'Earth' moves forward across continent

HONG KONG — The popularity of toonpics was a recurring theme at the Asian box office over the Christmas week, as was the strong performance of local films, notably “Ip Man,” “If You Are the One,” “Gajini” and “Overspeed Scandal.” Telling too was a staggered series of runs for Fox International’s “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”

“Earth” opened in Japan, later than the rest of the region, and came out on top with a weekend score of $4.01 million from 655 locations and earned a cume of $5.1 million. It ousted another late opener “Wall-E,” which had topped the chart for the past two weeks and took $2.87 million for a three week cume of $17.9 million. The Pixar title was one of four animated pics in the weekly rankings, with Toei’s “Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro” taking $876,000, Toho’s “Tamagotchi 2008″ with $816,000 and Toho’s “Bleach: Fade to Black” in its second week taking $802,000 claiming eighth, ninth and 10th places.

Live-action adventure pic “K-20″ from Toho earned $1.89 million in its opening frame on 322 screens to claim third place for Toho, while Shochiku’s romancer “Akai Ito” played 274 sites for a $1.16 million opening weekend.

Christmas period also marked milestone for “Red Cliff,” the Avex-owned, Toho-Towa-released John Woo pic, which passed the $50 million milestone. Pic now stands on $51.1 million and is the fourth highest grossing film of the year.

“Earth” also opened in South Korea with an okay $1.67 million from 554 screens, but it was not able to displace Lotte Entertainment’s local actioner “Overspeed Scandal,” which held in first place for the fourth successive weekend and took $2.44 million for a cume of $18.2 million.

“Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea,” the Hayao Miyazaki-helmed toon that was the runaway leader this year in Japan, opened before Christmas for Showbox and added $1.01 million from 423 sites and lifted its cume to $4.37 million.

Warner’s “Yes Man” was agreeable to $812,000 from 298 screens and a two-week cume of $3.15 million. “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” handled by Lotte, scored $748,000 from 355 screens and a two-week cume of $4.11 million.

In Hong Kong, another toon came out top, DreamWorks Animation “Madagascar Escape 2 Africa,” which achieved a narrow victory over Chinese-language historical martial arts flick “Ip Man.” “Madagascar” managed $732,000 from a 35-screen release via distributor Intercontinental, while “Ip Man,” which stars Donnie Yen as Bruce Lee’s teacher, earned $725,000 from 37 sites for Mandarin Entertainment and Newport Entertainment.

Hong Kong theaters were also crowded with Disney/Intercontinental’s “Bedtime Stories,” which took a solid $557,000 in its opening week, while Panasia’s Japanese hit thriller “Suspect X” hit the mark with $420,000 from a 25-screen release. Mainland Chinese helmer Feng Xiaogang’s latest romantic comedy “If You Are the One” failed to seduce many in its first week with a $31,500 cume. Film was distributed in Hong Kong by Media Asia.

International phenomenon “Twilight” showed strong legs moving into its second frame, with distributor Golden Scene adding one screen to its 33-location release for a second-week gross of $542,000. The vampire film’s cume now stands at $1.4 million.

Edko release “The Tale of Despereaux” debuted with $256,000 on 31 screens. Fox’s “Earth,” handled by Kentac Investments was squeezed down to seventh place in its third week and grossed $103,000. Bringing up the rear in Hong Kong was the 10th film installment of the Pokemon franchise, “Diamond and Pearl” with $48,000 from 23 locations, and the Warner Bros. comedy “Four Christmases” with $31,000.

Feng apparently apologized to local auds for the volume of product placement in “If You Are the One.” But mainland China auds lapped up the pic rather more than in Hong Kong. According to local reports, the pic, which preemed on Dec. 18, had taken over RMB100 million ($14.6 million) in its first six days. With opening day tickets often sold at a premium, its first session reportedly clocked in at $3.4 million for Huayi Bros.

“Ip Man” reportedly clocked up $4.07 million in its second frame to Dec. 21, delivering a cume of $6.3 million. Chen Kaige’s Beijing opera biopic “Mei Lan Fang” (aka “Forever Enthralled”), handled by China Film Group, took $2.55 million in the week to Dec. 21 for a three-week cume of $14.6 million.

Having overcome a last-minute obstacle in the shape of a Madras court injunction, Aamir Khan starrer “Ghajini” was released on Dec. 25 and has quickly shaped up to be one of the biggest films of 2008 in India.

A Hindi-remake of a Tamil story about a man seeking revenge for his wife’s murder, “Ghajini” reportedly grossed INR700 million ($14.6 million) in its four-day opening weekend India for distributor Studio 18. Internationally, it scored a further $4 million from 22 territories, according to overseas distributor Reliance Big Pictures. International total included $920,000 in the Middle East, 2008’s second highest opening for a Hindi film, in the U.S. at $1.4 million, and $176,000 from Australia.

Combined total puts it on a par with the year’s other two Indian B.O. standouts “Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi” and “Singh Is Kinng.”

While Studio 18 said the response to the pic was “unprecedented,” so too were the innovations put in place around it. Reliance’s Big Cinemas chain in India screened the pic with English sub-titles at selected multiplexes in Mumbai, also showing off the circuit’s digital screening capacities.

Meanwhile, rival Indian studio Eros announced that it had teamed with FXLabs Studios to deliver “Ghajini the Game,” a third-party action game that it claims is India’s first 3-D PC action game based on a Bollywood movie.

(Marcus Lim in Hong Kong also contributed to this report.)

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