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Chinese language cinema

China holiday box office flop for fantasy video game adaptation – five other Chinese films that sank

Legend of the Ancient Sword, directed by Renny Harlin, starring Wang Leehom and adapted from a game of the same name, attracts derision after US$1.25 million ‘golden week’ opening

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 October, 2018, 7:45pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 October, 2018, 1:12am

The week-long October national holiday in China usually brings rich pickings for movie studios, which fall over themselves to bring their best films to the big screen. Movies open to great fanfare during the “golden week” and receive overwhelming media attention. Big audiences often follow.

However, the much-hyped new movie Legend of the Ancient Sword, plugged as the first Chinese fantasy action movie adapted from a video game – video games have previously been adapted for Chinese television – took only 8.59 million yuan (US$1.25 million) at the box office when in opened on Monday, and attracted widespread derision online on Tuesday.

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Its takings paled in comparison to those for two other Chinese productions: Hello, Mrs. Money took more than 100 million yuan at the box office on Monday and Zhang Yimou’s new epic Shadow more than 80 million yuan.

Legend of the Ancient Sword is directed by Renny Harlin, who also directed the popular Jackie Chan-Johnny Knoxville comedy-action film Skiptrace (2016) and 1990s hits including Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger. The film is adapted from a Chinese role-playing game (RPG) of the same name and financed by Alibaba Pictures (Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post). Its production budget has not been disclosed.

The film stars heartthrob Taiwanese actor Wang Leehom, Chinese actress Victoria Song and Hong Kong’s Julian Cheung Chi-lam. It depicts the quest by a swordsman (played by Wang) to find a holy blade to save the world.

As is usual for big-budget Chinese fantasy productions, the film has sumptuous sets, spectacular special effects and glittering costumes.

That it had such a bad opening in cinemas is a reminder that Chinese movie-goers have become increasingly discerning, something deep-pocketed Chinese investors don’t seem to have taken on board. Awed by glitzy visuals, they apparently haven’t learned from a litany of big-budget Chinese flops, of which the following are but a small sample.

1. Asura

At 750 million yuan the most expensive Chinese film ever made, Asura was pulled from cinemas in China in July by its producers – including Alibaba Pictures – after a disastrous opening weekend when it only made 49.05 million yuan. A production which involved 2,500 people from all over the world, the film was largely shot in Qinghai, Ningxia and Hebei provinces in China and spent 15 months in post-production in the United States.

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Its stellar cast includes Hong Kong superstars Carina Lau Ka-ling and Tony Leung Ka-fai, and Chinese teenage heartthrob Wu Lei, who played the main character in the film. Like Legend of the Ancient Sword, it is a fantasy epic, and tells the story of a shepherd (played by Wu) on a quest to save Asura – the dimension of pure desire.

2. Lobster Cop

The film features Chinese stars including comedian Shen Teng and Wang Qianyuan, who won the best actor award at the 23rd Tokyo International Film Festival for his role in The Piano in a Factory. Screened in June and July, Lobster Cop took only 68.8 million yuan, a dismal performance in the vast Chinese film market.

The film tells the story of a group of policemen who open a lobster restaurant as a front to investigate drug smuggling. Online reviewers castigated the movie for its poor plot and characterisation. They said its only saving grace, after a long list of lame gags, was the performance of Shen, who was just allotted five minutes of screen time.

3. Goodness in the Flames of War

Launched in September, Goodness in the Flames of War features A-list Chinese stars including Zhou Dongyu and Yao Chen. The film, which portrays the struggles of a group of Chinese women amid the Sino-Japanese war, has racked up less than 5 million yuan in ticket sales so far.

Having opened on September 3, the 73rd anniversary of China’s final defeat of Japanese forces in 1945, the film was ridiculed online as a tear-jerker, putting a big dent in the reputation of Zhou, who rose to superstardom after her 2010 debut in Under the Hawthorn Tree, directed by Zhang Yimou.

4. My War

Directed by Hong Kong’s Oxide Pang, the 2016 film was the first Chinese production with a storyline about China’s involvement in the Korean war – a conflict in which hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers, and millions from the rival Korean armies, were killed. Even before its first public screening, there were calls on Chinese social media to boycott the film following the release of a trailer. Internet users said the film strayed too far from fact.

My War shows the love and friendship between a group of young Chinese who fought in Korea as a patriotic duty. Made at a cost of more than 100 million yuan, the film took only 36 million yuan in the box office.

5. League of Gods

The 2016 fantasy movie was another flop. Its poor performance led to much soul-searching among Chinese filmmakers. While it took 280 million yuan at the box office, that was far short of the 500 million yuan its makers spent on the film.

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League of Gods tells how ancient Chinese noble Jiang Ziya (played by Jet Li) helps King Wu of Zhou take on an evil tyrant (Tony Leung Ka-fai) who is under the spell of siren, played by Fan Bingbing. The film also featured Chinese star Huang Xiaoming and his wife, supermodel Angelababy. Despite its stellar cast, it was mocked online as an epic flop.

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