The film, about a Chinese American family who hide their aging matriarch’s cancer diagnosis from her, was scheduled to be released in China some four months after its North American commercial debut. Directed by Beijing-born bilingual director Lulu Wang, it first made a splash at Sundance in January before going on to earn $17.7 million in North American theaters.
The rights in China were picked up by ticketing agency-cum-distributor Maoyan, which had begun to use its significant promotional power to boost the film. Users of Maoyan’s ticketing app were at one point recently greeted with a three-second full-screen poster for “The Farewell” before being able to buy other tickets.
The company offered no explanation for the cancellation of Friday’s release – which would have put it up against “Frozen II” – but suggested that “The Farewell” would be given a slot at a different time. Sneak previews are continuing.
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Sources close to the film, however, have told Variety that, given the potential of the film to pick up major awards in North America over the coming months, moving the China release could increase its commercial potential. Many Chinese distributors initially passed on the film, as they did not feel the same sense of novelty that U.S. audiences experienced.
Maoyan initially kept quiet the news of its acquisition, ostensibly waiting to learn how “The Farewell” would perform in stateside theaters. It was also likely held up in part because of the censorship and approval process before and during the early October National Day holiday. With that politically sensitive moment now passed, film releasing is returning to a degree of normality. But finding a new slot may be tricky, as December is usually a peak releasing period for commercial titles. And Chinese cinema’s annual high point, around the Lunar New Year, will occur in January next year.