The Movie Emperor

Source: Courtesy of BIFF

The Movie Emperor

Andy Lau starrer The Movie Emperor and romantic drama Viva La Vida have had their releases cut short in China amid stiff competition, while Yolo and Pegasus 2 are among four local breakout hits that contributed to a record-breaking $1.1bn box office over Chinese New Year.

Satirical comedy The Movie Emperor earned just $11.1m (RMB80m) after one week following its release on the first day of Chinese New Year (February 10), which also saw the opening of a string of hot local titles.

Chinese producer Huanxi Media issued a statement on social media to say it would be pulled from the Spring Festival period and a re-release date will be chosen. The withdrawal only applies in China as it continues to play in overseas territories including Malaysia and Singapore.

The film reunites Chinese director Ning Hao with his mentor, Hong Kong actor-producer Lau in the tongue-in-cheek tale of a movie star chasing festival success. It received its world premiere at Toronto in September.

While no specific reason for the withdrawal was given, it is understood that the film’s performance failed to meet expectations, given director Ning’s strong track record at the local box office. His Crazy Alien, a Chinese New Year release, became the sixth highest grossing film at the China box office in 2019 with takings of $304.4m (RMB2.21bn) and his Breakup Buddies was the country’s second highest grossing film in 2014 with $161m (RMB1.17bn).

Ning is also known as a successful producer, having produced Shen Ao’s cyber-fraud drama No More Bets, which grossed $535m (RMB3.8bn) last year and Wen Muye’s social drama Dying To Survive, which took $426.8m (RMB3.1bn) following its release in 2018.

Viva La Vida has also been pulled from cinemas after six days on release (February 10-15), during which it grossed just $12.5m (RMB90m). Chinese producer Lian Ray Pictures issued a statement to say it had made a serious scheduling mistake and the film will re-open on March 30.

The romantic drama is directed by Han Yan as the final chapter in his Life trilogy, which comprises Go Away Mr Tumour and A Little Red Flower. It stars Peng Yuchang and Li Gengxi as two young people suffering from serious illness who embark on a journey of love.

Record-breaking performance

According to ticketing and big data platform Lighthouse, China recorded the biggest ever Chinese New Year box office, taking $1.11bn (RMB8.016bn) over the eight-day holiday from February 10-17, an 18.5% increase over the previous year’s Chinese New Year period.

Three local films by directors who have hit the jackpot at previous Chinese New Years, and one household animation franchise spearheaded the box office growth.

Yolo took the crown with takings of $378.7m (RMB2.724 bn), followed by Pegasus 2 ($334.12m/RMB2.403bn), animation Boonie Bears: Time Twist ($193.54m/RMB1.392bn) and Article 20 ($186.6m/RMB1.342bn).

Yolo, a remake of Japanese film 100 Yen Love, is directed by and stars Jia Ling who shed 50kg for the role of a boxer. Jia’s directorial feature debut Hi, Mom, released during Chinese New Year in 2021, remains the third highest grossing film of all time in China.

Pegasus 2 is the sequel to the 2019 hit car racing comedy that once again features director Han Han and star Shen Teng. Boonie Bears: Time Twist marks the 10th film in the popular animated franchise while legal comedy Article 20 stars Lei Jiayin and Ma Li and is latest feature by prolific director Zhang Yimou, whose Full River Red was released during Chinese New Year last year and went on to become the highest grossing film of 2023.