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China Box Office: 'Journey to the West' Streak Continues While 'Les Miserables' Flounders

Les Miserable Hugh Jackman Anne Hathaway - H 2013
Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman in 'Les Miserables'

Stephen Chow Sing-chi’s 3D blockbuster marches on towards breaking China’s domestic box-office records, while Tom Hooper’s musical fails to capitalize on Anne Hathaway’s Oscar triumph.

HONG KONG – Having already transcended the all-important 1-billion-yuan box-office benchmark last week, Stephen Chow Sing-chi’s Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons later this week is likely to become the highest-grossing domestic production ever to be released in China.

Released on Feb. 10, the 3D adaptation of the classic Chinese novel had already generated $183.1 million (1.14 billion yuan) by March 3, according to figures released on Monday, March 4, on the state-backed China Film News blog – leaving it just $19.27 million (120 million yuan) short of breaking the record attained just last month by Xu Zheng’s comedy Lost in Thailand.

Already into the third week of its run, Journey to the West’s takings from Feb. 25-Mar. 3 -- $22.5 million (140 million yuan) – bettered those of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, with the latter adding just $19.3 million (120 million yuan) during the same period. The Lord of the Rings spin-off, which opened in China on Feb. 22, has now accumulated total earnings of $38.5 million (240 million yuan).

But the surprise box-office non-performance for the past week belonged to Les Miserables. Despite Anne Hathaway’s best supporting actress win and the cast’s all-singing appearance onstage at the Oscars, the film failed to set the Chinese box office alight. Having failed to open strongly in the country -- it took only $820,000 (5.1 million yuan) on its first day of release on Feb. 28 -- the film had taken just $4 million (25 million yuan) by Mar. 3.

The musical film is now expected to struggle as imported international blockbusters line up for release in March. Upside Down and The Iron Lady will land in China later this week, followed by A Good Day to Die Hard and Resident Evil: Retribution next week and then Jack the Giant Slayer and Oz: The Great and Powerful during the last week of the month. The Impossible, which was slated for release this month, has now been rescheduled for an April opening.

An extensive publicity campaign has already been underway to promote The Iron Lady in China, with its star, Meryl Streep, giving telephone interviews to the local press and the film’s distributors sending out what they say is a letter the actress wrote by hand explaining to Chinese audiences the raison d’etre of the Margaret Thatcher biopic. The actress signed off the letter as “Aunt Mei," as she is affectionately known in the country.