Japan in Chan ‘Rush’

Laffer kicks off but 'Spirited' wins frame

There sure was a “Rush Hour” in Japan last week, though the B.O. engines in many other markets remained stuck in low gear. Six major titles launched in Japan, aiming to take advantage of the Sept. 22-24 holiday weekend.

None managed to unseat Toho’s toon “Spirited Away,” which smashed the territory’s all-time attendance record Wednesday, cruising past “Titanic’s” 16.8 million tickets. The ghost story/fairy tale has amassed $184.1 million, just $4.27 million short of “Titanic,” which it’s destined to overtake.

The top rookie, Jackie Chan starrer “Rush Hour 2,” came in 49% ahead of the original, which went on to gross $15.1 million in Japan, the pic’s second-best territory after Germany.

Primed by topliner Renee Zellweger’s visit to Tokyo in July, “Bridget Jones’s Diary” wooed $3.8 million in five days, eclipsing the bows of “Notting Hill” and “Shakespeare in Love.” A strong draw for women, “Diary” thumped “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” in a faceoff that was hardly ideal for Working Title, which produced both films.

Shut out

Robert De Niro headliner “The Score” didn’t score in Japan after unrewarding runs in France and Germany. “Kamen Rider Agito,” a spinoff from a popular TV series, cornered the kids market, while Gallic actioner “Yamakasi,” written and produced by Luc Besson, had limited appeal.

“Bridget’s” foreign cume hit $140.2 million. “Mandolin” has earned about $19 million in eight territories: fairly impressive in the U.K. but ho-hum in France, Australia and Belgium.

The frame’s pacesetter, “A.I. Artificial Intelligence,” minted $11.9 million from 2,645 engagements in 23 markets, hoisting cume to $117.5 million. The sci-fier posted WB’s second-best opening of the year in the U.K. behind “Cats & Dogs,” without reaching great heights.

U.K. critics damned “A.I.” with faint praise, admiring its ambition and tech achievements but sniping at a story that “melts into a glutinous sub-Disney jelly.” The Haley Joel Osment starrer set an all-time Warner record in Spain (edging out “The Matrix”), trailing the third apparition of chiller “The Others” (which had a lively second sesh in Italy).

In Thailand, “A.I.” dethroned local blockbuster “Suriyothai” after its five-week reign, garnering $334,000 in six days on 69.

‘Fast’ start Down Under

“The Fast and the Furious” roared out of the pits in Oz, fueled by co-star Paul Walker’s visit and an adroit guerrilla campaign by UIP that included ads on condom vending machines and bikini-clad girls handing out trinkets.

The Rob Cohen-helmed actioner entered Holland at a fair clip but hit the wall in Italy and South Korea, in the latter thrashed by “Rush Hour 2” and the third campaign of local epic “The Warrior.” “Fast” had a fair second lap in Blighty, where nationwide ticket sales in August were 31% up on July and 34% ahead of August 2000.

Critter caper “Cats & Dogs” scampered to $64.8 million, taking meaty bites in Australia (outrunning “Chicken Run,” “Dr. Dolittle 2” and “Mouse Hunt”) and New Zealand (a bit better than “Stuart Little”). “Swordfish” hit $45.1 million, boosted by Taiwan’s stellar preem (beating “Gladiator” and “X-Men”) and solid soph sessions in Belgium and Holland; the thriller plummeted in France, however.

German exhibs bemoaned a shortage of crowd-pleasers, noting neither “The Animal” nor “The Hole” excited auds. One booker predicted a short stay for “A.I.” after its second-week plunge, but marveled at the staying power of Gallic import “Amelie From Montmartre.” “It’s gotten so much positive word of mouth. It’s a lovely movie and a good escape at the moment,” he said.

Fox’s “Planet of the Apes” climbed to $166.7 million, spurred by India’s $498,000 in six days on 107 (a company record) and Hungary’s $240,000 on 24 (the distrib’s second-highest after “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace”). Stablemate “Moulin Rouge” saw mediocre preems in Holland and Israel, continuing a patchy pattern after resonating strongly in Oz, the U.K. and Russia; faring OK in Mexico and Taiwan; and struggling in Brazil, Singapore and Malaysia. Cume is $41.4 million from 20 markets.

“The Princess Diaries” penned $504,000 on 20 in the Philippines (a record for a Disney-branded live-action pic, better than “George of the Jungle” and “Inspector Gadget”) and eased by 9% in Australia, buoyed by school vacations in two states. “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” had the worst Oz opening of any Disney toon in recent memory.

Staying afloat

“Atlantis” has earned $23.1 million from Latin America and Asia, excluding Japan, where it surfaces in December. Its ultimate fate will be clearer after its Euro preem in Blighty on Oct. 19.

Johnny Depp starrer “Blow” wasn’t up to snuff in France or Italy. And with only a handful of markets remaining, its $22.1 million cume has no hope of matching domestic’s $53 million.

“Vidocq,” the digitally shot period thriller starring Gerard Depardieu and Guillaume Canet, ruled in its native France.

(Lukas Schwarzacher in Tokyo, Ed Meza in Berlin, Liza Klaussman in Paris and Lee Simkins in London contributed to this report.)

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