Is Wanda Sabotaging Huayi’s ‘Rock Dog’s Box Office Chances?

  • Chinese-produced, English-language animation stars the voices of Oscar winner J.K. Simmons, Luke Wilson, Eddie Izzard, Lewis Black, Matt Dillon, and Sam Elliot
  • Film directed by Ash Brannon (Toy Story 2)
  • Wanda reportedly angry over poaching of executive to Huayi last year



China’s film industry is abuzz with speculation that Wanda Cinema Line is willfully sabotaging the box office prospects of rival Huayi Brothers’ new animated feature Rock Dog (摇滚藏獒) by limiting screenings of the film, set for release on Friday, July 8.

Wanda has only arranged seven showings of the film, amounting to just 0.3 percent of all films screened across its entire cinema chain, the largest in the country, according to Beijing-based box office tracker EntGroup.

Neither Wanda Cinema Line nor Huayi Brothers responded to China Film Insider inquiries about the rumors. Wanda has yet to address the allegations publicly.

Despite its Chinese creators and themes, the film’s original language is English, and features voice work by Hollywood veterans including Luke Wilson, Eddie Izzard, Oscar winner J.K. Simmons, Lewis Black, Matt Dillon, and Sam Elliot.

Hopes have been high that the highly anticipated 3D animated film, adapted from a comic book written by Chinese rock musician Zheng Jun and directed by American Ash Brannon (Toy Story 2, Surf’s Up), will be able to appeal to both Chinese and Western audiences.

Many industry watchers are speculating that the reason for the underwhelming screening arrangement is Wanda’s way of exacting revenge on Huayi Brothers for successfully poaching executive Jerry Ye(叶宁) from them in March.

The film tells the tale of a Tibetan mastiff named Bodi that becomes inspired to move to the big city in order to become a rock musician. The film, which has taken six years to make, was animated by Reel FX, an award-winning American digital studio. At U.S.$60 million, Rock Dog will be one of the most expensive animated films China has ever financed.

Rock Dog debuts during the best summer for animated films ever in China, with Hollywood product such as Zootopia leading the way.

Before the film is able to make inroads overseas, its domestic chances may be handicapped due to the reported enmity between Wanda and Huayi executives. The companies are two of the top film groups punching it out in the fast-growing market.

Citing unnamed sources, news outlet The Entertainment Unicorn claims Wanda asked its cinemas only to arrange one film from Huayi per day during non-prime screening times.

But other commentators have speculated that cinema chains are simply not optimistic about the prospects for the film, pointing out that Hengdian Pictures, Broadway Cinematheque, and Jackie Chan Cinema also haven’t scheduled screen time for the film.

Ye, who had been an executive at property to entertainment conglomerate Dalian Wanda since 2002, joined Huayi as CEO of its movie division, Huayi Brothers Pictures.

At Huayi, Ye oversees film production, distribution, and Huayi’s exhibition activities. He was named Exhibitor of the Year at the CineAsia exhibition and distribution convention in 2012.

Rock Dog premiered in Beijing on Monday with Ye in attendance along with Huayi Brothers CEO Wang Zhonglei, producer Wang Xiaomei, director Ash Brannon, author Zheng Jun and his wife, Liu Yun. Zheng downplayed the rumors that Wanda might be sabotaging the film.

“I heard the story, and I have seen some statistics. I don’t really believe it, and there is too much being said out there,” Zheng said.

Zheng’s wife Liu noted that the overseas distribution of the film was looking promising, adding “I don’t want to see a domestic film blocked by our compatriots before it’s known to foreign audiences.”

Details of the international distribution of the film, which was co-produced by Mandoo Pictures of Beijing, Los Angeles, and Tianjin, have yet to be disclosed.

Liu also said that the translator present at the premiere was “not allowed” to translate a question about the reported sabotage because “we don’t want the director [Ash Brannon] to wonder why Chinese people are doing things like this.”

— Additional reporting by Kelly Li