After Spectre’s $49 million debut last weekend, another major Hollywood release, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 2, opens in Chinese cinemas on Friday, the latest in a wave of revenue-sharing imports to land in China in what netizens are jokingly calling “Hollywood’s unofficial protection period”—the effective opposite of China’s unofficial blackout periods favoring domestic productions. Both Spectre and Lionsgate’s Mockingjay will not screen unchallenged, going up against Our Times, an import from Taiwan that’s generating considerable buzz. Following is a look at the coming weekend’s widest releases.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 2 (饥饿游戏3：嘲笑鸟（下))
The final installment in The Hunger Games film series, Mockingjay—Part 2 gets a coveted day-and-date release with North America, helping the film perform on its own merit longer, before increasingly information-hungry fans discover any poor word of mouth or negative Western press that might be translated and spread across the Chinese Internet. China’s synchronous release with what remains for now the world’s No. 1 movie market, North America, also lessens the chances that a high definition download will spread like wildfire and cannibalize Chinese theater ticket purchases.
There’s a growing Chinese fanbase for The Hunger Games. Catching Fire grossed $28 million in 2013, and last year’s Mockingjay—Part 1 sold tickets worth $35.4 million. Despite its day-and-date release, Mockingjay—Part 2 is not likely to gross much more than its predecessors and other, similar movies such as The Divergent Series and The Maze Runner films. The Chinese appetite for films based on North American young adult fiction is limited and is in no way on par with the global fervor that contributed $2.3 billion to the first three Hunger Games installments.
Exhibitors on the ground in China also don’t seem to have much faith in the film’s box office potential. Wang Ting, a theater manager in Yibin City, Sichuan, said online to Chinese web portal China Real-time Box Office that he doesn’t see Mockingjay—Part 2 surpassing Part 1’s gross “because public reception has been sliding since 2013’s Catching Fire and pre-sales are weak.” Wang Chao, a theater operator from Dayin City, Sichuan, was a little more optimistic, estimating a run of $40 million-$50 million for Part 2 because fans may be craving a Hollywood action movie after “November’s slow box office and Spectre’s less-than-ideal reception.”
Our Times (我的女少时代)
Films classified as 青春片 (qīngchūn piàn, lit. “youthfulness films”) have become increasingly popular over the past several years in China. These are movies that target Chinese born after 1980 or 1990. These post-80s and post-90s youth have the most disposable income and seem increasingly hooked on nostalgic stories of first love, heartbreak, and melodrama. The stories often are set in 1990s urban high schools and feature pop music, films, and other cultural markers that stir up sentimental feelings transporting 20- and 30-somethings back to a simpler time in their lives.
Our Times opens for state-backed distributor Huaxia on the mainland on Thursday as the first qīngchūn piàn imported from Taiwan since You Are The Apple of My Eye, which grossed $12.1 million in 2012. The film’s producers hope to leverage its phenomenal summer, when it was the highest-grossing Chinese-language film in Taiwan and showed similar strength in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia.
Theater manager Wang Ting in Sichuan is impressed with the film’s nationwide road show to build buzz and says that “pre-sales for Our Times are even with Spectre and it will receive a large share of screens this weekend.”
Transporter Refueled (玩命快递4)
The fourth installment in The Transporter series gets a Chinese release this Friday as a flat fee “buy out” film distributed by Shanghai-based Fundamental Films. The third installment grossed nearly $10 million in 2009, but without Jason Statham, a recognizable foreign action star in China, Transporter Refueled won’t make much of a dent at the box office this weekend.
A Fool (一个勺子)
A Chinese language tragicomedy that proves just how hard it is to be a decent person in modern China, A Fool won Chen Jianbin the Best New Director and Best Actor accolades at last year’s Taiwan Golden Horse Awards, but struggled to secure a release date in China due to co-star Wang Xuebing’s arrest for suspected crystal meth use in March. Authorities have taken a tough stance on bad behavior in the industry in recent years, urging production companies to ban performers who use drugs or solicit prostitution.
— Folllow Jonathan Papish @ChinaBoxOffice