China Box Office Drops 22 Percent During Holiday Week as Local Titles Underperform

Courtesy Panasia Films Limited
'Project Gutenberg'

Bona Film Group's 'Project Gutenberg' came out on top during the weeklong National Day holiday, which is usually one of China's biggest box-office periods of the year.

Hong Kong action flick Project Gutenberg, starring Chow Yun-fat and Aaron Kwok, was the winner of a markedly downbeat National Day holiday season at the Chinese box office.

The weeklong holiday corridor, which commemorates the founding of the People's Republic of China and runs Oct. 1-Oct. 8, is typically one of the most lucrative moviegoing periods of the year. But total ticket sales during the frame were down 22.2 percent compared to the 2017 National Day stretch, data from box-office analysis company Artisan Gateway shows.

Last year's holiday served as the launchpad for local comedy blockbuster Never Say Die, which went on to earn more than $330 million. It's already clear that no National Day title will come close to hitting those heights this year, however.

Project Gutenberg, produced by Bona Film Group, Alibaba Pictures and others, pulled in $85.4 million during the frame, coming from behind to beat local comedy Hello, Mrs. Money, from Funage Pictures, which totaled just $55.5 million for the week.

Both Project Gutenberg and Hello, Mrs. Monday opened during the weekend prior to the holiday, which were replacement workdays in China. The films' total earnings stand at $92.9 million and $70.4 million, respectively. 

No Hollywood titles were granted a release date during National Day, as is China's usual practice durning lucrative holiday seasons — a continual point of contention between Beijing and the Motion Picture Association of America. 

Chow Yun-Fat stars in Project Gutenberg as a criminal mastermind, code-named "Painter," who leads a shadowy gang of currency counterfeiters. Outwitted at every turn, the Hong Kong police recruit a man (Aaron Kwok) from inside Painter's crew in order to unmask the elusive crook's true identity.

Zhang Yimou's critically acclaimed martial arts saga Shadow ranked third during the holiday break, earning $52.6 million for a cumulative gross of $62.1 million. Produced by Perfect Village and Le Vision Pictures, Shadow is widely tipped to be China's submission for the best foreign-language film category at the Oscars, but Beijing has yet to officially confirm its choice.

Maglim Pictures' Fat Buddies, a copy comedy about a pair of obese officers, brought in $22.6 million, lifting its total to $27.2 million. Enlight Pictures' holdover romantic drama Cry Me a Sad River added $12.4 million during the holiday frame for a $42.2 million total.

Alibaba Pictures may have scored a win with its participation in Project Gutenberg, but it also was responsible for National Day 2018's biggest flop: the visual effects-heavy video game adaptation Legend of the Ancient Sword. Directed by former Hollywood filmmaker turned Beijing transplant Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, Jackie Chan's Skip Trace), the film earned just $1.8 million during its first seven days, spelling millions in losses for Jack Ma's film studio.

Despite the "light local title performance" during National Day, China's total box office for 2018 to date remains up 11.5 percent, Artisan Gateway said.