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Second Huayi-Invested Film Is Canceled as Company’s Losses Mount

Still reeling from the cancellation of the theatrical release of its blockbuster “The Eight Hundred,” production studio Huayi Brothers has been hit with another setback: the comedy “The Last Wish,” which Huayi has invested in, has also been quietly pulled from China’s summer lineup. Both films have fallen afoul of China’s increasingly heavy-handed censors.

The unwelcome development comes as Huayi has announced that it expects losses of more than $48 million in the first half of 2019. That will pile onto a reported net loss of RMB1.09 billion (about $160 million) last year, creating a difficult hole for the company to climb out of without a new box-office hit.

Directed by Tian Yusheng, the writer-director of the bankable “The Ex-File” romcom series, “The Last Wish” stars Peng Yuchang (“An Elephant Sitting Still”) and Taiwanese actor Darren Wang in a buddy comedy about a young man with a terminal disease who hopes to lose his virginity before he dies. Hengye Pictures, China Film, Wanda Pictures, New Saint, Perfect Sky, Alibaba Pictures, and Wishart are also listed alongside Huayi as producers. 

Originally scheduled for release this Thursday, the comedy first ran into trouble late last month when censors took issue with its Chinese name. The original Mandarin title was “A Great Wish,” but Variety has learned that censors took issue with the adjective “great,” or “weida,” which authorities feel ought to be reserved to describe the country’s leaders and important matters of state. A raucous comedy about searching for sex apparently made too light of the term. The Chinese title was changed to “A Tiny Little Wish.”

On July 5, the production team announced that, “due to production reasons, the film will be unable to hit theaters on July 18. Its specific release date will be set soon.” There have been no further details since.

It is one of at least four films that have been yanked from China’s summer theatrical schedule, a time when authorities typically protect domestic content by blocking the release of foreign imports. Others are Huayi’s “The Eight Hundred,” which was withdrawn at the last minute as the opening film of the Shanghai Intl. Film Festival; Hong Kong director Derek Tsang’s “Better Days”; and Xu Haofeng’s martial arts film, “The Hidden Sword.”

Huayi announced over the weekend that it predicts losses of $47.3 million to $48 million (RMB325 million to 330 million) in the first half of the year. During the same period of 2018, it saw profits of $40.3 million (RMB277 million). It attributed the vast swing to a much weaker theatrical lineup. Whereas in the same reporting period last year, Huayi was bolstered by Feng Xiaogang’s “Youth,” which grossed more than $200 million, and the romantic comedy “The Ex-File 3: Return of the Exes,” which earned $282 million, it was involved with two flops in the first half of 2019. The first, “Mojin: The Worm Valley,” brought in just $22 million, while the second, the Thai film “Brother of the Year,” made just $247,000.

A new comedy, “Destinies,” is scheduled to hit theaters next week. Further in the future, there will be a new film from Feng, whose title roughly translates as “Only Yun Knows,” and Lu Chuan’s “Bureau 749,” which have both entered post-production. “Onmyoji,” a film adapted from the eponymous popular cellphone game, is also in the works.

In January, it was announced that Alibaba Pictures Group was lending $103 million to Huayi as part of Alibaba’s effort to be more involved in movie releases during lucrative Chinese holiday periods. The five-year loan is to be used to help cover Huayi’s operating costs and as working capital.

Huayi, which is listed on the Shenzhen exchange, reached RMB5.85 a share – its highest stock price since May – on June 13, the day the cancellation of “The Eight Hundred” Shanghai premiere was announced. It has fallen 19% since then, closing at RMB4.73 on Monday.

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