‘Da Vinci’ unlocks Asian B.O. puzzle

Pic grosses from the top 11 markets topped $120 mil as of June 20

You’d think a thriller centered around Catholic iconography would be a hard sell in Asia, where only South Korea has a dominant Christian population.

But “The Da Vinci Code” has turned out to be a juggernaut in Asia.

“Code” grosses from the top 11 Asian markets topped $120 million as of June 20, accounting for nearly 25% of the pic’s $500 million international gross. The film’s top foreign perf came from Japan: $63 million as of June 19.

The film took in $13 million in China before its run was truncated by authorities on June 8.

South Korea tallied $21.5 million, the Philippines $1.7 million and Singapore $2 million.

At first glance, the pic’s traction in Asia is perplexing. It’s not the type of American CGI spectacle that auds there typically embrace. But strong awareness of the book, the drawing power of Tom Hanks and a tinge of controversy made for a winning combination.

Protests from religious groups in Korea, China and India contributed to the film’s “must see for myself” quality.

Some particularly local factors also helped boost the film.

Many Asians are strongly attracted to European monuments and the other tourist spots of Paris and London portrayed in the film. The book was a big bestseller throughout the region, with more than 8 million copies sold in various translations, and the Chinese in particular love a good puzzle.

In Japan, a nation that writes and reads more mystery novels of all stripes than almost any on the planet, Sony downplayed the religious element and stressed the mystery angle.

Prior to the film’s release in Japan, Sony joined together with publisher Kadokawa (which published the “Da Vinci” translation) and distrib Toho to form an “8 million admissions” committee for the pic.

The goal, says Noriaki Sano, head of publicity for SPEJ,was to sell 8 million tickets and gross Y10 billion ($86.1 million). They also aimed to establish May as a viable season for big releases.

The partners are well on their way — pic set the record for a May release in Japan.

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