Five competitive local titles have announced as of Monday that they will be vying for box office supremacy in China over the May 1 Labor Day weekend, a public holiday.
They include a long-anticipated video game adaptation, an omnibus pandemic film helmed by three different female big shots from China, Hong Kong and the U.S., a sleek Aaron Kwok-starring thriller, a TV series adaptation and the first title from helmer Li Yu not to star the now-disgraced Fan Bingbing in 14 years.
Their sales will be worth tracking, as holiday periods tend to be the most money-making in the world’s largest film market, where the February Chinese New Year box office set world records with an impressive $1.2 billion in sales in just six days.
In years past, Labor Day was considered a less significant holiday for movie-going than Chinese New Year, the summer holidays, October’s weeklong National Day holiday in October, or the year-end Christmas period, long considered the hottest release windows of the year. But increasingly, more minor holidays like August’s Qixi Festival and September’s Mid-Autumn Festival are hitting the map.
Conveniently, this year’s Labor Day falls on a weekend. As over the lunar new year, movie-going will likely be a popular choice of entertainment as vigilance against the pandemic continues, keeping local residents cautious about unnecessary holiday travel.
Three films are set to release on April 30. First up is “Dynasty Warriors,” a live-action adaptation of the Koei Tecmo video game series of the same name. Directed by Hong Kong’s Roy Chow Hin-Yeung (“Nightfall”), it was scheduled to launch last year but was delayed due to COVID-19. The lavish production stars Hong Kong veteran Louis Koo, Wang Kai (known for his TV roles in well-received dramas such as “Like a Flowing River,” “Nirvana in Fire” and “Ode to Joy”), Taiwan’s Tony Yang, and Uyghur actor Gulnezer Bextiyar, and features a cameo from ex-Super Junior K-pop boy band member Han Geng. It is backed by firms that include Erdong Pictures Group, Beijing Lajin Pictures, Sun Entertainment Culture Limited, and Guangdong-based Sublime Media.
A second Friday release is “Schemes in Antiques,” a film adaptation of the TV series “Mystery of Antiques,” which follows the journey of an antique shoip owner who seeks to break up a counterfeiting organization. Produced by Emperor Films, it is directed by Hong Kong’s Derek Kowk Chi-kin (“The Moss”) and stars Lei Jiayin (Longest Day in Changan”), Li Xian (“Soul Snatcher”) , Xin Zhilei (“Brotherhood of Blades”) and Ge You (“Let the Bullets Fly”).
Also debuting Friday is “Hero,” one of the first local theatrical titles with legs to depict life during the pandemic. The series of three shorts tells the stories of Chinese women during the pandemic, in the mood of its trailer tagline: “In that moment, she was even stronger than you had imagined.” Directed by veterans Joan Chen, Li Shaohong, and Sylvia Chang, the movie stars A-list talent such as Zhou Xun, beloved ex-TFBoy Jackson Yee (“Better Days”), Hong Kong Cantopop star Sammi Cheng, and fellow Hong Konger Stephen Fung.
On Saturday, the horror suspense thriller “Home Sweet Home” featuring Hong Kong mega-star Aaron Kwok will hit mainland cinemas. Its plot is “Parasite”-esque, depicting the increasingly creepy run-ins between a wealthy family of four and the secret visitor who lives in the basement. Directed by Taiwan’s Leste Chen (“Battle of Memories”), who here reunites with actors Duan Yihong and Taiwan’s Tiffany Hsu, who both worked with him on that title. It is produced by New Classics Media, Tianjin-based Gather in the Sky, and Anhui Tianzhuo Film and TV.
Last will be the premiere of “Tiger Robbers,” a rollicking comedy from helmer Li Yu, best known for her past collaborations with Fan Bingbing. This will be Li’s first film since 2007 that doesn’t feature the fallen starlet, who has been kept out of the public eye since her 2018 conviction of tax fraud. The duo worked together on the past four of Li’s total of six features — “Ever Since We Love,” “Double Xposure,” “Buddha Mountain,” and “Lost in Beijing.”
This one instead stars Ma Li (“Goodbye Mr. Loser”) and Song Jia (“The Final Master”) in a caper about, as the title promises, a stolen tiger. It was produced by Beijing Laurel Films and backed by Huayi Brothers, among others.
Currently, “Home Sweet Home” appears to be the frontrunner, according to metrics on the Maoyan data tracking app, with “Schemes in Antiques” coming in second in terms of numbers of users who have indicated they want to watch them.