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Canine pic at head of H.K. pack

'Eight' still great at Hong Kong B.O.

International box office is going to the dogs — and that’s a good thing.

As yet another reminder that domestic box office is just the tip of an arctic iceberg, Buena Vista’s sled pup adventure “Eight Below” has chalked up a socko bow in a few markets as it begins its overseas rollout.

While “Eight Below” was No. 1 at the U.S. box office for one frame (over Presidents Day), it’s expected to be king of the mountain for the third straight week in Hong Kong when B.O. results are published today.

The film, which bowed in Mexico and Italy this past weekend, shows again that there’s gold for studio pics beyond highly touted tentpoles — especially if the film is smartly marketed to tap into cultural trends, as “Eight Below” was by Intercontinental, working on behalf of Buena Vista Intl.

Despite some heated competish, the underdog pic, which has so far pulled in $79 million Stateside, is expected to top runners-up “Basic Instinct 2” and “Final Destination 3” in Hong Kong. Also in the mix are “Syriana” and “The Hills Have Eyes.”

“Eight Below” — which follows eight sled dogs trapped in Antarctica and the humans who try to rescue them — accounted for a whopping 40% of the top 10 pics’ gross in Hong Kong the weekend of March 26. In its first 11 days, the doggie pic scratched up a cume of $1.48 million.

So why is “Eight Below” so hot?

For one thing, doggy stories are B.O. gold in that part of the world.

Experts say they tap into a particular kind of sentimental whimsy that brings in the demo known as “office ladies,” a market segment that also turns out in Japan, where “Eight Below” opened to $610,000 from 160 screens.

The phenomenon has helped the pic break out of any pure family demo.

Some point out that a similar scenario occurred two years ago, with “Quill,” Japanese helmer Yoichi Sai’s pic about a Labrador puppy sent to live with a couple who train seeing-eye dogs.

Add into the mix that the Chinese year of the dog has furthered interest.

The perfect storm for the arctic adventure is that it’s actually a remake of — no, not Disney’s 2002 “Snow Dogs,” starring Cuba Gooding Jr. — but a 1983 Japanese film, “Nankyoku Monogatari,” that was a hit in Hong Kong for the Golden Harvest banner.

Intercontinental played up the true-story element in its Hong Kong campaign. That tack worked last weekend to beat out newcomers “Final Destination” and “Inside Man.”

The Japanese version, called “Antarctica,” was set in 1958, with two human protags and a much less sunny outcome for the pups. This version is set in the early ’90s, toplining Paul Walker above the mutts.

But will “Below” continue to have its day in Asia? Upcoming competish includes “Pink Panther” and the kickoff of the Hong Kong Intl. Film Fest.

Then again, Buena Vista Intl. always has “The Shaggy Dog” in the kennel.

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