Big-budget mainland Chinese propaganda film “1921” is set for distribution across a raft of English-speaking countries, including the U.S. and U.K.
The film enjoyed a wide general release in mainland China from Thursday as part of the ongoing celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China. It is primarily backed by Tencent Pictures and is co-directed by Huang Jianxin and Zheng Dasheng.
International rights sales are handled by Hong Kong-based Media Asia, and deals were confirmed at the end of the pre-Cannes week of online screenings. The company licensed “1921” to Smart Cinema for North America; Trinity Filmed Entertainment for the U.K. and Middle East; Purple Plan for Australia and New Zealand; and Clover Films for Singapore.
The companies’ different release dates have not been established.
Smart Cinema is a Chinese-owned tech firm which specialized in a form of distribution to mobile devices that it characterizes as ‘online theatrical’ releasing. Just like a release in theaters, it sells tickets for one-time screenings that occur in the exclusive theatrical releasing window, ahead of more general online, home entertainment and video distribution. Revenues are normally classified as being in the theatrical window.
Backed by former Microsoft, 21st Century Fox and Wanda Cinema executive Jack Gao, Smart Cinema started this form of releasing in China but has subsequently expanded operations into international markets including the U.S., Spain and Italy.
In Chinese theaters “1921” easily topped the box office charts on its first two days of release. It earned RMB81.6 million ($12.6 million) on Thursday and RMB43.6 million ($6.74 million). But, with the inclusion of extensive paid preview screenings, it already has a cumulative of RMB209 million ($32.1 million).
The film had its world premiere last month as the opening gala title at the Shanghai International Film Festival. It has proved mildly controversial in China, stirring nationalist sentiment over casting matters. It employs a battalion of popular young celebrities to retell the events of 100 years ago, which has sparked chatter about the appropriateness of certain stars playing venerated political figures like Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai.
Media Asia has a raft of mainland and Hong Kong titles for sale, but will not be attending the Cannes Film Festival’s accompanying market in person this year, due to travel and coronavirus concerns. The online screenings enabled it to license other titles too.
“Legend of the Condor Heroes: The Cadaverous Claws,” a martial arts drama, was sold to My Way Film Company for release in Japan and South Korea. Adventure-drama “God of War 2” was picked up by Brazil-based A2 Distribuidora de Filmes for Latin America.