China Box Office: 'Switch' Nets Third-Biggest Opening Day Ever for Homegrown Film

Andy Lau in Switch 2013 P

Boasting special effects from "Avatar's" Chuck Comisky, the state-backed heist thriller stars Andy Lau and Zhang Jingchu.

HONG KONG – After several months of nostalgic rom-coms and local dramedies dominating the Chinese box office, local audiences finally have decided to embrace a homegrown action-driven blockbuster – and in overwhelming fashion, too.

Revolving around the efforts of a special agent (Andy Lau) and an insurance company executive (Zhang Jingchu) to protect an antique painting from a Japanese mobster, local heist film Switch opened in mainland China on June 9 and occupied nearly 35 percent of the total screenings for the day -- a staggering reach, resulting in box-office revenue of $7.8 million (47.9 million yuan), according to figures from entertainment industry consultants Entgroup.

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That single-day gross propelled the film -- directed by Sun Jianjun, the cellist-turned-CEO of the film’s principal financiers, Pegagus & Taihe Universal Media – into third place in the all-time opening-day records for a local film, ranking behind Stephen Chow’s Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons and Wu’ershan’s Painted Skin: Resurrection.

Switch left the competition in its wake: According to Entgroup’s statistics for earnings on June 9, Star Trek Into Darkness took $1.45 million (8.92 million yuan) with 11.8 percent of all screenings; American Dreams in China pulled in $803,800 (4.93 million yuan), with the number of shows amounting to less than third of Switch’s.

Counting powerful players like China Movie Channel (which is run by the country’s official film administration body) and the state-owned China Film Group as joint producers, Sun’s film -- which boasts special effects overseen by Avatar’s Chuck Comisky -- has been given a clear run at local cineplexes over the three-day holiday break starting today. The next release that stands a chance of challenging Switch’s grip on Chinese screens is Man of Steel, which doesn't open in the country until June 20.

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Industry insiders have suggested this Hollywood-free period is yet another move from the Chinese authorities to ensure the success of local blockbusters, with some pointing out how Man of Steel’s slot was originally reserved for Fast & Furious 6 -- an action film which is more similar to Switch than the Superman reboot. The 20th Century Fox-backed Russian war blockbuster August the Fifth has also disappeared from the release schedules, despite being slotted just last month on the website of China Film Group (which distributes and also times the opening of imported films) for a June 12 opening.

The most notorious example of such release rigging in recent years occurred last July, when The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spider-Man were scheduled to open during the same week in August to make way for local film Painted Skin: Resurrection. The fantasy drama eventually embarked on a then-record-breaking run at the Chinese box office, taking $118.3 million (726 million yuan) and becoming the highest-grossing homegrown production ever before Lost in Thailand overtook that title earlier this year. 

Star Trek remained atop the weekly rankings from June 3 to June 9, with revenue of $13.2 million (81 million yuan), taking the film’s total gross in China to $39 million (239.1 million yuan). American Dreams in China, now into the fourth week of its run, was second with $8.6 million (53 million yuan), with its current total standing at $77.9 million (478 million yuan).

The Croods and Iron Man 3 both ended their runs during the past week, with the former pulled from Chinese screens by state regulators on Thursday -- two weeks early than scheduled -- with total revenue closing at $64.2 million (394 million yuan). Iron Man 3, meanwhile, pulled in a total of $122.7 million (753 million yuan), the highest gross for a foreign film in China so far this year.