Afternoon admissions Friday had ranked the romantic comedy in fourth place. But by Friday evening, it became apparent that mainstream Chinese audiences’ interest was barely flickering for the movie, and on Saturday, exhibitors began ditching it in favor of other titles.
Estimates from local sources suggest only an eighth-place finish for “Crazy Rich Asians” over the weekend, with a performance far behind Chinese-made “A Cool Fish” and still-potent “Venom.” “Crazy Rich Asians“ earned about $410,000 on Friday and $400,000 on Saturday.
Although the film was a groundbreaking hit in the U.S. because of its all-Asian cast, it has few stars of significance in China. Its release in the Middle Kingdom also comes several months after the rest of the world. As the extent of the film’s disappointing performance at the box office became apparent, Chinese exhibitors reacted quickly, slashing the number of screenings per day about 32,000 on Friday to 18,700 on Saturday.
Large numbers of potential mainland Chinese viewers have already “Crazy Rich Asians” abroad or pirated online by this point. Others have been baffled by how what they see as a film full of Asian stereotypes could be celebrated as a coup for on-screen Asian representation.
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“The plot is passable, the quality of the production is also fine, but I still wanted to vomit a bit,” one Chinese user wrote Sunday on major review platform Douban, where the film has a middling 6.2 out of 10 rating – mostly from people who saw the film months ago. “So Chinese people in the eyes of Europeans and Americans are just about clans, extravagant snobbery, a blind sense of superiority, and stubbornly clinging to outdated rules and ideas?”
Another user dismissed it by saying it pandered to hot-button U.S. issues of ethnic identity and inclusion without depicting anything that felt recognizably Chinese to mainlanders: “Well, guess it keeps the Americans watching it happy.”
The film was released in August in North America and became a breakaway hit that scored $174 million. It also played strongly from September releases in much of East Asia, including a $5 million haul in Singapore, where most of the film is set.
But after Warner Bros. struggled to have “Crazy Rich Asians” obtain a coveted revenue-sharing import slot for China, it was unclear whether the effort was going to be worth it. The studio’s ultra-lowball benchmarks – likening “Crazy Rich Asians” to “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”, which launched in China in August and earned $602,000, and Amy Schumer’s “I Feel Pretty,” which was released in September and earned $206,000 – turned out to be the right ones.
Still, getting a release in China was important from the producers’ point of view. They aim to shoot the sequel, “China Rich Girlfriend,” at least partly in Shanghai, and possibly as a co-production.