China box office booms with $284-million week; foreign films remain shut out

China box office booms with $284-million week; foreign films remain shut out
Chinese regulators have kept American films including Pixar’s “Inside Out” and Universal’s “Minions” out of Chinese theaters, leaving ample room for homegrown films to flourish. (TPG / Getty Images)

China's box office had a monster showing last week, with receipts totaling $284 million and Hong Kong director Raman Hui's movie "Monster Hunt" racking up $108 million in ticket sales as the mainland continued its annual summer blackout period for foreign films.

The North American-trained Hui, codirector of DreamWorks Animation’s “Shrek the Third,” scored with his family-friendly, CGI film centered on a civil war of sorts in a monster world. The live action/animation fantasy film attracted considerable attention for its relatively outsized budget (a reported $40 million) and abortive central role for Kai Ko, a Taiwanese actor who was arrested last year in mainland China on drug charges along with Jackie Chan’s son, Jaycee.

Following Ko's arrest, China's State Administration of Press, Publications, Radio, Film and Television came out strongly against employing actors who had been accused of drug offenses, and the producers of "Monster Hunt" said they would reshoot Ko's scenes to edit him out of the film.

"Monster Hunt" was the top film of the week and on Saturday, China's record for single-day box office receipts was shattered. Chinese theaters sold $64.4 million in tickets Saturday, SAPPRFT said. The previous record was about $62 million, set in April on the day "Furious 7" opened. That Universal Pictures' title remains the top-grossing film in China.

Rance Pow, head of film industry consulting firm Artisan Gateway, said the story of the week was "not only the strength, but the depth and variety of local films in the market, and the potential that suggests for China's growing domestic production industry." Pow noted Saturday's single-day record and said the full week total topped the normal Spring Festival/Chinese New Year peak trading period, "making it all the more impressive."

"Monster Hunt," distributed by Bill Kong's Edko Films, opened Thursday and took the No. 1 spot, followed by "Pancake Man," a Chinese comedy distributed by Wanda Media, which opened Friday and sold $69 million worth of tickets through Sunday. "Pancake Man," is directed by Da Peng, a Chinese comedian famous for ripping off the set of Conan O'Brien's "Late Show."

"Pancake Man" set an opening-day record for a non-3D film, earning $22 million on its first day in cinemas, Artisan said.

In third place was the animated "Monkey King: Hero Is Back," which has sold some $75 million in tickets since its July 10 debut and looks likely to pass DreamWorks Animation's "Kung Fu Panda 2" as the highest-grossing animated film in China, Artisan said.

In fourth place for the week was "Forever Young," which has earned $60 million, followed by "Tiny Times 4," the final installment in the youth chick-flick series, with a total gross of $77 million since its July 9 debut.

Chinese regulators have kept American films including Pixar's "Inside Out" and Universal's "Minions" out of Chinese theaters, leaving ample room for homegrown films to flourish.

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