On Screen China: ‘Ip Man 3’ Will Give a Kung-Fu Kick to March Box-Office Blues

  • Typically slow month for theaters will get a boost from Ip Man 3, though two-month release delay means pirated copies are out there
  • CFI predicts roughly RMB 4 billion ($615 million) in total box-office revenues for March
  • Disney’s Zootopia message may be lost across cultures
(Courtesy Ip Man 3 Weibo)

(Courtesy Ip Man 3 Weibo)

The month of March should come in like a lion for the Chinese box office this year. Historically it has been one of the colder months for moviegoing, as it follows the busy peak of the Lunar New Year’s rush, with March 2015 brining in in ticket sales of just RMB 2.88 billion ($440 million), the second lowest monthly total of 2015. This year, however, looks to change the trend as several films with breakout potential arrive in theaters, including Friday’s hotly anticipated new release, Ip Man 3.

China Film Insider is predicting around RMB 4 billion ($615 million) in total box-office revenues for the month of March, which will be bolstered by the box office performance of Ip Man 3 and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which secured a rare day-and-date release with North America on March 25.

Below, CFI takes a look at this weekend’s two biggest releases — Ip Man 3 and Disney Animation’s Zootopia, also opening simultaneously with North America.

Ip Man 3 (叶问3) 3D
China Distribution: Danyinmu Film Distribution (大银幕电影发行控股有限公司)
U.S. Distribution: Well Go USA

CFI Score – 7/10

Chinese A-lister Donnie Yen (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, the upcoming Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) returns as Yip Man, the beloved martial arts master to Bruce Lee, after a six-year hiatus, with director Wilson Yip at the helm again. The previous two installments were incredibly well-received by mainland audiences — 2008’s Ip Man surprised analysts by grossing more than RMB 100 million ($15 million), a rare feat at the time, and Ip Man 2 was the fifth highest-grossing Chinese-language film for 2010 with RMB 232 million ($35.5 million).

Rookie distributor Danyinmu’s decision to delay Ip Man 3’s original Christmas Eve release date has been met with some doubts amongst critical Ip Man fans. While that avoided putting the film in competition with a raft of high-performing holiday hits in mainland China, the two-month delay has meant that pirated copies are already available online since the film was released across Asia at that time, and in the U.S. a month later. In addition, Hong Kong will be releasing an official Blu-Ray in the coming weeks, giving fans less of incentive to go to Chinese cinemas as there will be better quality unauthorized copies available.

Still, we believe the hype built up in neighboring Asian countries will help Ip Man 3 easily outstrip last year’s SPL 2: A Time of Consequences (RMB 561 million) as the top Chinese-language action film in history.  Ip Man 3 already beat Star Wars: The Force Awakens in several markets during the martial arts-action movie’s opening weekend and broke records for the highest-grossing Chinese-language film of all time in Singapore and Malaysia.

The inclusion of American boxer Mike Tyson — who is surprisingly huge in China with over 1.5 million Weibo followers  — will also entice casual walk-ins from a moviegoing public looking for something a little different after a month with the same few films dominating the screens. Tyson’s previous forays into the Chinese media landscape have included a valiant effort at promoting his new video game in Chinese as well as being the spokesperson for a Beijing-based cold medicine company.

Zootopia (疯狂动物城) 3D/3D IMAX
China Distribution: Huaxia Film Distribution (华夏电影发行有限责任公司)
US Distribution: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

CFI Score – 5/10

Disney Animation has had a string of modest hits in China over the past two years, first with Frozen (RMB 299 million) in 2014 and last year with Big Hero 6 (RMB 525 million). While those films were also released during the post-Lunar New Year period, they were still able to take advantage of students’ winter break. Zootopia won’t have that same edge, as Chinese students went back to school on February 23. Disney appeared to be overly keen on an American day-and-date release, but is one instance where pushing for an earlier release could have really helped its China total, especially since the the film has already opened in more than 30 international markets over the past three weekends in order to capitalize on school holidays elsewhere.

Rave reviews for Zootopia have been pouring in from the U.S. praising its timely message of inclusion and its critique of America’s institutionalized racism. We suspect that those culturally-specific levels of understanding will be completely lost on China’s overwhelmingly homogenous moviegoing public, though positive word of mouth is likely to spread based on the simple surface story for children and their parents along with the impressive visuals.

—Follow Jonathan Papish on Twitter @ChinaBoxOffice