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HONG KONG – Going into its fourth week of release in Chinese theaters, it was suspected Life of Pi might finally leave the top slot of the Chinese box-office. And it did — but what surprised many China industry watchers was the way it went. Its position was taken over not by the much-hyped domestic historical epics now in release, but by a local comedian’s mid-budget directorial debut about a Chinese trio’s fumbling mishaps across Thailand.
Opening on Dec. 12, Xu Zheng’s Lost in Thailand has grossed 295 million yuan (US$47.3 million) up until Dec. 16, according to figures revealed in a Weibo post on the state-backed China Film News portal. Its takings amounted to nearly 60 per cent of total box-office revenue in the country during the past week.
The film, which revolves around a trip in Thailand involving a business executive (played by Xu), a rival colleague (Huang Bo, Crazy Stone) and a country bumpkin (Wang Baoqiang, A World Without Thieves) fighting and finally reconciling, is now on-track to break the highest first-week gross record for a domestic release in China (the previous record was held by Painted Skin: Resurrection, which took 298 million yuan ($47.8 million) during its first seven days of release in July).
Despite being relegated to second place in the rankings, Life of Pi has took 100 million yuan (US$16 million) last week – a solid figure given its long run in theaters and also the fierce competition it has faced from local productions. The film has now accumulated 540 million yuan (US$86.5 million) in the country – an amount which has made up two-thirds of the production’s total takings outside the US.
Lost in Thailand’s performance will be put to a test later this week, however, as Jackie Chan’s heist-caper Chinese Zodiac 12 and Andrew Lau Wai-keung’s period martial arts drama The Guillotines open in Chinese cinemas.
One film that has fallen prematurely out of contention is Feng Xiaogang‘s Back to 1942, which is now in third place, taking just 65 million yuan (US$10.4 million) and now totaling 340 million (US$54.5 million) – falling far short of the director’s publicly stated goal of pulling at least 800 million yuan for his financiers at Huayi Brothers studio.
Critics have expressed reservations about the film’s success during the festive season, as it tackles the very heavy topic of the real-life famine in Henan province in 1942, which left 3 million people dead. Ironically, it was Feng who pioneered the cultural institution now known as the “New Year Comedy” in China with a string of contemporary urban satires in the mid-1990s, before he turned to broaching more serious matters with his December-January outings in recent years.
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