China Box Office: 'The Farewell,' 'Richard Jewell' Both Flop as Local Holdovers Win Slow Weekend

The Farewell BTS_Splash - Publicity - H 2020
Casi Moss/A24

Despite its rave reviews and the China-set story, 'The Farewell' failed to connect with the mainland Chinese filmgoing public, opening to just $290,000.

The second weekend of 2020 made for a downbeat period of moviegoing at multiplexes throughout China, with local holdover releases taking the top three spots at the box office.

New Classic Media's romantic comedy Adoring scored first with $8.8 million, according to Artisan Gateway, a box office tracking company. After two weekends, the film has earned $81.3 million. Kung fu flick Ip Man 4: The Finale was just a step behind with $8.5 million for a $147.7 million total, while Chinese thriller Sheep Without a Shepherd, a remake of an Indian box office hit, took third place with $8 million and $149.6 million after two frames.

Imported releases mostly struggled in China this weekend. Lulu Wang's breakthrough family drama The Farewell landed with a resounding thud, earning only $290,000. That's about as much as the film has earned in Italy, a country with an annual box office just 6 percent the size of China's.  

The Farewell's China release has generated curiosity in the industry because of its many Chinese cultural connections.

The film was shot on location in Changchun, China, and most of the dialog is in Mandarin. Based on Wang's own experiences, it tells the story of a young Chinese American woman (played by Awkwafina, who won a Golden Globe for the role) who travels to the Chinese mainland to visit her grandmother after a family decision not to tell the matriarch that she has been diagnosed with cancer.

It also is an official U.S.-China co-production between Los Angeles-based Kindred Spirit and Beijing film company Ray Productions. Produced for $3 million, it sold to A24 for $7 million after earning rave reviews at Sundance. To date, The Farewell has earned $17.6 million in the U.S. and another $2 million internationally. Beijing-based ticketing giant Maoyan Entertainment handled the China release.

But Wang herself understood that the movie's positive reception and Chinese themes wouldn't automatically translate into a bonanza at China's box office. "We've gotten a really tremendous response so far," she told Variety on the red carpet at the Golden Globes last week. "But they’ll also see it’s not really a fully Chinese movie, and I’m really interested to see how they respond to that," she added.

Crazy Rich Asians, a $238 million-earning milestone of Asian American moviemaking, faced similar challenges in China, with many local viewers and online reviewers complaining that the film offered a very American — and at times cartoonish — perspective on Chinese culture. It ended up earning just $1.65 million in the country.

"I do think [The Farewell] is a little bit more Chinese than Crazy Rich Asians, but it's still told through the perspective of an American woman," Wang cautioned at the Globes.

Clint Eastwood's Richard Jewell, opening on China's indie distribution circuit, the National Alliance of Arthouse Cinemas, flopped even harder than The Farewell, bringing in just $220,000. Online reviews for the film were positive, but it failed to reach more than a sliver of the audience.

Shark attack horror sequel 47 Meters Down: Uncaged fared modestly better, debuting to $3.5 million. Produced by L.A.-based Entertainment Studios, the flick has a solid shot at matching the $5.8 million earned in 2017 by its predecessor, 47 Meters Down.

Japanese anime Violet Evergarden received high online ratings and opened in fifth place with $3.4 million. The fantasy anime is the most recent theatrical release from Kyoto Animation, the beloved Japanese animation company hit by a deadly arson attack last summer.