Hong Kong courtroom drama film “A Guilty Conscience” edged aside Chinese and Hollywood tentpole films to top the mainland China box office in its opening weekend.

According to data from consultancy service Artisan Gateway, the film earned $8.5 million (RMB58.4 million) in its opening three days between Friday and Sunday.

“The Wandering Earth 2,” which has been in cinemas for over a month, earned $7.4 million to elevate its cumulative total to $568 million.

“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” which opened on top a week earlier, collected $7.0 million, giving it a 10-day cumulative of $31.4 million.

Zhang Yimou’s “Full River Red” placed fourth with $5.5 million over its sixth weekend. Its cumulative since Jan. 22 now stands at $648 million.

Bring up fifth place was another Lunar New Year release, “Boonie Bears: Guardian Code” with $3.9 million over the weekend, good for a cumulative of $207 million.

The weekend total box office was a modest $39.6 million, the smallest since China suddenly abandoned strict COVID controls in mid-December.

Still, the performance of “A Guilty Conscience” in China has multiple interesting footnotes.

Mainland Chinese-made films are currently struggling to connect with audiences in Hong Kong – both “Wandering Earth 2” and “Full River Red” were regarded by Hong Kong audiences as disguised propaganda titles and flopped quietly – but the inverse does not appear to hold true. Hong Kong’s most commercial films appear to work still North of the border.

“A Guilty Conscience” has become the all-time top grossing film in Hong Kong with a box office exceeding HK$100 million ($12.8 million). Many commentators have attributed its success to Hong Kong audiences’ hankering for an old-fashioned system where truth and justice prevail. That position is supported by the 2022 success of another courtroom thriller “The Sparring Partner.”

(And yet Hong Kong and mainland China have separate legal systems based on starkly different principles.)

Other commentators have found the film’s success rooted in its screenwriting, directing and performances. The film about a lawyer who messes up his first major case returns to fight for a bereaved and unfairly incarcerated client, is the directorial debut of Jack Ng Wai-lun. Ng also wrote the screenplay and previously wrote “Anita,” “Cold War 2” and “Unbeatable.”

The film counts a furniture-chewing performance from Dayo Wong Chi-wah, who also starred in last year’s “Table for Six,” now Hong Kong’s third highest-grossing film of all time. It also stars Louise Wong, who had the headline role in 2021 hit “Anita,” Fish Liew, Renci Yeung, Adam Pak and Michael Wong Man-tak.

Artisan Gateway calculates that box office in mainland China this year has now exceeded $2 billion and is running 7% ahead of the same point in 2022.