On Screen China: Taiwan’s ‘Our Times’ Overcomes Flame Wars, Vanquishes ‘Hunger Games’

High school nostalgia won out at the Chinese box office

Our Times. High school nostalgia won out at the Chinese box office

Faced with a glut of poorly received Hollywood imports this past weekend, Chinese moviegoers instead chose Our Times (我的少女时代 Wǒ de shǎo nǚ shídài), a Taiwanese “youthfulness film” (青春片ngchūn piàn) which earned $17.1 million since its debut on Thursday, Nov. 19. In just four days since its release, Our Times has become the highest-grossing Taiwanese film of all time in mainland China.

Not two weeks after an historic Nov. 7 meeting between the leaders of China and Taiwan widely covered in the press on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, film fans jumped online to praise the film by posting glowing comments on their WeChat “moments” (朋友圈 péngyǒu quān) and positive word of mouth spread like wildfire. Online review portal Douban has an average rating of 8.3 out of 10 for Our Times, the highest rating of any current release.

The film wasn’t without controversy, though. Huang An (黄安), a Taiwanese singer who uses his Weibo account to fan pro-PRC sentiment and discredit those in the entertainment industry he believes favor independence for Taiwan, posted a claim that one of Our Times’ investors was Sanlih Entertainment Television, a Taiwanese cable network with ties to Taiwan’s independence movement. It turns out Sanlih had no involvement with Our Times, and Huang mistook director Frankie Chan’s former relationship with the television station as a sign of its investment. Huang later deleted the post.

Huang also posited that Our Times lead actor Wang Dalu was in favor of  independence for Taiwan, a self-governed island long considered a renegade province by Beijing, because he had used the term “the mainland” (大陆 dàlù ) on Weibo, while using “China” (中国 Zhōngguó) on Facebook, which Huang took to mean that Wang believed Taiwan wasn’t actually a part of China.

Both of Huang’s claims were quickly discredited by internet savvy netizens, but not before mainland web users known as the “internet water army” (网络水军 wǎngluò shuǐjūn) flooded social media with inflammatory remarks, nationalist rhetoric, and calls to boycott the film. On Thursday afternoon, Our Times was hit with a slew of fake one-star ratings on Douban and other websites before actual moviegoers pushed up the average rating later in the day.

Following Our Times in a close second, Lionsgate’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 2 received a much-coveted day-and-date release with North America on Friday and took the top spot during the first two days of its release. However, after losing ground to Our Times on Sunday, its weekend total was tallied at $16 million.

With The Martian on tap for a blockbuster debut on Wednesday, Mockingjay—Part 2 won’t surpass its predecessor’s $35.4 million run, and it’s also in danger of falling short of Catching Fire’s $28 million gross from 2013. The film’s performance in China’s is mirroring the comparatively tepid global response for the final installment, but given the market expansion in China since 2013, Lionsgate is likely to be disappointed with Part 2’s frigid reception there.

Chinese netizens gave Mockingjay—Part 2 a rating of just 6.3 out of 10 on Douban, with user Ying Zhi summing up most viewers’ thoughts: “It’s finally over!” She awarded it three out of five stars, adding one star because “next year luckily there won’t be another chapter.”

Spectre has also been underperforming following its impressive $49 million debut last weekend after Sony’s marketing bonanza. Despite Friday’s broadcast of an entire episode of the popular variety show Day Day Up dedicated to Spectre, Bond couldn’t keep the buzz going into a second weekend and its receipts plummeted 75% to $12.1 million, the worst second weekend drop for any major Hollywood release this year in China. The film has grossed $77.3 million in ten days, but it stands to lose most of its screens to The Martian on Wednesday.

— Folllow Jonathan Papish @ChinaBoxOffice