Chen Kaige's Forever Enthralled, a biopic about Peking opera master Mei Lanfang, grossed $6.13m (RMB42.18m) on its opening weekend, which sets a new record for non-action dramas in the mainland China market.

According to China Film Group spokesperson Weng Li, the film took in around $1.45m (RMB10m) on the opening day, from midnight of Thursday night, and the sales grew steadily over the next three days until Sunday. It is so far the best-performing film during the year-end movie season, Weng said.

Previously, the first weekend record for non-action dramas was set by Ang Lee's Lust, Caution at the end of 2007, which took in a little more than $5.81m (RMB40m).

The first weekend gross of Forever Enthralled also surpassed the records of other Chinese blockbusters such as Stephen Chow's sci-fi comedy drama CJ7 in February and Feng Xiaogang's period drama The Banquet in 2006, which both took in around $5.81m (RMB40m) on the first weekend.

Weng estimates that the total gross of Forever Enthralled should reach $17.44m (RMB120), which is slightly less than Chen's much criticised last work - fantasy action drama The Promise.

Forever Enthralled was released in 1,400 screens - on a mixture of film prints and digital screens. It is the largest release scale ever for a biopic drama in mainland China. John Woo's summer blockbuster Red Cliff was released on a similar scale.

Compared with Chen's previous film, The Promise, Forever Enthralled received positive reviews with minor criticisms. Hao Jian, a professor from Beijing Film Academy, describes Chen's narrative as calm, elegant and powerful, while a critic from Tianjin-based Metro Express says that the film lacks focus, almost like a day-to-day journal of Mei's life.

Praise for the actors is mostly focused on minor cast - such as Sun Honglei, Yu Shaoqun (who plays young Mei Lanfang) and Wang Xuexi - rather than the leading actors Leon Lai and Zhang Ziyi.

Looking ahead, Forever Enthralled is facing challenges from other high-profile films during the year-end season. Tsui Hark's romantic comedy All About Women will be released on Thursday, Dec 11; Donnie Yen-starring kung-fu master biopic Ip Man will open on Dec 16, and Feng Xiaogang's If You Are the One will open on Thursday, Dec 18.