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HONG KONG – When director Zack Snyder and the new Superman Henry Cavill flew to Shanghai to attend the Chinese gala premiere of Man of Steel, they appeared neither at the city’s landmark classical theater — the 85-year-old Grand Cinema — nor at its usual main cinematic hub, the Shanghai Film Art Center, which hosts the red-carpet premieres of the local annual international film festival. Instead, their screening took place at the UME International Complex, a cineplex located in one of the flashiest and most cosmopolitan malls in downtown Shanghai.
In a sense, the arrangement mirrored the way the Superman reboot has fared at cinemas across the country since it opened there on Thursday. The much-hyped Hollywood blockbuster has topped China’s weekly gross rankings through strong showings in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, but outside of these so-called “first-tier cities,” the Jet Li-starring homegrown comedy police actioner Badges of Fury has been more widely viewed, with the film securing more shows at regional cinemas than Man of Steel.
According to figures released by entertainment business analysts Entgroup, Man of Steel grossed a total of $25.8 million (158.6 million yuan) up until Sunday. Opening on Friday, Badges of Fury earned $14.8 million (90.9 million yuan) for the first three days of its run.
While the Hollywood import would appear to have dominated its local Chinese competitor, a closer comparison of revenues and ticket prices on Sunday paints a picture of a somewhat closer race. According to Entgroup’s data, Man of Steel took $6.5 million (39.9 million yuan) on Sunday, with tickets costing an average of $6.67 (41 yuan); Badges of Fury, meanwhile, pulled in $5.1 million (31.1 million yuan) — but tickets cost considerably less at an average of $5.21 (32 yuan).
Examining the weekend distribution of screenings across China — a country that remains culturally and economically varied to a dramatic degree — is more interesting still. According to Entgroup’s data, Badges of Fury has secured more showings across China than Man of Steel since Saturday; on Monday, the film was taking up nearly 38.7 percent of total screenings in the country, compared with 36.1 percent for the Superman movie.
While metropolitan conurbations like Shanghai remain overawed by Man of Steel (which took up 43.5 percent of shows on Monday, compared with 32 percent for Badges of Fury), local cinema operators in second-tier cities are rooting for the home team. The Jet Li film, which boasts additional star power in Wen Zhang and Michelle Chen, is edging out Man of Steel by several percentage points in terms of total screenings in cities such as Shenzhen (40.3 percent to Man’s 37.2 percent, out of 2,261 shows), Shenyang (47.1 percent to 31.5 percent, out of 1,210 shows) and Nanjing (42.4 percent to 36.7 percent, out of 861 shows).
With Badges of Fury and Man of Steel playing out their duel across China, most other ongoing releases have been more or less sidelined. Entering the fourth week of its run, Star Trek Into Darkness had grossed a total $56.7 million (348.5 million yuan) as of Sunday. While screened on only 3 percent of all screens in the country — a figure lower than that of domestic low-budget productions such as the horror flick Mysterious Face or A Style of Men in Beijing, a comedy about people relocating from the provinces to the capital to make a living — Star Trek still averaged 19 heads per show.
The film is slated to be taken off screens on June 30, according to the release schedule on the website of import film distributors China Film Group.
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Jon M. Chu