Wong Kar-wai’s Chinese Box-Office Run Challenged by Low-Budget Comedy

AnnaPurna Pictures

"Bring Happiness Home," a spin-off of one of the most popular cable TV programs in China, stands within reach of surpassing Berlin Film Festival opener "The Grandmaster" in ticket sales this week.

HONG KONG – Another month, another tale of a low-budget comedy giving an expansive and expensive blockbuster a run for its money at the Chinese box office – and this time, it’s Wong Kar-wai’s martial arts epic The Grandmaster feeling the heat a big-screen spin-off of a 15-year-old television show.

According to the Movie Box Office blog – one of the most reliable sources of ticket sales data in China – Bring Happiness Home brought in 11 million yuan (US$1.77 million) on Jan. 18, beating the single-day earnings of The Grandmaster (9 million yuan/US$1.45 million).

Bring Happiness Home has taken 35 million yuan (US$5.63 million) at cinemas since its release on Jan. 15; Wong’s film, which is already in the second week of its run, has a slight lead, having taken 39 million yuan (US$6.27 million) from Jan. 14 to Jan. 18. Its total earnings now stands at 208 million yuan (US$33.4 million).

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This David-and-Goliath face-off mirrors the battle last month between first-time director Xu Zheng's Lost in Thailand – which was made reportedly on a 30 million yuan (US$4.82 million) budget – and Feng Xiaogang’s historical drama Back to 1942 (budget: 250-million-yuan/US$40.2 million). Lost eventually prevailed with takings of 1.23 billion yuan (US$197.8 million, until Jan. 18), making it the highest-grossing Chinese-language film of all time. Back in 1942 took 372 million yuan (US$59.8 million).

Compared to Lost in Thailand, Bring Happiness Home is an even more nuance-free farce, with a story about villains trying to get their hands on the prized pet dog of a wealthy Thai-Chinese woman. Fu Huayang’s film features the stars of Happy Camp, a popular and long-running variety show on the Hunan TV cable channel, plus a selection of imported talent (such as Hong Kong’s Chapman To, star of Vulgaria).

While appealing to audiences who have watched the program – its producers constantly reported nine-digit viewer figures – Bring Happiness Home was fashioned into a hit through celebrity endorsements. Lost in Thailand star Wang Baoqiang, for example, has tweeted his support of the film, as has A-lister Fan Bingbing (who had a cameo turn, playing herself, in Lost in Thailand).

And Happiness’ success has taken the shine off The Grandmaster, which has long been expected to have a two-week clear run at the box office before Skyfall opens on Jan. 21. Still, Wong has already bettered the performance of all of his films with The Grandmaster alone: the total earnings of the four previous films he has released on mainland China – In The Mood for Love, 2046, My Blueberry Nights and Ashes of Time Redux – amounted to just under 77 million yuan (US$12.4 million).