'Let The Bullets Fly' Now China's All-Time No. 3 Film

The Eastern Western tops 'Inception' and '2012' to settle in behind 'Avatar' and 'Aftershock.'

BEIJING – Action comedy Let The Bullets Fly by actor-director Jiang Wen, is now the No. 2 most commercially successful Chinese film of all-time behind Aftershock, having sold nearly $82 million in tickets.

Driven by the star power of Jiang and co-stars Ge You and Chow Yun-fat -- the three leading men in Chinese cinema together on screen for the first time – Let The Bullets Fly has unseated Hollywood blockbusters Inception and 2012 to take the No. 3 spot in the nation’s historical box office rankings, where Avatar remains is the clear leader.

Bullets' performance is also testament to the rapid growth in China’s number of theaters and size of the pool of consumers now able and willing to pay as much as 80 yuan ($12) for a seat.

China's box-office gross rose 61 percent in 2010 to $1.47 billion, coincident with the addition of an average of three new theatrical screens each day, bringing the nation’s total to 5,690 screens in about 1,800 cinemas, government data showed.

In a three-week run through January 2, Let The Bullets Fly drew more than 15 million moviegoers and sold 540 million yuan ($81.37 million) in tickets, the film’s producer Emperor Motion Pictures in Hong Kong said. EMP CEO Albert Lee said the film cost $18 million to make.

With the film still going strong nationwide, Let the Bullets Fly now ranks No. 3 at China’s 2010 overall box office after director James Cameron’s Avatar, ($207 million) and Feng Xiaogang’s Aftershock ($100 million), the latter currently the most successful homegrown film of all time.

The film passed Inception, which grossed 456 million yuan between Sept. 1-Nov. 8, 2010, and 2012, which grossed 469 million yuan between Sept. 13, 2009- Jan. 10, 2010, according to a late-Nov. report from industry analysts Artisan Gateway.

Already Let the Bullets Fly broke Avatar’s one-day ticket sales record, pulling in $9 million in a single 24-hour period to Cameron’s film’s previous record of $8.6 million. 

“A number of records have now been set by the film's release and we are naturally thrilled to bits,” Lee told The Hollywood Reporter in an e-mail.

On New Year’s Day, ticket sales for Let the Bullets Fly made up 42 percent of the country’s total box office gross, according to enbase, which tracks national box office results. The film also set a new record for biggest opening weekend, grossing $26 million from December 16-19.

“We always had strong faith that Let the Bullets Fly would be well-received by the Chinese audience because it has all the elements of a great blockbuster: a great plot that works on different levels, great action and the chemistry of three of the best-loved actors in Chinese cinema,” Lee said in a statement.

The film sees actors Jiang, Ge and Chow going head to head in a comedy of errors that play out in a border town power struggle. It was produced by Jiang’s Beijing-based production company Beijing Buyilehu Film and Culture Ltd. with EMP, which is handling international sales.

Lee declined to comment on Chinese media reports that a Hollywood studio had bought rights to the film.