Monster Hunt 2 stars Hong Kong veteran Tony Leung and singer-actress Li Yuchun. (Photo provided to China Daily)
Six films on the mainland are in the race for glory at the box office during the upcoming Spring Festival holidays.[Special Coverage]
With the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday break around the corner, a number of films are set to hit the big screen on the mainland.
The latest online ticket-sales figures from the box-office tracker Maoyan show that the six titles set to open on the first day of Spring Festival, which falls on Feb 16, have already brought in 240 million yuan ( million) for that day.
Meanwhile, according to the China Film Distribution and Exhibition Association, nine movies－with three being released on Feb 16, 17 and 20－will be unveiled during the holiday period, which will run through Feb 22.
Significantly, the six titles being released on Feb 16－Monster Hunt 2, Detective Chinatown 2, The Monkey 3, Operation Red Sea, Boonie Bears: The Big Shrink and The Face of My Gene－kicked off advance sales online around one month ahead their release dates.
This is much earlier than previous Spring Festival releases.
Yu Chao, deputy general manager of Capital Cinema, which has been around since the 1940s, says that, in previous years, ticket sales began around two weeks before.
"This year, Chinese audiences will have more options," Yu says. "As Spring Festival holidays often create new records, the season is significant to collectively demonstrate the skills of domestic filmmakers."
Besides, the rapid expansion of the Chinese movie market－which now has more than 50,000 screens－has made the cinema a major entertainment option during the festival which reunites families, he says.
The most popular film, going by the sales figures, is Monster Hunt 2. The comedy sequel of the 2015 smash hit Monster Hunt has brought in 116 million yuan, or nearly 50 percent, of the revenue on the first day of the Year of the Dog, thanks possibly to its family-friendly features like its cute animated monsters.
The first Monster Hunt movie earned 2.44 billion yuan in 2015 to become that year's box-office champion, and also made history as it marked the first time that a domestic movie had topped the mainland's box-office charts.
The new film, picking up from where the first one ends, takes off with Wuba, a cute monster king shaped like a white turnip.
The movie, which had a budget of around 700 million yuan, has 1,800 visual-effect shots and new characters played by award-wining Hong Kong veteran Tony Leung as well as singer-actress Li Yuchun.
Raman Hui, the Hong Kong director of the Monster Hunt franchise, says: "I did not expect the first movie to be so successful. And I usually don't think about box-office figures. I believe in making audiences happy."
Raman, who is a Dream-Works Animation veteran, avoids violent or bloody scenes in his films, making Monster Hunt a family-friendly franchise.
The other five holiday films target adults. Leading that pack is director Chen Sicheng's Detective Chinatown 2, which is followed by fantasy epic The Monkey King 3.
Detective Chinatown 2, a Chinese take on Sherlock Holmes, sees the return of amateur detectives played by Wang Baoqiang and Liu Haoran.
And The Monkey King 3, based on the 16th-century novel Journey to the West, is the third installment of Film-Ko Film's franchise about the superhero, who escorts his monk master Tang Seng alongside two fellow apprentices to search for valuable Buddhist scriptures in the remote West.
In the film, Hong Kong star Aaron Kwok reprises his role of Monkey King while Feng Shaofeng again plays the monk. But the major attraction of the movie is actress Zhao Liying, starring as the ruler of an all-women country.
Typically, Monkey King movies attract a family audience, but the new film may not do so as the story is about a restrained, bittersweet love affair, says Jiang Yong, a Beijing-based industry analyst.
As for which films he thinks will do well this year, he says: "Monster Hunt 2 may surpass the record held by The Mermaid (Hong Kong comedian Stephen Chow's smash hit in 2016) to become the champion of this Spring Festival, as all its rivals are not family-friendly enough to appeal an all-age audience."
Boonie Bears: The Big Shrink, the fifth installment of the popular Boonie Bears franchise, has the fifth slot in the holiday box-office stakes for now.
While the story is about the two talking bear brothers, and the franchise is popular with children, the film does not seem to be too popular with parents looking for a movie which straddles the generations.
For comedy fans, The Face of My Gene, comedian Guo Degang's directorial debut, is the film to see.
The movie, now in the sixth slot of the charts, has a cast of more than 30 veteran actors, including Wolf Warrior franchise filmmaker-actor Wu Jing and Finding Mr Right's lead Wu Xiubo.
It's still an open question about who will be the final winner when the world's second-largest movie market is celebrating its most valued festival. But one thing is clear: the "battle" for big screen has broken out.