On Screen China: ‘Tigers’ and ‘Tomorrow’ Look to Scale ‘The Great Wall’

Two new domestic releases will give The Great Wall a run for the audience’s money.

Christmas may not be an official holiday in atheist China, but its citizens still embrace the holiday spirit with one downright American yuletide tradition — shopping.

In recent years, it has become trendy for young urban couples to spend Christmas Eve in the cozy confines of giant shopping malls taking advantage of holiday sales. And what’s a fashionable couple to do after all that heavy lifting? Why — in an odd twist on current Jewish-American Christmas customs — avail themselves of a Western dinner and a Chinese movie, of course!

Last year, the gritty crime noir Mr. Six (老炮儿) and the oddball comedy Devil and Angel (恶棍天使) swooped in for the holiday kill. Devil and Angel overcame caustic reviews to win the four-day weekend with US$78 million in ticket sales and Mr. Six rode a wave of stellar word of mouth to its own $39 million coup.

With the wide releases of both Jackie Chan’s Railroad Tigers and the Wong Kar-Wai-produced romantic comedy, See You Tomorrow (known until recently by the English title Ferryman) dominating Chinese theaters this weekend, The Great Wall will lose more than half of its screens. Luckily, it will still retain most of its premium-priced IMAX screenings, softening what could have been a disastrous second-weekend fall.

In a disappointing year at Chinese cineplexes, where the annual box office will likely finally eke past 2015’s RMB 44.1 billion ($6.8 billion) this weekend, will the new holiday releases —See You Tomorrow and Railroad Tigers  — replicate last year’s success?

See You Tomorrow (摆渡人)
China Distribution – Jet Tone Films/Alibaba Pictures
US Distribution – TBD
See You Tomorrow‘s writer-director, Zhang Jiajia (张嘉佳) is a wildly popular Chinese author, as well as the screenwriter of I Belonged To You, this autumn’s National Day release which quickly broke existing box office records for a romantic comedy.  The film is also the first collaboration between Wong Kar-Wai’s Jet Tone Films and Alibaba Pictures. With Wong on board as producer and frequent Wong collaborators Tony Leung (Happy Together, In the Mood For Love) and Takeshi Kineshiro (Chungking Express, Fallen Angels) joining the cast alongside megastar Angelababy, See You Tomorrow has earned a considerable amount of pre-release buzz that should provide excellent box office dividends.

See You Tomorrow will open on 39 percent of China’s 41,000 screens on Friday and will easily win the weekend over Chan’s Railroad Tigers and Zhang Yimou’s The Great Wall. CFI predicts RMB 400-450 million (~$60 million) this weekend and RMB 850 million ($120 million) total.

Railroad Tigers (铁道飞虎)
China Distribution – Yuyue Film Company (娱跃影业)
US Distribution – Well Go USA (January 6, 2017 in select North American cities)
Invoking the Chinese name for the Flying Tigers, a ragtag group of American and Chinese volunteer fighter pilots tasked with defending China against Japanese forces during WWII, Railroad Tigers follows its own ragtag group of Chinese freedom fighters as they ambush a heavily armed military train carrying Japanese war provisions.

Whereas many of Jackie Chan’s previous offerings presented the martial arts master front and center, Railroad Tigers harkens back to Chan’s Lucky Stars (五福星) comedies of the 80s/90s era that featured an ensemble cast of well-known Hong Kong film stars. Here, Chan is joined by several “Little Fresh Meats” including Huang Zitao (黄子韬), a former member of Korean boy band EXO.

Beijing-based Weiying Technology (微影时代), whose new distribution arm Yuyue Film (娱跃影业) is releasing Railroad Tigers, believes the film’s multigenerational cast and patriotic sentiment will help it find a large audience across several demographics similar to Tsui Hark’s The Taking Tiger Mountain. That film grossed RMB 881 million ($141 million) in the same pre-Christmas frame in 2014.

Weiying’s CEO Lin Ning (林宁) has expressed such confidence in Railroad Tigers box office potential that he’s signed a RMB 1 billion box office minimum guarantee agreement with the film’s production company Yaolai Entertainment (耀莱影视).

Railroad Tigers will occupy 30 percent of China’s screens on its opening Friday, second to See You Tomorrow, and we fully expect it to take a backseat to the romantic comedy. Nor can we share Ning’s enthusiasm for its final box office tally. Look for a second place weekend finish between RMB 250-300 million (~$40M) and RMB 600 million ($86 million) in total.