Chow's 'CJ7' debut still hot despite snow

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HONG KONG -- Despite the worst snowstorm in half a century, Stephen Chow's "CJ7" raked in 28 million yuan ($3.9 million) in China over its first day and a half and earned HK$3 million ($385,000) in Hong Kong on Thursday, setting nonholiday opening boxoffice records.

The sci-fi/family film had a sneak half-day premiere Wednesday in China, which earned 12 million yuan ($1.67 million), matching the full-day opening record set by "The Warlords" a month ago, and 16 million yuan ($2.23 million) on its first full day Thursday, also a record.

Copies of "CJ7" could not be delivered on time to theaters in central China, the area most affected by crippling snowstorms, said Sam Ngai, a spokesperson for Chow's production company Star Overseas.

In Hong Kong, exhibitors have high expectations for the film. It has been released on 94 screens, two-thirds of its planned total of 153. Chow's previous effort, "Kung Fu Hustle," crumbled boxoffice records on its opening day with HK$4.34 million ($557,000) on 97 screens. The martial arts comedy opened during the Christmas holidays in 2004.

"CJ7" marks a departure for Chow, who toned down the physical comedy that marked his "Kung Fu Hustle" and "Shaolin Soccer." The change failed to warm Hong Kong critics, but the film received glowing reviews in China, where the audience was eager for a break from the war epics that have stormed theaters all too often in recent years.

Critics offered particular praise for the eponymous fluffy alien-dog, which is the first digitally-animated character in a Chinese-language film. Chow cited Stephen Spielberg's "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" as the inspiration, as both films revolved around a mysterious but adorable alien whose sudden appearance brought chaos to a family.

"CJ7" was one of only two films opening in Hong Kong this week, seven days before Chinese New Year, one of the major moviegoing periods. Its competition was the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp vehicle "Sweeney Todd," an unusual choice for the traditionally family-oriented Chinese New Year season, but the bloody musical shaved moviegoers for HK$520,000 ($67,000) on 33 screens.
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