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March 30, 2024

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Imported movies light up usually lackluster March box office

IN the Chinese mainland film market, March is usually considered an off-peak season for box-office revenue, with no major holidays and fewer local blockbuster releases.

However, this year’s March proved to be anything but lackluster, as several imported films seized the market opportunity with strong word-of-mouth, achieving impressive grosses and showcasing the market’s inclusivity and vitality.

Directed by Hong Kong helmer Wong Ching-po, Taiwan movie “The Pig, the Snake and the Pigeon” opened on March 1, grossing a whopping 600 million yuan (US$84.5 million) to top March’s box-office chart, according to film data platform Maoyan.

It stars Ethan Juan as an ambitious criminal, who, upon discovering he is only Taiwan’s third-most wanted fugitive, embarks on a quest to overtake the top two.

Released a week later on March 8, Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi epic “Dune: Part Two” has raked in 320 million yuan for second place.

Both films boast strong audience scores of 8.1 and 8.3 on review site Douban.

In a rare feat for a low-budget import, “Pig” saw its March 8 single-day gross surpass the “Dune: Part Two’s” debut numbers and has since maintained a daily lead over the highly anticipated “Dune” sequel, stunning analysts.

“Chinese mainland audiences will embrace any film, big or small, local or imported, as long as the story connects,” says Dong Wenxin, a film industry observer and theater manager, offering a unique perspective on the result.

“It’s an opportunity-rich market.”

Liu Peng, director of the Maoyan Research Institute, said fresh imported films “enrich options and contribute to the overall market” during typically “quiet” March following the bustling Spring Festival moviegoing season. Past March hits like “Suzume,” “Captain Marvel” and “Green Book” capitalized on the gap between major holidays.

While China Film Critics Association President Rao Shuguang deems imports “essential” for driving the Chinese mainland box office, he critiques Hollywood’s “leaning too heavily on franchises and lacking creativity,” though adding: “Hollywood’s adaptability shouldn’t be underestimated — they may burst forth with new creativity.”

Liu said “Dune: Part Two” has exceeded its predecessor in both box office and word-of-mouth, standing out as a “rare case” for an import outperforming expectations in recent years. However, the dense philosophical themes make it more inaccessible compared with the “easily comprehensible” appeal of “Pig,” especially for moviegoers who lack knowledge of the first “Dune” film.

Maoyan data showed 66 percent of “Dune: Part Two’s” gross derived from bigger cities, while “Pig” saw 44 percent from smaller cities, indicating broader “penetration.”

In April, an array of new films will hit cinemas across China, ready to bring new vitality to the entire industry. Here are some of the most anticipated films to be released soon.


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