China Box Office: ‘Finding Mr Right’ Marches into Record Books

The homegrown, Seattle-set romantic comedy is now the tenth highest-grossing domestic release ever in the country.

HONG KONG – Having generated widespread critical praise since its release on March 21, Finding Mr Right has consolidated its place as the breakout hit of the first half of 2013 by becoming the tenth highest-grossing homegrown release ever in China.

Having topped daily box-office charts every day for the past three weeks, the film’s grip on pole position will be under challenge this week, however, with the onslaught posed by another domestic romantic comedy, A Wedding Invitation, as well as Hollywood import G.I. Joe: Retaliation, which opened strongly in China on Monday.

Xue Xiaolu’s romantic comedy, which revolves around the budding Seattle-set romance between a feisty material girl (played by Tang Wei) and a down-and-out doctor-turned-driver (Wu Xiubo), took another $12 million (74.5 million yuan) from Apr. 8 to Apr. 14 to arrive at a total of $76.1 million (471 million yuan) by the end of Sunday, according to figures released on the state-backed China Film News blog.

This latest total has seen Finding Mr. Right outdo Founding of a Republic, the 2009 propaganda blockbuster about the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, in the overall top-ten box office rankings in Chinese film history. The film is expected to leapfrog Feng Xiaogang’s 2010 rom-com If You Are The Oneby the end of Monday, as only $0.4 million (2.5 million yuan) separates the two films, according to the latest figures made available on Sunday.

Continuing on a strong run of domestic releases, the weekly box office standings are dominated by homegrown hits, which have capitalized to a certain extent on the sudden withdrawal of Django Unchained from Chinese screens on Apr. 11. Having raked in an impressive US$9.9 million (61 million yuan) since its release on Apr. 12, A Wedding Invitation – another romantic comedy starring mainland Chinese actor Bai Baihe and Taiwanese star Eddie Peng, and directed by Korea’s Oh Ki-hwan – came second in the rankings, followed by Guan Hu’s The Chef, The Actor and The Scoundrel (US$8.8 million/54.5 million yuan, with a total of $40.4 million (250 million yuan) and Johnnie To’s Drug War(US$7.8 million/48 million yuan, total $21 million (130 million yuan).

Oz The Great and Powerful came a distant fifth in the weekly rankings, adding just $4.7 million (28.8 million yuan) to a Sunday total of $25.9 million (160 million yuan). Hollywood’s hopes for a game-changer would lie with G.I. Joe: Retaliation, which topped the daily box-office charts on Monday with earnings of $5 million (31 million yuan), according to statistics released on the authoritative dianyingpiaofangba microblog.

PHOTOS: China Box Office: 10 Highest-Grossing Movies of All Time

“Avatar” (James Cameron, 2010), $221.9 million

The success of James Cameron‘s Avatar announced China’s arrival as one of the world’s most vibrant film markets — and also one of the most unpredictable. Opening in the first week of January 2010, the 2D version of the movie was pulled early from cinemas by government authorities to make way for better performances by domestic productions. China’s 3D infrastructure was also not nearly as developed then as it is today. Nonetheless, the film was the biggest cinematic event in Chinese history.

“Lost in Thailand” (Xu Zheng, 2012), $202.1 million

Actor-turned director Xu Zheng’s comedy, about the misadventures of three Chinese men in Thailand, is not just the highest-grossing Chinese-language film ever – it’s probably the most profitable by a wide margin (the film was reportedly made for just $4.8 million). Thanks to the huge earnings of the film, producer Enlight Media is now the second biggest domestic studio player by revenue in the Chinese market, behind only Huayi Brothers.

“Transformers: Dark of the Moon” (Michael Bay, 2011), $173.6 million

Michael Bay’s white-knuckle robot-on-robot fight-fest opened in China a month after it bowed everywhere else in the world — reportedly to allow Beginning of the Great Revival, the domestic film commemorating the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party, all the exposure and screens it needed to break box-office records. The result: Transformers eventually took three times as much as Revival.

“Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons” (Stephen Chow, 2013), $166.8 million

Hong Kong comedy actor-director Stephen Chow first established a cult following in mainland China with his 1990s adaptations of the same classic Chinese novel that serves as the basis of Journey to the West. Those popular early efforts — the A Chinese Odyssey series — are nothing compared to Journey in financial terms though. Even though Chow doesn’t appear in this effort,Journey passed the 1-billion yuan threshold ($160 million) in China in just 16 days, four fewer than Lost in Thailand took to reach that milestone — which serves as something of a marker for definitive blockbuster status in China.

“Titanic 3D” (James Cameron, 2012), $152.4 million

Titanic 3D enjoyed the highest opening-weekend performance in China ever and stunned industry watchers when it generated more revenue in the country than in the U.S. Not that Chinese moviegoers got to see the film in full, though: censors cut the Kate Winslet nudity scene. Some Weibo users (China’s version of Twitter) joked that local officials must have been worried audience members “may reach out their hands for a touch and interrupt other people’s viewing.” That online joke was misreported in the West as an actual government statement, and given coverage as such from the Guardian to the Colbert Report.

“CZ12″ (Jackie Chan, 2012), $141 million

At the same time that 58-year-old Jackie Chan scored the biggest box office hit of his career, he made one gaffe after another in the press, from publicly advocating curbs on civil rights in Hong Kong, to dissing his career-making Rush Hour films (calling them the movies he “most dislikes”),  to suggesting that the U.S. is “the biggest corrupted country in the world” (sic).

“Painted Skin: Resurrection” (Wuershan, 2012), $113.3 million

The sequel to Gordon Chan’s first Painted Skin project held down the title of biggest Chinese film ever for five months before the Lost in Thailand juggernaut came along. But the film’s short reign wasn’t short of controversy, as many commentators noted that the film benefited from a decision by government authorities to delay the release of The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises to give Wuershan a competition-free run in the box office.

“Let the Bullets Fly” (Jiang Wen, 2010), $108.8 million

The commercial success of Let the Bullets Fly stems very much from Jiang Wen’s audacious, no-punches-pulled critique of contemporary China and its discontents, as the film takes aim at both rampant corruption at the top and cowardly indifference among the masses (at the time of the film’s release, many rumors circulated about censors trying to pull the film from its record-breaking run). Jiang’s film Devils on the Footsteps (2000), a dark satire which questions nationalism, remains banned in China.

“Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” (Brad Bird, 2012), $108.5 million

The M:I franchise stumbled in China a bit during its last installment — the country’s censors objected to MI3‘s depiction of Shanghai as a city filled with indifferent citizens and ugly laundry lines — but Tom Cruise’s latest assured all was well for the IMF team in the far East: the film topped the China box-office for three straight weeks. And proof that Chinese viewers take their popcorns movies seriously, during the film’s release an online article exploring the scientific plausibility of Cruise’s suction gloves was a viral hit on Chinese social media.

“Aftershock” (Feng Xiaogang, 2010), $108.2 million

Feng Xiaogang’s gripping chronicle of a family recovering from a devastating earthquake in northern China in 1976 – which left more than 300,000 dead – was China’s first Imax production. The shaking opening sequences of utter chaos only served as a prologue for the film’s main narrative, though: many critics have attributed Aftershock’s to the way in which it is actually more of an allegory for the country’s surge towards prosperity.