More than a half-billion dollars in movie tickets were sold last week in China as the country marked the Spring Festival holiday by flooding into cinemas and shattering box-office records.
The $554 million in sales was a worldwide record for a single week in any country. Nearly half of all tickets sold were for "The Mermaid," the latest film by Hong Kong comedy king Stephen Chow, according to data from film industry consulting firm Artisan Gateway. The movie took in $276.7 million over its first seven days in cinemas, and almost overnight became the No. 2 Chinese-language film of all time, behind only last summer's "Monster Hunt," which did about $380 million in total sales.
The boffo week likely means that for the second year running, China's February box office will outpace that of North America's, even with last week's strong showing of "Deadpool" stateside. North American box office in February stands at about $430 million, while China has passed $630 million. But year to date, North America is still ahead.
The $554-million week was bigger than China's total box office sales in the entire year of 2007, the financial magazine Caixin reported.
In second place in China last week was "The Man From Macau 3," the third installment in Hong Kong director Wong Jing's casino caper series. The film earned $120.3 million over the frame.
In third place was Soi Cheang's take on the classic tale of "The Monkey King," which earned $117.2 million.
The Spring Festival holiday marks the peak movie-going week of the year, with schools, businesses and government offices closed. China's cinematic gatekeepers typically forbid foreign fare at this time, but DreamWorks Animation's "Kung Fu Panda 3," which it produced partly in Shanghai, was able to score a slot during the vacation period.
The film, opened Jan. 29 to strong word of mouth but seemed swamped by the major Chinese releases at the start of the Spring Festival holiday on Feb. 8. In the seven days ending Sunday, "Kung Fu Panda 3" added an additional $23 million to its coffers, bringing its total haul to $127 million -- about as much as "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" did in China.
Though Po and friends still have a shot at claiming the record for an animated film in China (currently held by last year's "Monkey King: Hero Is Back," which earned $147.1 million), they have almost no hope of crossing the 1-billion renminbi ($153-million) mark, Artisan said.
Rounding out the top five films last week was another animated film, "Boonie Bears: To the Rescue," a Chinese production that has earned $42 million since its mid-January release.