China Box Office: Taiwanese Romance Gains on 'Captain Marvel,' 'Lego Movie 2' Flops

Lego Movie 2 Still 1 - Publicity-H 2019
Courtesy of Warner Brothers

'Bohemian Rhapsody' opened to rave reviews but was cut by censors, while 'Green Book' continues to do well.

China's movie box office delivered a decidedly mixed bag of results over the weekend, as Chinese-language releases tangled with Hollywood hits and misses throughout the charts.

Taiwanese romantic drama More Than Blue easily retained its first-place position, adding $27 million for a strong two-weekend total of $120.5 million, according to data from Artisan Gateway.

A remake of a South Korean melodrama of the same name from 2009, More Than Blue has struck a chord with young Chinese filmgoers and continues to pull in revenue despite somewhat middling word of mouth. Produced by Singapore's mm2 Entertainment, the film tells the story of a terminally ill young dreamboat who tries to find a boyfriend for his female best friend — whom he has secretly loved since high school — so that she won't be lonely after he dies (see where this is going?).

The Taiwanese title is in hot pursuit of Captain Marvel, which it might yet overtake as the second-biggest imported film of 2019 (Paramount's Bumblebee is still tops this year with $171 million). Disney's latest superhero juggernaut slipped to third place in its third frame, earning $7.2 million this weekend for a China total of $146.7 million. 

Despite respectable reviews, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part flopped this weekend, further cementing China's lack of enthusiasm for the Warner Bros. franchise built on tiny plastic blocks. The sequel will struggle to even match the disappointing $6.1 million total earned by The Lego Batman Movie — the only other Lego title to be released in China — in 2017.

Song of Youth, a dramatic comedy about a devoted teacher who uses his wit and empathy to help a misbehaving student, debuted in second place with $12.6 million. Central to the film's appeal is the lead performance of Yu Qian, a legendary local comedian who is beloved for his mastery of China's cross-talk comedy tradition (xiangsheng). Making his big-screen debut in Song of Youth, Yu has won rave reviews for his portrayal of the cagey old teacher.

Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, a 20th Century Fox hit, opened to a respectable $6.6 million in fourth place. The performance was only considered "respectable" given that the film was relegated to a limited release across China's National Alliance of Arthouse Cinemas — a government- endorsed specialty film circuit. Rhapsody has achieved spectacularly high review scores from China's influential ticketing apps and review aggregators, suggesting that the film might have become a box office monster as in neighboring South Korea and Japan had it been given a full wide release in China.

That the film scored permission from Beijing regulators to open in cinemas at all came as something of a surprise late last month. The limited "art house" release plan was widely interpreted as a compromise gesture in deference to Rami Malek's best actor Oscar win and the film's commercial prowess at multiplexes across the world. Censors still cut several scenes from the film, including ones depicting kissing between male characters and drug use.

Prowl, a Dutch horror film from 2016, somehow found its way into Chinese cinemas and was marketed well enough to earn $5.3 million for a fifth-place finish for the weekend. The movie follows a zoo veterinarian leading the hunt for a monstrous lion terrorizing Amsterdam.

Other notable weekend earners included So Long, My Son, which won both the best actor and best actress prizes at the recent Berlin International Film Festival, and Oscar best picture winner Green Book, which continues to build on its historic earnings in China nearly a month after its local opening.

So Long, My Son, auteur Wang Xiaoshuai's critically acclaimed, decades-spanning drama, debuted somewhat softer than many in the local industry had hoped, taking in $4.2 million. But as recently as three years ago, that number would have been viewed as a very healthy showing for an art house title, especially in light of So Long's three-hour runtime and heavy subject matter. Online ratings for the film — 8/10 on Douban; 9/10 on Maoyan — were far above average, although some viewers did gripe about the movie's length. Other cinema purists may have been scared off by local reports claiming government censors made some cuts to So Long since its award-winning premiere in Berlin (the film's runtime was listed as 180 minutes in the Berlin festival's official print catalog, while the Chinese theatrical version is listed as 175 minutes).

Green Book, meanwhile, is still cruising along. Four weekends into its local release, the film earned $3.2 million this weekend, nudging its China total toward the $70 million mark.

Disney's live-action Dumbo descends on the China market Friday, opening day-and-date with North America.