After being forced to sit out the annually lucrative Chinese New Year period as the Covid crisis was just beginning in 2020, Chinese box office blasted to an all-time high during the comparable 2021 session. This week, the Year of the Tiger will be ushered in with eight movies beginning February 1, and with potential new records on the horizon. Last year in the world’s biggest box office market, the week-long holiday reached RMB 7.8B ($1.2B at historical rates).
The first full weekend of this Lunar New Year’s festivities dovetails with the beginning of the Winter Olympics in Beijing. It’s likely that Friday’s opening ceremony (overseen by Zhang Yimou, who also has a movie coming out) will be widely watched at home, but tickets to the Games are not being sold to the general public in an attempt to avoid further Covid flare-ups. Box office could still see some impact.
Notable among the releases this week is the sequel to 2021’s The Battle At Lake Changjin, China’s highest-grossing local title ever (RMB 5.77B/$907M). Known alternately as Water Gate Bridge and The Battle At Lake Changjin II, the upcoming war epic leads pre-sales for opening day at over RMB 307M ($48.3M), as of about 10pm local time Monday, according to Maoyan. (Scroll down for more detail and trailers on major films.)
Another movie about the War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea (ie the Korean War) also releases tomorrow. From director Zhang Yimou and his daughter Zhang Mo, Snipers is said to be on a smaller, more intimate scale than Changjin II and is currently ranked sixth in terms of opening day pre-sales.
USC professor and China expert Stanley Rosen suggests the two Korean War films should “do very well.” Both will debut three days before the Winter Olympics begin, and “that should give enough time for word of mouth to spread about the high production and high political values,” Rosen tells Deadline. Word of mouth is indeed key.
As we’ve seen in the past, there have been titles that burst out early, only to give way to a crowd-pleaser that ultimately triumphs during and beyond the extended session. Think Detective Chinatown 3, which set an all-time record for opening day and opening weekend in a single market in 2021, only to be overtaken by fellow CNY release Hi, Mom, which ultimately grossed $821M vs DC3‘s $685M.
With that in mind, pics to keep an eye on this week include Han Han’s Only Fools Rush In and Wen Muye’s Nice View — both billed as uplifting — as well as Xing Wenxiong’s comedy Too Cool To Kill.
Water Gate Bridge, Nice View and Only Fools Rush In will each have an IMAX component.
Also due is a trio of animated pics: Pleasant Goat And Big Big Wolf: Dunk For Future; Run, Tiger, Run!; and the latest Boonie Bears installment, Back To Earth.
We’ll be following the performance of the major titles releasing this week (some of which will also be getting North American runs), so see below for a primer and trailers (subtitled where available):
WATER GATE BRIDGE/THE BATTLE AT LAKE CHANGJIN II
The sequel reunites the previous movie’s production team, though was predominantly directed by that film’s Tsui Hark. Stars Wu Jing, Jackson Yee and more of the principal cast are also returning. The movie was shot with IMAX certified cameras and will be released in the premium format. The film continues the story of Chinese People’s Volunteers soldiers fighting in freezing temperatures during the Korean War. This time around, the CPV soldiers face a new task, with their battlefield a crucial bridge on the retreat route of American troops. Maoyan is showing 1.1M people have said they are interested in seeing the movie.
ONLY FOOLS RUSH IN
From Pegasus filmmaker Han Han, Only Fools Rush In follows a motorcycle road trip taken by an estranged father and his son who are reunited after many years. Starring rising new generation talents Liu Haoran and Liu Haocun, the film also features one of China’s highest grossing actors, Shen Teng. This one also releases, via CMC Pictures, in North America on February 4. In China, its day-one pre-sales are at about RMB 109M ($17.1M) with 606K interested.
TOO COOL TO KILL
A comedy from Xing Wenxiong, this feature directorial debut follows amateur actor Wei Chenggong (Wei Xiang) who is pursuing his lifelong dream of landing a starring role. When he receives an invitation from a famous actress to play her leading man, he lands directly in the middle of a dangerous conspiracy. In China through Monday evening, pre-sales for opening day are at RMB 102M ($16M) with 550K interested, per Maoyan. WellGoUSA is releasing in the U.S. on February 18.
Wen Muye’s follow-up to 2018 hit Dying To Survive is set in Shenzhen and tells the story of 20-year-old Jing Hao who, while trying to pay for his sister’s expensive surgery, creates a start-up with friends as he strives to give his family a better life. Jackson Yee, of the Battle At Lake Changjin movies, stars. Nice View is at about RMB 96M ($15.1M) in pre-sales through late Monday with 682K interested. Wen recently told china.org that the film’s concept “is all about happiness.”
SNIPERS (aka SHARPSHOOTER)
Zhang Yimou and Zhang Mo direct this war film about a young army recruit who set a record during the Korean War by reportedly killing or wounding 214 American soldiers with 435 shots in 32 days. Zhang Yi (The Eight Hundred, Operation Red Sea) and Zhang Yu (Dying To Survive, Nice View) star. The film currently trails the others on this list in terms of pre-sales and wannasee factor, but Zhang Yimou is likely to be top of mind when the Olympics kick off on Friday.