'Last Jedi' eclipsed by hit local comedy at China box office

Updated 2018-01-11 10:01:22 China Daily

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is struggling at the Chinese box office despite its success in North America.

Within the space of two weeks, Star Wars: The Last Jedi swept the world to overtake fellow Disney blockbuster Beauty and the Beast to top the North American box office for 2017.

But just as many Chinese industry watchers predicted, the sci-fi saga found it difficult to win over Chinese audiences, due in part to perceived cultural differences.

When the latest Star Wars movie, the eighth installment of the long-running sci-fi franchise, opened on the Chinese mainland on Jan 5, it made just 61.3 million yuan (.45 million) on its first day, less than half the takings of top earner The Ex-File: The Return of the Exes, which was released on Dec 29.

With a budget of just 30 million yuan, the third installment of the Chinese comedy franchise centers around two friends who break up with their girlfriends to relive their bachelor days. The movie resonated with lovers and singletons alike to beat Feng Xiaogang's Youth and Chen Kaige's Legend of the Demon Cat to stand out as the season's sleeper hit.

In the Chinese market, a hit movie usually breaks the bench mark of 100 million yuan on the day of its premiere, only to see sales tail off over the following weeks as screening numbers fall.

This was the case for The Fate of the Furious, which raked in 441 million yuan within its first 24 hours, while Transformers: The Last Knight earned nearly 400 million yuan on its opening day in China.

So, when the 0 million production, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, failed to take top slot on its first day at the Chinese box office from a low-budget domestic comedy released more than a week before, many critics saw it as a sign that the franchise created by George Lucas could be faced with a commercial flop despite its enduring popularity in North America.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is struggling at the Chinese box office despite its success in North America.

Besides, the 152-minute epic that introduces a new generation of the Skywalker clan to Star Wars fans also managed to polarize opinion on most Chinese review sites.

Despite being widely praised for presenting a visual feast that blends epic wars with novelty creatures, its parallel storylines-which plot the scavenger-turned-hero Rey's search for guidance from galactic legend Luke Skywalker while depicting the unfolding conflict between the Resistance and the First Order-failed to please a section of Chinese moviegoers.

The top-rated comment on Chinese film review website Douban, marked as "useful" by nearly 1,200 netizens, suggested that the villainous First Order appeared too weak to take on the rival Resistance.

But just like their Western counterparts-up to 90 percent of Rotten Tomatoes critics ranked the storyline as "fresh"-the majority of Chinese critics gave the thumbs-up to Rian Johnson's directorial leadership.

"With so many plot twists, The Last Jedi demonstrates the director's ambition to tell an unusual Star Wars story that shakes off Hollywood cliches. It delves into more complicated, in-depth themes about unpredictable destinies," says Jiang Yong, a Beijing-based film critic.

The latest Star Wars film stars Daisy Ridley.

The first Star Wars film was released in 1977 and since then it has become a cultural icon for many generations of moviegoers in North America and around the world.

But the franchise was not introduced to Chinese audiences until 1999, which may partly explain why domestic moviegoers lack the enthusiasm for the franchise that's seen in North America.

Wang Fan, editor of the Star Wars comic books published in Chinese by Beijing World Publishing Corp under license from Disney, says most of their titles have been reprinted.

"Respectively, more than 10,000 copies of each title have been sold. The majority of readers are middle-aged men who became fascinated with Star Wars movies after watching video tapes of them in the 1980s," she says.

"But unlike most Hollywood superhero movies, fans of Star Wars in China remain something of a minority. Comic books about Marvel or DC superheroes have been better received in the Chinese market, as the stories are comparatively easier to understand and Chinese youngsters find them more entertaining," adds Wang.

A report from box-office tracker and industry research group Maoyan shows that Chinese film fans born between 1985 and 1995 make up the majority of theatergoers, making this segment the most targeted by filmmakers.

So, will the force ever be able to propel a Star Wars franchise to the top slot in the world's second-largest film market? While there is certainly a sizable domestic fan base, it seems unlikely that the sci-fi saga will ever enjoy the same cult status in China as it does in the United States.

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