China Box Office: Stephen Chow, Jackie Chan Revive Growth for Record Holiday Haul

Courtesy of Edko Films
'Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back'

Total ticket sales over China's vital New Year holiday period are up 13 percent, with blockbusters from Chow and Chan leading the pack.

Veteran Hong Kong hitmakers Stephen Chow and Jackie Chan are the heroes of China's box office yet again.

The latest blockbuster releases from the two icons helped fuel 13 percent growth in ticket sales over China's weeklong New Year holiday period. China's box office also recorded a 25 percent year-on-year gain in January — the market's first increase since August.

Chow's Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back set a single-day record of $52.5 million (354 million yuan) on Jan. 28, the first day of Chinese New Year. Over the following six days ending Feb. 2, total ticket revenue in China hit $485 million (3.34 billion yuan), compared to 2.96 billion yuan over the equivalent six-day holiday period last year, according to Beijing-based box office monitor EntGroup.

The strong numbers will come as welcome news to Hollywood and the Chinese industry alike, after months of downbeat indicators from the Middle Kingdom. Following years of double-digit expansion, China's theatrical market experienced a major correction last year, with revenue growth dropping to its slowest pace since 2008.

The uptick should probably come with an asterisk, however. On Jan. 28, China's regulators began including online service fees as part of box office grosses. Such fees are usually just 3-5 yuan per ticket ($.44 to $.73), but given that an estimated 70 percent of all movie tickets are now bought online in China, the adjustment amounts to a sizable accounting tweak. Regulators say the adjustment was necessary to reflect changes in consumer behavior, but the timing is conspicuous.

Analysts are mostly embracing the upswing though. "The strong holiday box office performance beat market expectations, and we believe it serves as a strong signal that box office revenue has bottomed,” HSBC's John Liu wrote in a note to clients Thursday, according to Bloomberg

Demons Strike Back is the sequel to Chow's 2013 hit Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons. Chow wrote and produced the follow-up, but fellow Hong Kong filmmaker Tsui Hark took over as director. After six days, the film has earned $167.6 million. 

Jackie Chan's latest action-comedy vehicle, Kung Fu Yoga, opened in third place on Jan. 28 with $38.5 million. But a big embrace by both fans and critics has helped the film make a late-stage climb to the top of the charts. It pulled in $23.3 million on Wednesday and $22.1 million on Thursday, over Demons' $18.9 million and $17 million respective numbers. A big-budget India-China co-production, the film was directed by veteran Chan collaborator Stanley Tong. Its total now stands at $126.6 million.

China's film regulators block Hollywood imports during the lucrative CNY holiday stretch. Imported fare won't be back on Chinese screens until xXx: The Return of Xander Cage opens Feb. 10, followed by La La Land on Feb. 14, Valentine's Day.