China’s Reopened Cinemas Make Slow Start

A First Farewell
Courtesy of Flash Forward Entertainment

China reopened its cinemas on Monday after nearly five months of closure, but audiences are only trickling in.

The re-opening was restricted to theaters in cities and regions where the coronavirus is deemed to have been vanquished. That excluded Beijing, where recent weeks have seen a resurgence of COVID-19 cases.

By midnight, local time, cumulative nationwide gross takings totalled $502,000 (RMB3.51 million), according to figures from ticketing platform Maoyan. Earlier in the day, state media had reported that the total included more than $150,000 of prior bookings, which indicates that only modest numbers of cinema-goers made decisions on the day.

The slow pace of ticket sales in commercial theaters contrasted with buoyant first day sales for the Shanghai International Film Festival, which sold 107,789 tickets within just ten minutes of opening up online ticketing, and 128,042 within the first hour. The festival will run July 25-Aug. 2.

Rewarding a degree of bold programming, art-house title “A First Farewell” (pictured) played consistently through Monday as the top film. A well-reviewed, directorial debut, set in the Xinjiang region, the film earned $210,000 (RMB1.47 million) its first day in theaters.

Nearly all other titles in the provisional top 10 were re-runs of familiar Chinese hits, dating back from 2013 to 2019.

Two exceptions were Pixar animation film “Coco,” which tracked in third place with $40,000, and “Bright Torch,” a documentary about Chinese crafts, which had accumulated $9,000 and stood in 10th position.

The re-releases included, in order of box office success, crime drama “Sheep Without A Shepherd”; 2019 animation hit “NeZha”; 2017 patriotic blockbuster “Wolf Warrior II”; animation “White Snake”; 2015 comedy “Goodbye Mister Loser”; 2016 animated charmer “Big Fish and Begonia”; and 2016 fantasy drama “The Mermaid.”

Five more foreign films are set to debut July 24, kicking off cinemas’ first opening weekend back in business. They are: “Dolittle,” “Bloodshot,” “Zootopia,” “Capernaum,” and “A Dog’s Journey,” the Dennis Quaid-starring sequel to “A Dog’s Purpose.” Meanwhile, Paramount’s “Sonic the Hedgehog” will premiere in China on July 31, competing that weekend with a re-release of Disney’s “Big Hero 6” and the new local animated film “Mr. Miao,” set to hit the same day.