Filmart: Zhang Yimou’s $640M Blockbuster ‘Full River Red’ Headed for U.S. Release (Exclusive)

The period mystery thriller is the world's top-earning film of 2023, so far, and the biggest commercial hit of Zhang's 35-year career.

Legendary Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou’s period thriller Full River Red — the world’s biggest blockbuster of 2023, so far, with $644 million and counting at China’s theatrical box office — is headed to the U.S. 

Specialty distributor Niu Vision Media has acquired North American rights to the film and lined up a limited release March 17 in 150 theaters across the U.S. and Canada. Niu Vision picked up Full River Red from Bill Kong’s Edko Films, which is handling worldwide sales on the film and will continue offering it to buyers in select territories at next week’s Filmart industry confab in Hong Kong. 

Related Stories

Produced by rising studio Huanxi Media, Full River Red was the big winner at China’s Lunar New Year box office race in late January. Frank Guo’s sci-fi sequel The Wander Earth 2 was the market favorite in the lead-up to the lucrative holiday release period, but Full River Red ultimately generated the best word-of-mouth and climbed to the top.

Arguably the most influential mainland Chinese filmmaker of his generation, Zhang, 71, has earned three Oscars nominations (Ju Dou in 1990, Raise the Red Lantern in 1991 and Hero in 2003) and enjoyed major box office success at home and abroad (his Wuxia films Hero and House of Flying Daggers remain rare Chinese international hits). He also directed two iconic Olympics opening ceremonies (the 2008 Beijing Summer Games and the 2022 Beijing Winter Games) — but Full River Red has managed to become the biggest film of his 35 years in cinema. 

The film is a twisty period comedy action thriller loosely inspired by a classic Chinese poem from the Southern Song Dynasty. Set in the late 12th century, the story takes place amid a potential rebellion against the Imperial Court. On the eve of a high-stakes meeting, an ambassador from the rebels turns up murdered and the important letter he was carrying for the Emperor has vanished — thus prompting a race to catch the culprit and retrieve the document before dawn. The film has delighted the Chinese audience with its suspense, wordplay, gallows humor and rousing final act. 

Full River Red‘s starry cast is fronted by beloved local comedy actor Shen Teng and pop-star-turned-leading-man Jackson Yee, along with Zhang Yi and Lei Jiayin. The film is co-written by Zhang and his regular collaborator Chen Yu. 

Zhang has been on a prolific streak of late, having released the personal period film One Second in 2020, spy thriller Cliff Walkers in 2021 and the war film Sniper in 2022. His next film will likely be the already-wrapped contemporary crime thriller Under the Light, starring Joan Chen, Zhou Dongyu and Yu Hewei, and dealing with the topic of corruption. A sequel to Cliff Walkers is also said to be in the works.