Chinese New Year Box-Office Preview: 'Monster Hunt 2' Hits $11M in Presales

Monster Hunt 2 Still - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of Edko Films

THR takes a sneak peek at the coming wave of Chinese blockbusters, which are already raking in major revenue.

The world's biggest box-office season — Chinese New Year in China — is still two weeks away, but the country's unreleased blockbusters are already sucking up revenue before liftoff. 

Fantasy sequel Monster Hunt 2, directed by DreamWorks Animation veteran Raman Hui, had reached $11.3 million (70.6 million RMB) in ticket presales by midday Friday. With a full 14 days before its opening Feb. 16, the film should easily surpass the $16 million (101 million RMB) in presales raked in by Tsui Hark's Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back, last year's CNY opening-weekend winner.

In February 2016, China set a record for the biggest box-office week ever for a single market, totaling $548 million in ticket sales over seven days. That tally cleanly eclipsed the record set in North America just weeks prior by Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($529.6 million from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, 2016).

Whether the market can match those heights this year remains an open question. What's certain is that the field will be very crowded, with fantasy monsters, prat-falling detectives, animated bears and military propaganda all vying for a slice of the enormous pie. 

The first Monster Hunt movie grossed $382 million in 2015, a record at the time. Production company Edko Films has pulled out all of the stops for the sequel, more than doubling the number of visual effects shots, boosting merchandising output and marketing alliances, and adding veteran star Tony Leung to the cast. Hui's knack for family-friendly entertainment — an essential ingredient for success during the very family-focused holiday, when grandparents to kids all decamp for the multiplex — would seem the key to the film's clear frontrunner status (during his Hollywood days, Hui co-directed DWA hits like Shrek the Third).

Currently sitting in second place for holiday presales is Wanda Pictures' action comedy Detective Chinatown 2, with $6.7 million (42.3 million RMB). The first film, set in the Chinatown district of Bangkok, Thailand, earned $125 million in 2015. The sequel is again written and directed by Chen Sicheng, and stars returning leads Wang Baoqiang and Liu Haoran. But this time the action has been transplanted to Chinatown in New York City, and the cast is joined by American actor Michael Pitt.

Chinese New Year wouldn't be complete without a Monkey King movie or two, and 2018 will welcome the third of this genre from director Cheang Pou-soi. Aaron Kwok is back as the eponymous simian hero of the beloved Chinese literary classic. The film will attempt to best the $167.8 million and $185.4 million earned by The Monkey King (2014) and Monkey King 2 (2016), respectively. Thus far, the movie has brought in $5.7 million (36.2 million RMB) in advance sales.

Boonie Bears: The Big Shrink, the fifth film in China's most successful homegrown animation franchise, currently sits in fourth place with $2.9 million (18.4 million RMB). Based on a long-running China Central Television animated series of the same name, the first four Boonie Bears films have totaled an estimated $221.5 million. The new movie is expected to carve out a healthy chunk of the holiday kids market.

The final major title opening Feb. 16, head-to-head against the other market leaders, is Hong Kong director Dante Lam's Operation Red Sea, which was designed to tap into the same upswell of Chinese patriotism that lifted Wu Jing's Wolf Warrior 2 to previously unimaginable heights last summer ($874 million from the China market alone).

The film stars Zhang Yi and Huang Jingyu, and is loosely based on the Chinese navy evacuation of 225 foreign nationals and some 600 Chinese citizens from Yemen's port of Aden during the 2015 Yemeni Civil War in March. Continuing the growing industry trend of blending propaganda with commercial filmmaking polish, Operation Red Sea is being presented as a special tribute to the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese People Liberation Army (August 1927). The film has tallied $1.4 million (9 million RMB) in presales so far. 

As per usual government fiat, no Hollywood movies will be released during the Chinese New Year period. China's film regulators institute a blackout on foreign film imports every holiday season to give local titles free reign at the box office.