“Journey to the West: Demon Chapter” comfortably topped a massive Chinese New Year holiday weekend at the China box office. It was followed by “Buddies India” and the Jackie Chan starring China-India co-production “Kung Fu Yoga.”
Playing over 100,000 screenings on its Saturday opening “Journey” obliterated the Chinese record for a single day gross. It scored $50.6 million according to data from Ent Group. That was followed by $31.4 million on Sunday from 90,000 screenings.
The film (aka “Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back,” aka “Journey to the West 2”) was made by teaming two of China’s most successful film makers: Tsui Hark as director and Stephen Chow as producer. It was also a sequel to the 2013 Chow-directed “Journey to the West,” (aka “Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons,”) itself a reinterpretation of a classic Chinese tale. “Journey” had a two-day gross of $83.8 million according to Ent Group. Spony Pictures Entertainment has the movie for release in multiple international territories outside China.
The film played on 390 IMAX screens, generating $4.5 million of the Saturday. It claimed several IMAX records: best day ever for a local language title, best opening day ever for a local language title, best Chinese New Year opening day, and third best day ever of any title after “Warcraft” and “Furious 7.” The picture’s total IMAX box office for the 2-day weekend was $7.4M.
(On a normal weekend in China, most films open on a Friday. But with the hugely important Chinese New Year holidays officially beginning on Saturday, the eve of the holidays is traditionally spent with family and the weekend’s five major films released on Saturday instead.)
Making his directing debut, as well as co-starring, comedian Wang Baoqiang delivered $43.7 million with “Buddies.” The film placed second on Saturday with $26.8 million from 79,000 screenings and third on Sunday with $16.9 million from 63,000 screenings.
“Kung Fu Yoga” earned $19.7 million on Saturday from 53,000 screenings and $18.0 million in second place on Sunday. Its two-day total was $37.7 million.
A whole notch down, Han Han-directed drama “Duckweed” scored $9.7 million on Saturday from 36,000 screenings and $8.4 million on Sunday, for $18.1 million in fourth place. Local cartoon, “Boonie Bears: Entangled Worlds” earned $7.4 million on some 25,000 screenings Saturday and $6.76 million on Sunday.
“The Village of No Return,” a China-Taiwan fantasy actioner, claimed 5,000 screenings on Saturday, but saw that slip to 3,000 on Sunday. Its two-day total was $570,000. Previews of Chinese actioner “The Game Changer” were worth a similar $580,000. No other film – including still on release “Arrival” or “Passengers” — scored more than $150,000.
The significance of Chinese New Year to the Chinese box office is huge. But it is exceptional. Many films are conceived uniquely for consumption at this time of year, as cinema-going in family groups has become a modern tradition in the week-long holiday period, and would not score so strongly at other times of year. Also China’s film regulators operate an unofficial blackout period, in which foreign films cannot be released.
Stephen Chow also dominated Chinese New Year last year. His “Mermaid” had a $38.3 million (RMB264 million) opening day and an extraordinary RMB 3.39 billion ($491 million current exchange rates) lifetime cumulative.
This year’s winners will not have things their own way for long. More Chinese films release on Friday, along with two small foreign animation titles “Ballerina,” and “Snowtime.” Hollywood films re-enter the Chinese multiplexes on Feb. 10 with the release of “xXx: The Return of Xander Cage.” Other Hollywood releases queueing up now include “Lego Batman” on March 3 and “Beauty and the Beast” on March 17.