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While most of planet earth was watching Star Wars: The Last Jedi this weekend, Chinese film fans were turning out in droves to catch a nostalgic period drama about a Communist Party military dance troupe.
Feng Xiaogang’s Youth overcame a six-week release delay and heavy censorship scrutiny to open at the top of China’s box office with a winning $48 million. The film was originally set to debut back Oct. 1, shortly after its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival; but it was abruptly pulled from the release schedule just days prior. No official explanation was ever provided, but the consensus among local industry insiders was that scenes touching upon the politically sensitive Sino-Vietnamese War of 1979 had unnerved regulators, since the central government’s all-important National Party Congress was about to begin Oct. 18.
The strong belated debut will come as a relief to producers Huayi Brothers Media and Beijing Culture. The film has generated a potent response from local moviegoers, scoring 9.1/10 on ticketing app Maoyan, and 7.9/10 on reviews site Douban. The film’s screen share at local multiplexes climbed throughout the weekend.
Youth chronicles the lives of a group of idealistic young people who join a People’s Liberation Army dance troupe at the end of the Cultural Revolution, following their story through China’s upheavals of the 1970s until the period of opening in the 1990s. The film was well received by international viewers in Toronto, with critics praising its balance between Feng’s auteurist and crowd-pleasing impulses — traits that once earned him the nickname of “China’s Spielberg.”
Fantasy action film The Thousand Faces of Dunjia, directed by master martial arts choreographer Yuen Woo-ping and written by Tsui Hark, opened Thursday and scored $33.8 million during its first four days for a second-place finish of $33.8 million. The film, about a secret society of fighters with magic powers, stars Ni Ni (Flowers of War), comedian/actor Da Peng and Taiwanese rock star Wu Bai. It is produced by Le Vision Pictures.
Disney’s and Pixar’s Coco, meanwhile, continued to put up strong numbers in its fourth weekend, adding $17.1 million for a 24-day total of $154.8 million. China is now Coco‘s biggest market worldwide, with North America in second place with $150.8 million. The film has vastly outperformed every other Pixar release to date in China, with Finding Dory (2016) the studio’s previous top earner at just $38 million.
Britain’s Paddington 2 put in a respectable performance to secure fourth place, with its two-weekend haul climbing to $25.8 million, well above the first Paddington film’s $16.8 million China total.
With Beijing’s usual end-of-year blackout on foreign film releases now fully in effect, Hollywood won’t be back in the marketplace until Star Wars: The Last Jedi descends on China on Jan. 5.
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