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‘Crazy Rich Asians’ fails to click with Chinese audiences

/ 01:10 PM December 06, 2018
China, Crazy Rich Asians

In this Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, photo, a worker stands underneath a screen advertising the movie “Crazy Rich Asians” at a cinema in Beijing. Chinese audiences aren’t exactly going nuts over the U.S. box office hit “Crazy Rich Asians,” despite its all-Asian cast and theme of rising Asian prosperity. Image: AP/Fu Ting

BEIJING — Chinese audiences are not exactly going nuts over the United States box office hit “Crazy Rich Asians,” despite its all-Asian cast and theme of rising Asian prosperity.

Industry data show the film made just $1.2 million (about P63.4 million) over the three days of its initial release, far behind local productions in the world’s second-largest movie market. That compared with the $25.6 million (around P1.3 billion) grossed by the Chinese crime drama “A Cool Fish,” according to data from analyst Comscore.

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Chinese film industry veteran Wei Junzi says the romantic comedy’s focus on Southeast Asian culture did not resonate with mainland Chinese, despite the cast’s ethnic makeup.

“It’s a good genre movie,” Wei said. “It’s also an interesting comparison with the current China-U.S. relationship. You think you know about China, but in reality you don’t.”

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The film’s poor performance in China contrasts sharply with its near-rapturous reception in the Chinese diaspora, especially in the U.S. where it was hailed as the first all-Asian box office smash.

Critic Shi Hang said Chinese audiences are so used to all-Asian productions that the casting didn’t hold much novelty.

“What the public was excited about abroad was all-Asian-faces, but, sorry, we watch all-Asian-faces every day so it is less valuable here,” Shi said.

The film’s over-the-top displays of wealth and entitlement may also have been a turn-off for some viewers in a country where the widening gap between rich and poor rankles many.

“It is understandable in a comedy atmosphere, but it gets harder for me to get into the story,” he said.

The Warner Bros.’ breakout romantic comedy earned $173 million (about P9.1 billion) in the U.S. and was a box office hit in Singapore, where it is set. Like most comedies, Jon M. Chu’s film hasn’t been as much of a sensation elsewhere. It took months to secure a China release date, a delay some attributed to its portrayal of extremely wealthy Chinese Singaporeans at a time when China’s ruling Communist Party is cracking down on corruption and displays of crass consumerism.

That time lag may also have enabled many Chinese viewers to access pirated versions online or through streaming services, diminishing their desire to splash out on theater tickets.

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The film’s performance in China is potentially worrisome for Warner Bros. Its planned sequel, “China Rich Girlfriend,” is expected to better capitalize on the world’s second-largest film market.

Another upcoming film targeting Chinese audiences is a live-action version of Disney’s 1998 animated classic “Mulan,” which told the story of a plucky Chinese girl who took her father’s place in battling invaders from the north. That film also boasts an almost entirely Chinese cast, led by popular actress Liu Yifei in the title role.

However, Wei said the film’s success will be based on how authentic it feels to Chinese audiences.

“Will this be just another movie about Chinese culture, with you Americans’ own interpretation?” Wei said. KM

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