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China Box Office: Patriotic Local Titles Rule Quiet Pre-Holiday Weekend

The Captain
Courtesy of Distribution Workshop

In a muddled pre-holiday weekend, patriotism rather than any individual film was the box office winner in China.

The upcoming 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic, which will officially be celebrated Tuesday, has already affected the film-releasing calendar for weeks.

Over the past weekend, the top-scoring films were “The Captain” (previously known as “The Chinese Pilot”) and “Quomolangma” (aka “The Climbers”), neither of which officially release until Monday. Both were given wide previews on Saturday, earning $8.3 million and $6.42 million, respectively, according to data from consultancy Artisan Gateway.

Another patriotic drama, “My Country, My People,” similarly previewed on Saturday, ahead of a Monday release. Directed by a medley of top directors including Chen Kaige, Ning Hao and Wen Muye, and boasting an ensemble cast that includes Ge You, Huang Bo, Liu Haoran and Kara Hui, it achieved a more modest single-day score of $1.81 million.

Over the three days from Friday to Sunday, holdover title “The Last Wish” placed third with a score of $3.1 million, for a cumulative of $37.5 million after three weekends, according to Artisan Gateway. “Mao Zedong 1949” scored $3 million for a running total of $14.5 million after two weekends. And “Little Q” earned $2.5 million for a total of $15.5 million since Sept. 20.

Taken together, all films at the Chinese box office earned an aggregate $36.6 million over the weekend. That leaves the year-to-date total 3% down on 2018, with a cumulative income of $6.65 billion. The shortfall reflects a weak year for Chinese films, stemming from a production slowdown that began from midsummer last year and a stricter censorship regime.

Such problems could briefly be forgotten if the National Day holiday releases prove to be blockbusters. On Monday afternoon, “My Country” appeared to be leading the pack with a $30 million haul.

Directed by Hong Kong’s Andrew Lau, “The Captain” recounts the fact-based tale of a commercial pilot who brought his plane back to safety after the windscreen shattered and sucked out the co-pilot.

Directed by another Hong Konger, Daniel Lee, “The Climbers” is a retelling of a daring 1960 ascent of Mt. Everest from the treacherous north side. The film stars Wu Jing, Zhang Ziyi and Jackie Chan and was produced by the state-controlled Shanghai Film Studio.