'Knights' is mighty in its debut in Asia

“Catch Me If You Can” was the front-runner in much of Europe last weekend, while Jackie Chan starrer “Shanghai Knights” kicked butt in its world preems in Singapore and Malaysia.

Meanwhile, “Die Another Day” set new benchmarks for the James Bond canon in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Norway, and Gallic actioner “Taxi 3″ was the tearaway champ in France.

“Catch Me” raked in an estimated $20 million from openers in 10 markets and holdovers in five countries, playing on about 2,900 screens, upping its cume to $42.8 million. The Steven Spielberg-helmed caper caught $5.9 million on 466 locations in Blighty, including sneaks, 19% bigger than “Cast Away” and 21% ahead of “Saving Private Ryan.”

The Leonardo DiCaprio/Tom Hanks starrer rustled up $5.2 million on 706 prints in Germany (2% up on “Gladiator” and 25% better than “Private Ryan), $2.1 million on 240 in Italy, $759,000 on 69 in Switzerland and $717,000 on 31 in Hong Kong. Similarly impressive were its bows in Austria ($685,000 on 98), Turkey ($465,000 on 98, a DreamWorks record in dollars), the Philippines ($250,000 on 52) and Thailand ($238,000 on 63). Sporting strong legs, “Catch” has conned $5.1 million in South Korea and $4.2 million in Spain (easing by just 19%), both in 10 days.

Mighty ‘Knights’

Released ahead of its Friday launch Stateside to capitalize on the Chinese New Year holiday and to beat the video pirates, “Shanghai Knights” grabbed $700,000 on 49 in Singapore (a record for a U.S. production starring Chan, 20% bigger than “The Tuxedo”) and $330,000 on 50 in Malaysia.

“Die Another Day” vaulted to $224.6 million on the back of a $6.2 million frame, highlighted by Hong Kong’s $1.14 million on 47 (Fox’s third-highest debut locally), Taiwan’s $1.2 million on 140 (the distrib’s fifth best) and Norway’s $1.2 million on 89 (a Fox/MGM record).

With Italy and Japan ahead (neither traditionally a strong market for 007), pic looks headed for north of $260 million.

‘Gangs’ gung-ho

In its first forays in Latin America, “Gangs of New York” captured $1.1 million on 350 in Mexico and $125,000 on 56 in Colombia, No. 1 in both. Period drama’s estimated cume topped $62.3 million, including Italy’s excellent $5.3 million in 10 days and the U.K.’s $14.6 million through its fifth lap.

In its first foreign tryout, “National Security,” action comedy toplining Martin Lawrence and Steve Zahn, trapped a solid $1.2 million on 275 in Spain.

Eminem starrer “8 Mile” unwrapped $6.6 million from 1,974 engagements in 22 countries, sending the cume to a swell $57.8 million.

Universal/UIP’s urban drama has rung up a stellar $17.4 million in 17 days in the U.K., $7.4 million in 18 days in Australia and $15.4 million in 32 days in Germany.

Robin Williams starrer “One-Hour Photo” trapped a fine $781,000 on 157 Down Under and a decent $255,000 in Japan, limited to 61 screens. Nearing the end of its run, thriller has banked an OK $19.5 million.

‘Whale’ hale and hearty

After picking up prizes at the Sundance and Toronto fests, New Zealand drama “Whale Rider” took $291,000 on 46 in its homeland, the second-highest opener for a Kiwi pic behind “Once Were Warriors” and BVI’s fourth best ahead of “Signs” and “Ransom.”

Strong word of mouth buoyed “Chicago” in Oz as the tuner dropped by just 5%, ringing up $2.8 million in 11 days, the market leader. Miramax’s pic has orchestrated a superb $12.7 million through its third week wide in the U.K.

Stalwart “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” conjured up $14.8 million from 7,628 engagements, elevating cume to a towering $447.6 million. Peter Jackson’s epic fetched $1.8 million on 135 in Poland (just 5% below the original’s entry) and has pocketed a terrif $5.5 million in 11 days in Russia (89% of “Fellowship’s” lifetime total there) and $22.2 million through its third orbit in Italy (96% of the first “Ring”).

Starting to wind down, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” added an estimated $4.8 million to its coffers, bringing the cume to $576.5 million.

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