China Box Office: 'Detective Chinatown 3' Hits $85M in Presales, Nearing Record

DETECTIVE CHINATOWN 3 Still - Everett - EMBED 2020
Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

'Detective Chinatown 3'

The comedy tentpole, produced by Wanda, is expected to surpass 'Avengers: Endgame' for the highest presales ever before it opens Friday for Chinese New Year.

China's comedy tentpole Detective Chinatown 3 is already doing gangbusters business ahead of its release on Friday, the first day of the lucrative Lunar New Year holiday in the country.

The wildly anticipated franchise sequel has earned $85 million (RMB 548 million) in advance ticket sales, according to Artisan Gateway, which means Avengers: Endgame's all-time China presales sales record of $95.5 million (RMB 615.3 million) is well within striking distance.

Many analysts expect Detective Chinatown 3 to open with well over $200 million despite the fact that six other competitive titles are debuting the same weekend.

Like the first two films in the Detective Chinatown series, the new release is produced by Wanda Pictures and written and directed by Chen Sicheng. It reunites franchise favorites Wang Baoqiang and Liu Haoran. The film was originally planned for release during the 2020 Chinese New Year holiday, but it was shelved indefinitely as the novel coronavirus outbreak swept China, shuttered cinemas and eventually became a global pandemic.

The first Detective Chinatown film opened during the 2016 Chinese New Year, earning $126 million. The sequel was released during the holiday in 2018, building considerably on its predecessor and pulling in $563 million, the second most of any Chinese movie that year.

The Detective Chinatown format follows the misadventures of Qin Feng (Liu Haoran), a mystery novel-loving police academy reject, and his bumbling detective uncle Tang Ren (Wang Baoqiang). In each film, the duo inadvertently get caught up in a crime-solving caper in a foreign country's Chinatown district. The first film was set in Bangkok, Thailand and the second in New York City.

The threequel takes place in Tokyo, which prior to the pandemic had become one of the most popular tourist destinations of China's ascendant middle class. The film also was originally designed to tap into some destination excitement related to the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics. DC3 was shot on Imax cameras on location in Japan and is expected to be a big earner for the giant screen format over the Chinese holiday. Japanese stars Tadanobu Asano (Silence, Thor: Ragnarok) and Satoshi Tsumabuki (Waterboys) feature in the film, as does Thai action star Tony Jaa.

DC3 is miles ahead of the competition for presales so far. Lian Ray Pictures' time-travel comedy drama Hi, Mom, starring comedians Jia Ling and Shen Teng, is currently in second place with approximately $19 million (RMB 122 million). It is followed by Huace Pictures' fantasy action film A Writer's Odyssey, with $7.7 million (RMB 49.8 million). Huayi Brothers video game adaptation The Ying Yang Master, which was just acquired by Netflix, is currently in fourth with about $5 million (RMB 32 million), followed by the latest installment in China's long running Boonie Bears family animation franchise, Boonie Bears: The Wild Life, with $4.2 million (RMB 26.8 million). Bringing up the rear are comedy drama Endgame, starring Andy Lau, and Light Chaser Animation's latest 3D animated feature New Gods: Nezha Reborn — with $3.7 million (RMB 23.8 million) and $3.5 million (RMB 22.3 million), respectively.

The current rankings — even Detective Chinatown 3's huge lead — are by no means final, of course. The first day of Lunar New Year is famous for a rapid shuffling of the box office as social scores hit China's major ticketing apps and the dust begins to settle around audiences' favorites. In years past, initial frontrunners have been known to slide down the charts to as far as third or fourth place, while viral sensations have shot to the top.

During China's last pre-pandemic Lunar New Year period in 2019, the box office brought in a whopping $892 million over the holiday week, which was nearly 10 percent of the country's full-year box-office total of $9.3 billion.

Recent weeks have seen a flare-up of COVID-19 cases in some northern Chinese cities, which has resulted in a smattering of shuttered cinemas and a 50 percent seating cap in the capital. But many in the Beijing industry are nonetheless optimistic that 2021's strong Lunar New Year slate will get business booming again.