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China’s ‘The Eight Hundred’ on Blockbuster Track After Huge Monday Previews

The Eight Hundred (The 800)
Bai Xiaoyan/Huayi Bros.

Big-budget Chinese war epic “The Eight Hundred” is on course to be the first blockbuster film of the year in the Middle Kingdom, after super-strong Monday previews confirmed audience willingness to return to theaters.

The film earned $7.24 million from 17,200 screenings on Monday, according to data from local analysis firm Ent Group. Even more impressive, that translates as 1.28 million consumers overcoming six months of coronavirus-caution in order to view the much-anticipated title.

Together with $2.06 million earned from a smaller preview session last Friday, the film has now accumulated $9.31 million ahead of its official launch in Chinese cinemas this coming Friday (Aug. 21).

The very respectable occupancy levels, equating to 74 tickets per session, come despite capacity in Chinese cinemas currently being limited to 50% by post-coronavirus physical distancing requirements. When Chinese cinemas first reopened on July 20, cinemas were only allowed to sell 30% of their seats.

Screenings last Friday in Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan, Shenzhen and Dangdong were video-linked, as the filmmakers met physically with some fans, and remotely with others. There will be further previews through this week.

Initial reactions appear strongly positive. Viewers scored the film as 9.3 out of 10 on ticketing website Maoyan, 8.0 on Mtime, and 8.0 on movie fan site Douban. (An initial 9.3 score on Alibaba-owned ticketing site Toupiaopiao has since disappeared.)

It is not only coronavirus, but also political intervention, that has kept “The Eight Hundred” out of cinemas.

The film’s story centers on the sacrifices made a ragtag group of Chinese soldiers in 1937 Shanghai as imperial Japanese troops advanced. Their operations were once praised by Mao Zedong himself as a “classic example of national revolution.” But its Shanghai Film Festival premiere in June last year was halted at the last minute, and its July 2019 commercial outing cancelled, after intervention by a group of Communist Party scholars and experts. They said that the film had mis-stepped in its portrayal of the rival Kuomintang Party, which ruled China until it lost the civil war against the Communists in 1949 and fled to Taiwan.

The $80 million “Eight Hundred” was produced by Huayi Brothers and is directed by Guan Hu (Mister Six”), with finance from Alibaba Pictures and Tencent Pictures, among others. It was also the first Chinese film to be entirely shot with Imax cameras. It is set for release in North America on Aug 28.