Hollywood films have for years been doing strong business in China. But rarely does an American film perform better in China that it does stateside.
That’s been the case for “Life of Pi,” filmmaker Ang Lee’s adaptation of the bestselling 2001 novel about a young boy trapped in the middle of the ocean on a raft with wild animals.
While the $120-million production has collected a decent $69.6 million in North America since its Nov. 21 release, the picture has sold $84.3-million worth of tickets in China alone. Overall, the film has grossed $129.4 internationally, according to an estimate from distributor 20th Century Fox.
No other American film has done better in China than in the U.S. save for the 3-D version of “Titanic,” which made $150 million in the foreign market but only $57.9 million in the U.S. and Canada this year. The movie is now the 10th-highest-grossing film ever in China; the biggest American success story in the country is 2009’s “Avatar,” which made $294 million there.
So why is “Life of Pi” doing so well in China? For one, Chinese moviegoers are big fans of 3-D technology, and the movie is playing only in that format in the country — meaning higher ticket prices are boosting the gross. The film’s director is also a Taiwan native and is respected in China. But while the movie has received positive reviews in the U.S. — notching a 88% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes — it has earned even more glowing remarks in China. Even Chinese celebrities have been blogging about the film. As Chinese film critic Raymond Zhou wrote in his column in China Daily this week, the film has resonated with local moviegoers because of its themes “about cannibalism and unspeakable cruelty.”
"[F]or the Chinese,” he wrote, “the story is intriguing mainly because it is prone to analyses.”