On Screen China: ‘Yesterday Once More’ Leads Challenge to ‘Jungle Book’

  • CFI Score is 6 out of 10 for Yesterday Once More; and 3/10 for The Huntsman: Winter’s War
  • Neither film stands much of a chance to unseat box office champion The Jungle Book
  • April’s likely year-on-year gross box office drop would be China’s lowest total since Nov. 2015
Yesterday Once More cast.

Yesterday Once More cast (MTime)

April ticket sales at China’s box office are on track to show their first significant monthly drop year-on-year in recent history despite a strong performance from Walt Disney’s The Jungle Book—whose gross stands at RMB 449 million ($69.3 million) through Thursday, and which will likely become the studio’s second film in a row to gross RMB 1 billion following Zootopia.

China’s box office in April 2015 scored a then record-setting monthly total of RMB 4.1 billion, largely due to Furious 7’s breakout run. This April is pacing for a RMB 3.0 billion finish, a drop of 27% from last year and the lowest monthly total since November 2015.

This decline should not be seen as an omen that China’s booming box office finally is flattening out after rising 50% in 2015. Nor should the drop be tied to the recent economic slowdown that has befallen China. These fluctuations are natural occurrences that signal variations in film quality and audience reception for a certain monthly crop of new releases. Observers should become accustomed to occasional monthly dips, natural even as the overall Chinese film industry continues its yearly expansion.

This weekend floods cinemas with 10 new releases, but only two films — youthful romance pic Yesterday Once More (谁的青春不迷茫) and Universal’s fantasy/adventure prequel, The Huntsman: Winter’s War (猎神:冬日之战), pose any sort of challenge to The Jungle Book’s dominance.

Yesterday Once More (谁的青春不迷茫 lit. Who’s Youth Isn’t Confusing?)
China Distribution: Beijing Enlight Pictures (北京光线影业有限公司)

CFI Score: 6/10

Yesterday Once More continues distributor Enlight Pictures’ tradition of releasing a “youthfulness film” (青春片 qīngchūn piàn) the week before the three-day Labor Day Holiday weekend.

Enlight has had success with the genre since 2013’s So Young grossed RMB 719 million, and then released My Old Classmate in 2014 (RMB 456 million) and The Left Ear (RMB 485 million) in 2015. These films largely target Chinese youth born in the 1980s and ’90s who have the most disposable income and seem increasingly hooked on nostalgic stories of first love, heartbreak, and melodrama.

Yesterday Once More keeps that melodrama trend going; following is Enlight’s teaser sent to cinema chains across China:

Lin Tianjiao strives to be the top student in her H.S. class in order to receive financial assistance from her mother to attend Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University. But it’s as if the perfect little plan outlined for Tianjiao’s life has all been in service to other people and she has neglected her own wishes. After a rare cheating incident, Tianjiao is accidentally pulled into a relationship with underachiever Gao Xiang. She realizes that this weak student — who she’s always looked down on — actually has dreams and ambitions of his own, while the boy Tianjiao has a crush on shows no backbone at all. After a family tragedy and with the help of her best friend, Tianjiao begins to understand that “youth” means she should work hard to pursue who and what she loves. There is no shame in living your youth with no regret!

Cliches aside, CFI predicts a tight race for first with The Jungle Book this weekend and a solid run overall for Yesterday Once More based on Enlight’s successful track record with the genre and a storyline that could pull in droves of modern young Chinese women caught between pursuing self-determination and submitting to traditional expectations.

The Huntsman: Winter’s War (猎神:冬日之战)
China Distribution: China Film Group Corporation (中国电影集团公司)

CFI Score: 3/10

The Huntsman: Winter’s War is typically the kind of Hollywood fare that can overcome negative reviews in America (currently 19% on RottenTomatoes) and find modest success with Chinese audiences; just look to other fantasy/adventure films such as The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, The Seventh Son, and most recently Gods of War.

The Huntsman’s biggest drawback, however, is its choice of release date. Universal may have wanted to avoid increased pirating and negative buzz that spreads with a delayed release. Opting for a day-and-date release may even have seemed smart on paper,  but that means it will be playing second fiddle to The Jungle Book and have just one week in theaters before local films dominate the May Day Holiday.

Instead of entering as part of the imported film revenue-sharing quota, The Huntman’s box office prospects would have changed drastically if it had sought a Chinese distribution partner with a better grasp of its potential audience and a nuanced understanding of the crowded Chinese release calendar.