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Tentpole war epic The Battle at Lake Changjin, co-directed by A-list Chinese filmmakers Chen Kaige, Hark Tsui and Dante Lam, has rocketed to the top of China’s box office during the opening days of the country’s long National Day holiday period.
The film was released on Thursday and had already earned approximately $82 million by 6 p.m. local time on Friday, according to local ticketing app Maoyan, which projects the film will finish its run with a total of well over $500 million. China’s National Day holiday period stretches over the Oct. 1-7 period and is typically one of the country’s biggest box-office windows of the year.
The powerful start all but assures that The Battle at Lake Changjin will emerge as the weekend’s biggest earner at the worldwide box office, beating MGM’s much anticipated Bond installment No Time to Die, which is forecast to pull in $80 million to $100 million from more 50 global markets. Battle at Lake Changjin will easily top $150 million from just one market — China.
Produced by Bona Film Group and state-backed film companies Shanghai Film Group and Huaxia, The Battle at Lake Changjin is believed to be China’s most expensive film ever made, with a production budget of over $200 million — considerably more than recent Hollywood war epics like Sam Mendes’ 1917 ($95 million) and Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk ($150 million), and even more impressive given how far production dollars tend to stretch in Beijing’s un-unionized film industry.
The Battle at Lake Changjin also stars China’s most bankable leading man, Wu Jing, star of Wolf Warrior 2 (2017), which remains the biggest Chinese film in box office history with $867 million. Twenty-year-old rising star Jackson Yee, the breakout lead of the Oscar-nominated Better Days ($230 million) and A Little Red Flower ($216 million), co-stars alongside Wu. Duan Yihong (The Looming Storm, Extraordinary Mission) also joins in a special appearance.
A gritty battlefield actioner, the project is in keeping with the nationalistic tone of recent tentpole Chinese filmmaking. The film glorifies Chinese sacrifices and heroism during the real-life, 1950 Battle at Lake Changjin during the Korean War (or “the War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea,” as it is known in China). A crucial victory for the Chinese side, the historic battle saw the PLA overcome long odds to successfully blow up the Shuimen Bridge and push U.S. military forces into retreat.
China’s state media has been celebrating the film for its perceived relevance for contemporary geopolitics. The nationalistic Global Times tabloid ran a story Friday arguing for the film’s “implications for today’s China-U.S. competition,” citing chest-thumping social media commentary about the movie — such as a Weibo user who wrote, “Had the feeling that Chinese people are not, and have never been, afraid of the US; Seventy years ago, the U.S. could not win the Korean War, and they can’t win today’s trade war either” — as well as various local military experts, such as one who emphasized that “the film shows that the Chinese people don’t provoke troubles, but never flinch when trouble comes their way and are able to defeat provocations, which has great implications for today’s China-U.S. competition.”
The Battle at Lake Changjin has generated strong scores with Chinese filmgoers — 9.5 on Maoyan and 7.6 on Douban — which should assure that it retains its frontrunner position throughout the long holiday.
Other National Day releases pulling in big numbers include tentpole ensemble film My Country, My Parents, which had earned a healthy $35 million by early Friday evening in China.
The film is the third installment in a series of patriotic ensemble films that began with 2019’a My People, My Country, which earned a whopping $425 million — only to be narrowly beaten by the second film in the series, My People, My Homeland, which brought in $433 million last October. Maoyan currently projects the new feature, My Country, My Parents, to finish its run with considerably less, about $192 million.
Like its predecessors, the new film aims to tell a series of charming stories of ordinary Chinese life, stirring a sense of pride in Chinese culture. But the patriotic messaging of the series gets its biggest boost from casts that are packed with some of the biggest names in Chinese cinema. My Country, My Parents is comprised of four vignettes, each directed by an A-list actor/director, including Wolf Warrior‘s Wu Jing; actress Zhang Ziyi (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) in her directorial debut; comedy hitmaker Xu Zheng (star of Dying to Survive, 2018, $451 million), and comedy actor turned director Shen Teng (most recently seen in Hi, Mom, which earned $822 million earlier this year).
Several smaller Chinese films opened Friday to make a run at the holiday box office, but The Battle at Lake Changjin and My Country, My Parents, were overwhelmingly dominant, taking 64 percent and 29 percent of the day’s total ticket sales, respectively.
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