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China Box Office: ‘Charlie’s Angels’ Kept Earthbound by Local Romcom

The new “Charlie’s Angels” reboot was no match for a local romantic comedy or a 20-year-old Giuseppe Tornatore film at the Chinese box office, bringing in just $7.6 million in its debut weekend, according to figures from consultancy Artisan Gateway.

Directed by Elizabeth Banks and starring Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott and Ella Balinska, the film has had a lackluster start, with China’s day-and-date release failing to provide much of a boost to its $8.6 million three-day gross in the U.S. This installment of the franchise continues the story told in the 1970s TV show and two previous films, 2000’s “Charlie’s Angels” and 2003’s “Charlie Angels: Full Throttle,” none of which was ever popular in the mainland. According to ticketing platform Maoyan, the latter movie received some sort of China release in 2003 that netted it just $2 million.

The fault clearly didn’t lie with Chinese audiences being impervious to nostalgia. In a surprise upset, a 4K version of Giuseppe Tornatore’s 1998 film “The Legend of 1900” beat “Charile’s Angels” with a $9.2 million “debut” weekend. Although it came out decades ago, Tornatore’s first English-language film had never formally made it into Chinese theaters. It is now the first work by the Italian helmer to hit the country, where audiences have long loved his “Cinema Paradiso.”

Releasing old classics that never had a wide Chinese theatrical release is a trick that’s yielded box office success a couple of times already in the past year, notably for Hayao Miyazaki’s 2001 film “Spirited Away,” which grossed $69 million in June,” and “My Neighbor Totoro,” which earned $25 million last December, 25 years after its debut.

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However, most viewers this weekend put their money on something new. The Chinese romantic drama “Somewhere Winter” proved the top earner with a modest $13 million debut. The movie was written by novelist and screenwriter Rao Xueman based on one of her popular young adult novels, which itself keyed off a 1980s song by Taiwanese singer Chyi Chin. A story of love across two generations and between three cities, it was filmed in Beijing, Taipei and Los Angeles.

It was helmed by Taiwan’s Wang Weiming, whose last film, 2014’s “Sex Appeal,” grossed just $2.4 million (RMB16.6 million) in China, and stars Taiwanese actor Wallace Huo Chien-hwa and Sandra Ma Sichun. The two are extremely popular as an on-screen couple from their chemistry in the 2015 Chinese TV series “Love Me If You Dare.” Two posters, both closeups of the couple’s faces as they gaze longingly at each other, capture the vibe of their reunion in the new film: in one they’re all smiles; in the other they choke back dramatic tears.

The movie hits just before Taiwan and mainland China are set to face off over rival film award ceremonies, with Taipei’s Golden Horse Awards and Xiamen’s Golden Rooster Awards both scheduled to take place Saturday.

The shadow of the Golden Horse Awards looms rather large at the mainland box office this weekend, as it helped shoot both Ma and then-co-star Zhou Dongyu to stardom by acknowledging their breakout roles in the 2016 Derek Tsang-directed film “Soul Mate” with a shared best actress award that year.

Tsang’s latest film, “Better Days,” the youth drama about schoolyard bullying, marks his second collaboration with Zhou. It remained fourth at the box office this weekend after nearly a month in theaters with ticket sales of $7.3 million, bringing bringing its cumulative box office up to $212 million – more than what “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” earned in China, and more than four times what “Terminator: Dark Fate” took in. (Ranking ninth at the box office as of Monday afternoon, the Arnold Schwarzenegger-starring flick has grossed $49 million in China since the beginning of the month.)

In fifth was Roland Emmerich’s World War II blockbuster “Midway.” Nearly half-financed by Chinese money and one of the most expensive independent films ever made with a budget of $98 million, it grossed just $6.9 million in China this weekend for a cumulative gross of $30.4 million – a bit less than its U.S. earnings of $35 million so far.

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