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China Box Office: ‘P Storm’ Rains on ‘Shazam!’s’ Parade

P Storm,” the fourth installment of a Hong Kong crime thriller franchise, beat Warner Bros.’ new DC Comics superhero flick “Shazam!” by nearly $10 million over their three-day opening weekend in China, indicating a continued preference of Chinese audiences for local films over U.S. fare.

According to data from consultancy Artisan Gateway, “P Storm” took in $39.8 million over the weekend, which included Friday’s Tomb Sweeping Day, a national holiday in China during which families traditionally head home to pay graveside respects to their ancestors. The somewhat unfortunately named film stars Louis Koo as corruption investigator William Luk, who goes undercover at a prison. “P Storm” took pole position at the box office despite a South China Morning Post review that called it an “utterly silly” storyline “laughably detached from reality.”

Directed by David Lam and produced by Raymond Wong’s Hong Kong-based Pegasus Motion Pictures, the film is the latest chapter in a loosely connected series that has moved randomly through the alphabet, from 2014’s “Z Storm” to 2016’s “S Storm” to last year’s “L Storm.” (The rather more staid Chinese-language titles roughly translate to “The Storm of Anti-Corruption 1-4.”) The fifth installment, “G Storm,” has just been announced, and is expected to start shooting in August. 

Shazam!” came in second with a $30.6 million debut. It is one of Warner Bros.’ most cost-effective superheros yet, made with New Line for just $98 million – about half of what it cost to make other DC universe films like “Aquaman” and “Wonder Woman.”

But the story of a young boy who can instantly transform into an adult superhero is proving no match for those other DC movies in China. The James Wan-helmed “Aquaman” remains Warner Bros.’ most successful film yet in the territory, having debuted here with a splashy $93.6 million opening before bringing in a total of $298 million and becoming the country’s 15th-highest-grossing film of all time.

“Shazam!” has been projected by the Maoyan online ticketing platform to finish with just $49.7 million (RMB334 million) after its monthlong run, less than half of “P Storm’s” expected total of $102 million (RMB687 million). It is rated just 7.9 out of 10 on the platform, compared to “P Storm’s” 9.1, though on the more hipster and discerning Douban platform it outranks the latter 6.7 to 6.3, indicating the Hong Kong film’s greater populist appeal.

“The ‘Aquaman’ film was spectacular, but this was a bit of a disappointment. Why don’t you let Wan direct all the DC films?” one reviewer wrote in a one-star review liked hundreds of times.

Proving the continued popularity of Indian fare in China, Hindi-language black comedy crime thriller “Andhadhun” came in third with $10.7 million. Produced by Viacom 18 Motion Pictures, it tells the story of a blind piano player who gets entangled in a murder. Er Dong Pictures’ nostalgic classroom drama “Song of Youth” came in fourth with $5.8 million in its second weekend.

Renowned arthouse director Lou Ye’s “The Shadow Play” opened fifth with $5.2 million. Starring Jing Boran (“Spring Fever”) and Sandra Ma Sichun (“Soul Mate”), it premiered at last year’s Golden Horse Film Festival and screened in February in the Panorama section at Berlin.

Rumors swirled a week and a half ago that it would not get a cinematic release despite having obtained a dragon seal, with numerous Chinese media outlets reporting that its premiere had been canceled and would be pulled due to undefined “unavoidable circumstances.” The filmmaking team did not initially deny trouble was brewing, responding at first to media queries with just three words – “do your best [to push it through].” The film took years to pass Chinese censorship. 

Disney’s live-action “Dumbo” came in sixth, earning just $4.65 million (RMB31.2 million) in its second weekend in theaters, according to Maoyan.

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