Caixin
Dec 19, 2016 07:51 PM
BUSINESS & TECH

Great Wall Tops Box Office in Debut Weekend, But Takings May Fizzle

A poster for the movie The Great Wall is displayed at a cinema in Yichang, Hubei province, on Thursday. The most expensive movie ever filmed in China, The Great Wall is expected to be a blockbuster. Photo: IC
A poster for the movie The Great Wall is displayed at a cinema in Yichang, Hubei province, on Thursday. The most expensive movie ever filmed in China, The Great Wall is expected to be a blockbuster. Photo: IC

(Beijing) — The much-anticipated final blockbuster for 2016, The Great Wall, snapped up 462 million yuan ($67.4 million) in box office receipts during its weekend debut in China, but many expect its popularity — and takings — to fizzle after the hype fades.

Directed by Zhang Yimou of Raise the Red Lantern fame and starring Matt Damon, the high profile co-production topped the box office during its opening weekend with 462 million yuan in takings, making it the fourth largest cinema debut in China for 2016.

However, with the following weeks’ box office takings likely to be fueled by word-of-mouth reviews rather than the marketing hype seen during its debut, critics say it may be difficult for the film to sustain its box office performance.

“Sitting through its flashy visuals is like watching the Spring Festival Gala — the audience doesn’t become absorbed in the story,” film critic Han Jingfeng said. “You walk out of the cinema only remembering the fact that it was directed by Zhang Yimou.”

The critic said that the opening weekend, albeit strong, was unexceptional considering that it faces little competition from other productions. World War II film Hacksaw Ridge is entering its second week of screening, while the Chinese suspense drama The Wasted Times, directed by Cheng Er was far less anticipated.

According to industry calculations, with a production cost of $150 million, the film will have to make a minimum of $450 million in order to break even. Han predicts total box office takings of just 1.5 billion yuan — or $215 million — in China.

The film has similarly been snubbed by other critics, much to the indignation of Le Vision, a large investor in the film and subsidiary of cash-troubled tech giant LeEco.

The film company’s lawyers sent out a legal letter to a film critic on the Sina Weibo micro blog named “Xiedudianying,” demanding that he take down reviews entitled “Zhang Yimou Is Dead,” in which he lamented the demise of the director’s career.

Le Vision accused the critic of libel, and demanded that he apologize and delete his review. “You are hiding in the ditches and cursing Chinese film, may you rot and may film makers live in eternal glory!” Le Vision’s CEO Zhang Zhao lashed out in return.

However, legal letters may not be enough to save the film’s reputation. The Hollywood Reporter dubbed the film “a formulaic monster movie … hardly a creative breakthrough for anyone involved,” while Du Sir, another influential critic, said that the mundane film did not live up to the cash, cast, or technology, which were widely touted. “A good film cannot be planned by investors, but there must be brilliant ideas at its essence.”

Contact reporter April Ma (fangjingma@caixin.com)

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