The Great Wall, the new film directed by Zhang Yimou, swept box offices in China over the weekend, garnering 480 million yuan (.1 million) as of Monday noon in its first four days of release. The movie also reignited the traditional year-end movie season, which has been somewhat dormant this year.
Equally explosive was the public feedback toward the fantasy action epic, which, with a price tag of 0 million, is China's most expensive film by far.
Most critics lambasted the movie, while the general public seemed to be unperturbed by the professional censure and enjoyed the visual spectacles expected of the master.
The dichotomy reached a feverish pitch when friendships were torn apart by differences of opinion over the movie. Some who hated it asked to be removed from their online circle of friends, reminiscent of the divisive U.S. presidential election.
In a similar vein, many who write for a living expressed dismay and disbelief that the movie would see its box-office numbers skyrocket.
When a critic whose online handle is Xiedu Dianying posted three candles together with "Zhang Yimou is dead", Le Pictures, one of the production companies behind the massive project, considered it stepping over the line－an attack on the person rather than on the film itself.
Le Pictures has threatened to sue the critic.
Zhang Zhao, CEO of the company, joined the fray. He wrote in response: "Rotten are those who hide in the gutter and curse China's film industry. And nobody will light candles for you. Long live those who grunt and sweat for films." He was referring to the critic's name, which translates as "Blasphemy to films".
Zhang rose to prominence in the late 1980s with a slew of art-house favorites that won him international accolades but riled the establishment.
In the new century, he switched gears and started making big-budget blockbusters. This change brought him great commercial success but drew critical controversy.
Zhang was hired by Legendary Pictures, which initiated The Great Wall project. After Wanda acquired the Hollywood studio, it threw its weight behind the movie's distribution.