On Screen China: ‘Left Behind’ and ‘Saint Seiya’

“What goes up must come down.”

Two underwhelming new releases will lead the Chinese box office to an inevitable cool-down this weekend, following a red-hot and record-shattering couple of weeks. February 2016 will go down in history as just the second month ever to out-gross the North American box office, but moviegoers and cinemas alike will be able to take a breather this weekend before Ip Man 3 and Disney’s Zootopia storm theaters on March 4.

China Film Insider will have a full break-down on the monthly box office stats next Monday, but for now let’s look at this weekend’s top contenders.

Left Behind (末日迷踪)
Distribution: China Film Group Corporation (中国电影股份有限公司)
CFI Score: 2/10


This Nicholas Cage-led clunker grossed just $14 million (on an estimated $16 million budget) from its North American run in late 2014, and while that alone doesn’t necessarily doom its prospects for a healthy Chinese run, its shockingly bad 2% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t bode well as Chinese moviegoers are increasingly getting their movie buzz from overseas.

Cage (凯奇大叔 or “Uncle Cage”) is a well-known entity in China, but just like in the West, Chinese moviegoers are seriously questioning his choice of roles. After Stolen made just $6.5 million in its 2013 Chinese run, some fans starting calling him “The King of Crappy Movies” (烂片之王). Add this one to the crapper.

Saint Seiya: Legend of Sanctuary (圣斗士星矢:圣域传说)
Distribution: China Film Group Corporation (中国电影股有限公司)
CFI Score: 4/10


In April 2015, Stand By Me Doraemon became the first imported Japanese film to be released in China since 2012, when relations between the two neighbors became thorny following a dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea. Doraemon, a robotic time-traveling cat, stunned analysts, grossing $86.9 million (currently the fourth highest grossing animated feature in China) amidst a wave of nostalgia from the post-80s generation who grew up watching Doraemon on television.

Since then, three other Japanese animated features adapted from popular manga series have hit Chinese theaters and tried to capitalize on that same nostalgia: Detective Conan: Sunflowers of Inferno ($12.5 million), the recently released Boruto: Naruto the Movie ($12.8 million through its first nine days in theaters), and now Saint Seiya: Legend of Discovery. While none has reached the heights of Doraemon, distributors are seeing big returns on these modestly budgeted anime films.

As anyone who grew up in China during the 1980s can attest, there is certainly a market for Legend of Sanctuary. Unfortunately, that generation doesn’t make up the bulk of China’s current moviegoing public, so we will therefore temper our expectations for a breakout run on par with Doraemon. Still, in the years to come we can expect to see more Japanese imports taking some of the quota spots for imported films traditionally claimed by Hollywood.

— Follow Jonathan Papish on Twitter @ChinaBoxOffice