China: 'Robocop,' 'American Hustle' Gear Up for Release as 'Hobbit 2' Rules


Boong Joon-ho's dystopian "Snowpiercer" and the edgy Berlin fest winner "Black Coal, Thin Ice" are scheduled for March, a possible sign of increased liberalism among the country's censors.

Now that the Lunar New Year holiday film business bonanza is over in China, attention is turning to the movies that audiences in the world's second biggest film market will get a chance to enjoy in the early weeks of the Year of the Horse.

Advance publicity for Jose Padliha’s re-booted Robocop is already much in evidence in Mainland Chinese cinemas ahead of its Friday (Feb. 28) release date, with cardboard cutouts of Joel Kinnaman as the future of law enforcement patrolling the theater lobbies.

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Sony and MGM will be hoping the sci-fi franchise replicates the performance of sci-fi movies like Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim, which earned more box office in China than it did in the U.S. last year.

David O. Russell’s American Hustle has been given a release date in the world’s second biggest film market, and will open next month at a date to be announced, according to local distributors, while Captain America: The Winter Soldier is due to be released in April.

Gary Fleder’s Home Front, featuring Jason Statham, James Franco and Winona Ryder is scheduled to open on Mar. 7, the same day as the PETA-friendly animated feature Free Birds.

A week later sees the premiere of the Aaron Paul-starring video game adaptation Need for Speed (Mar. 14).

Among big domestic titles, Diao Yinan’s Golden Bear-winning Black Coal, Thin Ice has received Film Bureau approval, according to its producers, and is down for a March 14 bow.

Normally Chinese censors are extremely cautious when it comes to science fiction -- time travel as a theme is banned on television in China, and dystopian visions are, at best, heavily frowned upon in the cinema.

STORY: Box Office: 'Hobbit 2' Opens to Huge $32.7 Million in China

So it is a positive sign indeed that Snowpiercer, Boong Joon-ho’s sci-fi blockbuster, is also down for a March bow, probably on Mar. 21 but that has yet to confirmed.

Korea’s most expensive Korean film to date, the movie stars Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, and Korean actors Song Kang-ho and Ko Asung.

Based on the graphic novel by French artist Jean-Marc Rochette, the movie is set on the cusp of an impending ice age caused by human environmental destruction. The world's last survivors are left circling the earth on a non-stop express train, where the rich ride in the luxury carriages up front and the poor languish in the back.

Given the subject matter, it will be interesting to see what cuts are made to the movie when it finally hits Chinese screens.

China’s growing importance to Hollywood was underlined over the weekend when The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug posted a debut of $32.7 million from roughly 5,500 screens, marking the biggest three-day opening of all time for a Warner Bros. title. A big factor was Imax business, where it did $4.4 million, and it marks the biggest opening ever for a Hollywood title, surpassing the $4.3 million debut of Gravity.

Other Hollywood titles reportedly due for a Chinese release are George Clooney’s The Monuments Men and The Family, Luc Besson’s crime comedy featuring Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer.

March 20 sees the release of the manga adapation Shigeshoshi: The Embalmer.

STORY: Imax Sees Continued Growth in China

Horror has traditionally been a problematic genre for Chinese censors, but there are also signs of an easing on that front.

One of most hotly anticipated Mainland Chinese movies this year is Chaoyangmen Inner Street No.81, a 3D horror movie which is due to premiere on Apr. 4. Based on a haunted house in old Beijing, the movie is directed by Wai Man Yip and stars Francis Ng and Ruby Lin.

Audiences are also looking forward to Mainland director Guan Er’s third installment of the ghost franchise Bixian Panic.

After the release of the second movie Bixian Panic 2, Guan Er left his cellphone number at the end of the credits, saying any audience member who was dissatisfied with his movie should get in touch for a refund.

“Every day there were at least seven to eight people that called me,” he told the Global Times newspaper.

China has an abiding love affair with the 3D format that shows no sign of easing up. This is partly because cinema-going still has a novelty factor in the relatively new market, and families will go together as a big night out to one of the hordes of new multiplexes and Imax theaters around the country.

The 3D animated Justin and the Knight of Valour, produced by Antonio Banderas and directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Manuel Sicilia, is due to open on Mar. 27.

Domestic 3D hopefuls include the 3D remake of The Iceman Cometh, which features action star Donnie Yen and is due to be released on April 4.

Hotly anticipated is the pairing of stars Fan Bingbing and Huang Xiaoming in the 3D martial arts epic, The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom, directed by Jacob Cheung, coming in April.

Lost in Thailand director Xu Zheng’s latest, The Great Hypnotist, with Karen Mok, is due to premiere on Apr. 29.

Hong Kong director Ann Hui’s The Golden Era, with Tang Wei and Feng Shaofeng, is expected in April, while Frant Guo’s My Old Classmate is down for an Apr. 25 release.