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‘The Meg’ Opens in Third Place in China Amid Controversy

Monster shark movie “The Meg” thrashed to a third-place finish at the Chinese box office Friday amid controversy over chart-topper “iPartment,” which was accused of artificially boosting its numbers.

The Meg,” a U.S.-China co-production starring Jason Statham and Li Bingbing, was on course to score more than $15 million on its opening day Friday, according to data from China Box Office at 9 p.m. local time. That gives the big-budget horror-action pic a 22% market share.

It appeared to be soundly beaten by local comedy drama “iPartment,” a new release that clocked up more than $45 million. Another Chinese comedy, “The Island,” directed by comedy king Huang Bo and starring Shu Qi, recorded more than $21 million.

But some pundits are already crying foul. They accuse “iPartment’s” distributors of buying more than $15 million (RMB100 million) in tickets to their own movie in order to give the impression of its being a hit.

While the Friday numbers are provisional and “The Meg” could pick up over the weekend, the $15 million opening day is unlikely to be what its backers – Warner Bros., Flagship Entertainment and Gravity Pictures – hoped for. The film, which reportedly cost $150 million to make, is laced with China-friendly elements, such as the casting of Li and Statham and the inclusion of Chinese plot points, that producers no doubt hoped would appeal to audiences in China, the world’s second-biggest movie market.

“The Meg’s” performance Friday is comparable to the opening-day take for “Skyscraper,” the Dwayne Johnson action film that also incorporated Chinese story elements and relied on Middle Kingdom moviegoers to help vindicate its nine-digit budget.

“‘iPartment” (also known as “Love Apartment”) may have other troubles besides the allegations of mass ticket-buying. It appears to be a movie adaptation of a Chinese sitcom that ran for four seasons from 2009 and that was criticized for ripping off “Friends.” However, viewers say it is not a romantic comedy and that there may be lawsuits for illegal use of the title.

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