‘Monsters’ scares off local fare

New Year's bad news for Chinese films

HONG KONG — There were high hopes for the local crop of pics over Hong Kong’s Chinese New Year holiday — which usually accounts for as much as 20% of the year’s total B.O. But local moviegoers revealed a penchant for overseas fare.

This year’s New Year champs? “Monsters, Inc.” scared up almost $3 million B.O. to take top honors. With just under $3 million, epic “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” shoved local hopefuls into a race for third place.

Even homegrown successes didn’t stay that close to home. The top Hong Kong pic, Golden Harvest’s “Marry a Rich Man,” was a romantic romp around Europe that pulled in $2.6 million. In hot pursuit, director Johnnie To showed his usual deft touch by pulling in $2.1 million with laffer “Fat Choi Spirit,” starring local stars Andy Lau and Gigi Leung. Fourth place was stolen by Steven Soderberg’s heist pic, “Ocean’s Eleven,” whose delayed release to coincide with the New Year holiday period paid dividends of $1.8 million.

But the less-than-stellar showing of homegrown movies hasn’t left local producers feeling downcast.

Overall, industry players are calling Chinese New Year 2002 a solid, if unspectacular, period.

Says Woody Tsung, chief executive of Hong Kong’s Motion Picture Industry Assn., “Things were pretty stable, no worse or not better than last year.” That means an estimated total of around $10 million for the two weeks surrounding the three-day holiday, a figure in line with last year’s total.

Another local pic that hit the top 10 list for the period was “Chinese Odyssey 2002,” the comeback film for director Jeff Lau, which stars Tony Leung Chiu-wai (“Happy Together”), singer Faye Wong, and “Crouching Tiger” alum Chang Chen. It picked up $1.5 million in Hong Kong.

A spokeswoman at production company Jet Tone films –arthouse director Wong Kar-wai’s shingle — says the pic might be better appreciated elsewhere, and Jet Tone says it’s putting in a strong performance in mainland Chinese cities such as Shanghai.