China Box Office: 'White Haired Witch' Casts Its Spell as Local Films Rule

Courtesy of Bona Film Group
"The White Haired Witch of the Lunar Kingdom" starring Fan Bingbing topped the Chinese box office this week.

The Qixi festival, China's equivalent of Valentine's Day, gave a boost to box office revenue during the week.

As China entered the post-Transformers era, local movies dominated theaters in the week to Aug. 3, led by the fantasy epic The White Haired Witch of the Lunar Kingdom by Hong Kong director Jacob Cheung.

At this time of year, theaters fill with couples on romantic outings to mark the Qixi festival, China's equivalent of Valentine’s Day, making for a busy weekend. Almost half of The White Haired Witch’s take came on Saturday, the day of the festival.

The box office frenzy surrounding Michael Bay’s robot extravaganza Transformers: Age of Extinction, which racked up over $300 million in the world’s second-biggest film market, has finally subsided, and audiences turned their attentions to local fare, although Luc Besson’s Brick Mansions was the fifth most popular movie.

The White Haired Witch of the Lunar Kingdom took $35.31 million in its opening four days, with 128,393 screenings and 5.63 million admissions, according to data from the research group Entgroup.

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The trend in Chinese cinema is to keep mining a successful seam until the audience calls a halt witness the success of the numerous versions of the Monkey King legend in recent years. The White Haired Witch is the latest adaptation of Liang Yusheng's classic wuxia fantasy novel.

The movie stars Fan Bingbing as the titular white-haired sorceress and boasts Tsui Hark as an artistic consultant, production design by Wu Jiakui, costumes from Oscar winner Timmy Yip (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and action choreography by Stephen Tung.

The movie also stars Huang Xiaoming, Vincent Chao and Wang Xuebing.

The top 10 was dominated by domestically made productions, most of them old-school movies about dating, friendship and shopping.

In second place in the week to Aug. 3 was The Continent, a nostalgic road movie by the popular young Chinese novelist, heartthrob, racing driver and blogger Han Han, which took another $34.71 million to bring its cume to $82.13 million after 11 days. The movie scored 205,186 screenings and 6.64 million admissions.

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The Continent features Feng Shaofeng and Chen Bolin, and it took more than $11 million in its opening day. The trailer was downloaded five million times when it was launched in May.

This was followed by Girls (Gui Mi) by another Hong Kong director, Barbara Wong. The mainland China-backed, Taipei-set film took $16.79 million in its first five days, with 111,869 screenings and 3.25 million admissions.

The movie features Ivy Chen (Campus Confidential), Yang Zishan (So Young), Fiona Sit (La comedie humaine) and Wallace Chung (The Continent).

Behind that was Raymond Yip’s The House That Never Dies, a 3D ghost story about a haunted house on Chaoyangmen Inner Street in downtown Beijing, which has supposedly been haunted since the Communist Revolution in 1949.

The House That Never Dies, featuring Francis Ng, Ruby Lin, Tony Yang, Monica Mok, Amanda Qin and Li Jing, took another $9.75 million for a cume of $62.78 million after 17 days.

Writer-producer Besson’s refit of the French film District B13, Brick Mansions, one of the last roles for Paul Walker a big star in China due to the Fast & Furious franchise grossed $7.61 million in three days, with 38,159 screenings and 1.46 million admissions.

This movie was imported on a flat-fee basis and does not come under the revenue-sharing movie arrangement, the numbers of which are restricted to around 32 films by quota every year.

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In sixth place was Tiny Times 3.0, which took another $6.57 million for a cume of $82 million after 18 days.

Based on Guo Jingming’s best-selling novels of the same name, Tiny Times 3.0 tells of the lives, loves and burgeoning careers of four girls from differing backgrounds living in luxury dormitories and obsessing over branded products.

In seventh place was Mili Pictures Worldwide’s 3D fantasy adventure Dragon Nest: Warrior’s Dawn, which grossed $5.57 million in its first four days, from 41,789 screenings and 960,594 admissions.

With a budget of $22 million, Dragon Nest is based on a wildly popular online game and is one of the first China/Hollywood animated co-productions.

Behind that was the domestic animated feature The Magical Brush with $3.7 million, for a cume of $8.48 million, followed in ninth place by Dhoom 3, which despite being the widest-ever release of an Indian film in China in more than three decades has failed to set the box office on fire. The top 10 was rounded out by Lawrence Cheng's romantic comedy Break-up 100.

Twitter: @cliffordcoonan