainstream Chinese media, but its dark subject matter is unlikely to draw the average Chinese moviegoer who seeks out lighter entertainment first and foremost.