China Box Office: Stephen Chow Smashes Opening-Day Record for Domestic Film

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BERLIN – Stephen Chow Sing-chi has entered the Year of the Snake with a bang, with his fantasy blockbuster Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons earning 78 million yuan (US$12.5 million) on its first day of release on mainland China.

With its takings on Feb. 10, the New Year’s Day holiday according to China’s traditional lunar calendar, the film has overtaken the opening-day record previously held by Painted Skin: Resurrection, which took 70 million yuan (US$11.2 million) at the box office when it opened on June 28 last year.

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An adaptation of the classic Chinese novel of the same name – which Chow himself brought to the screen in the 1990s with a string of films titled A Chinese Odyssey ­– the film took up more than 40 percent of the total screenings on mainland China on its opening day. According to figures released in a post on the Weibo portal Dianyingpiaofangba, one of the most authoritative sources of Chinese box-office information, the film was shown in 28,000 screenings on Sunday.

Still, Journey trails one imported blockbuster in the all-time opening-day tallies: Transformers: Dark of the Moon earned 102 million yuan (US$16.4 million) upon its release on July 21, 2011. And Titanic 3D pulled in just a little less than Journey's 78 million, with 73 million yuan (US$11.7 million) when it was released on April 10, 2012.

Journey’s strong opening-day performance will certainly provide some relief for its producers, Huayi Brothers, with their previous blockbuster, Feng Xiaogang’s historical drama Back to 1942, failing to set the box office alight during its November-December run last year.

That film, a gritty epic about a famine that swept across central China during the second world war, only earned 400 million yuan (US$64.2 million) over a reported budget of 250 million yuan (US$40.1 million). Its performance was a startling contrast to actor Xu Zheng’s directorial debut Lost in Thailand: With its producers reporting a budget of just 30 million yuan (US$4.8 million), the comedy took over 1.1 billion yuan (US$176.5 million) and eventually became the highest-grossing domestic production in China ever.

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Chow, who directed the film but did not feature in it, has been promoting the film extensively around China prior to its release, and the negative publicity he attracted about his appointment to a provincial arm of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference – he was chastised for missing most of the meetings last month – has seemingly done no harm to ticket sales of his 3D spectacle.

Journey has also become China’s box-office champion for the past week just by its single-day performance on Sunday. Cloud Atlas took 64 million yuan (US$10.3 million) over seven days and has now accumulated total earnings of 136 million since its release on Jan. 31, while Skyfall has added 42 million yuan (US$6.7 million) to its takings last week, with total revenues standing at 362 million yuan (US$58.1 million).

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