China Box Office: ‘Mermaid’ Drowns Out ‘Crouching Tiger’

Ticket sales for Stephen Chow’s The Mermaid (美人鱼) — now the undisputed all-time champion of China’s thriving box office with RMB 2.71 billion ($417 million) — remained scorching-hot in the comedy’s second week of release, overshadowing newcomer Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (卧虎藏龙:青冥宝剑), a film that angered many local moviegoers with its Americanized bastardization of a beloved Chinese martial arts legend.

China’s total box office receipts for the week ending Sunday, February 21, totaled RMB 1.74 billion ($266 million), the third-biggest seven-day period ever at Chinese multiplexes. The top five films of the week can be found in the chart below along with the total daily grosses (data from Shanghai based film industry research firm Artisan Gateway.)

Film Title — all figures in USD MillionsWeekly CumulativeDays in Release
The Mermaid$140.4$417.214
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Sword of Destiny$20.9$20.93
The Monkey King 2$40.3$157.514
Man from Macau 33$33.1$154.214
Boruto-Naruto, the Movie$9.4$9.43

Sword of Destiny debuted in China with $8.4 million on Friday, but saw subsequent daily drops throughout the weekend. The sequel drew strong criticism from casual moviegoers on major online movie portals Weibo (5.6/10) and Douban (5.1/10), as well as from film critics (3.5/10). Even state media got in on the action with a review titled: “Sword of Destiny is out, but it’ll only remind you that Ang Lee’s original film was indeed a classic.”


It’s like the shoddiest pornographic film ever made, except even more hastily done were the sometimes missing moans and groans.—Sai Ren, movie critic for CCTV 6’s ‘Film Report’

After director Billy Wilder saw the remake of his Double Indemnity in the 1970s, he rang up Barbara Stanwyck and said just one thing: “They didn’t get it.” I believe Ang Lee would have a similar opinion after seeing this film.—Xipake, film critic

It was extremely uncomfortable watching a group of ethnically Chinese performers speaking English and then being dubbed into Mandarin. This kind of disharmony embodied the film’s entire style; it was a complete and utter mess.—Gan’en Ersi, programmer for the Shanghai International Film Festival

Meanwhile, Stephen Chow’s The Mermaid continued its critical and commercial success, with ticket sales dropping just 55% in its second weekend, buoyed by positive word of mouth reflected in its online ratings — 8.3/10 on Weibo  and 7.3/10 on Douban.

The Mermaid’s partnership with leading online ticketing portal Maoyan (猫眼) should not be overlooked as a major contributing factor to the film’s record-breaking run, especially during its first week of release.

Maoyan was able to collect huge amounts of data on users who purchased more than RMB 100 million worth of pre-sales tickets for The Mermaid, which Stephen Chow’s marketing team could then use to target users with similar profiles and entice them with discounted tickets.

BO Feb15-Feb21

In addition, Maoyan employed a tactic called “24-hour three-dimensional distribution” (24小时立体发行). Using massive amounts of real-time box office data, they could see exactly where — even down to the theater level — The Mermaid was playing well. Distributor Beijing Enlight Media was then able to coordinate with exhibitors to adjust screen times so as to maximize ticket sales, a win for all parties. The marketing team also re-strategized its campaigns and targeted specific demographics by geographic areas.

The film also showed promise in what’s still the world’s number one movie market for now, grossing $1 million from just 35 North American locations from February 19-21.

—Follow Jonathan Papish on Twitter at @ChinaBoxOffice