China’s most expensive films pulled from cinemas after box office debacle-Sino-US

China’s most expensive films pulled from cinemas after box office debacle
Film poster of Asura Photo:
China’s costliest fantasy film has been withdrawn from big screens after registering shockingly low box office over its weekend opening. Although its producer attributed the move to “unfair market environment”, critics and industry insiders generally believe the film failed to come up with an intriguing story and that’s what Chinese movie-goers in an evolved market most desire these days.

Asura, based on an ancient Tibetan mythology, was promoted as the first-ever $100 million Chinese production. It’s widely reported the fantasy epic spent 750 million yuan during seven years of early-stage preparations, special effects, actors, and shooting. And its top producer previously claimed 30 percent of the sum was for visual effects akin to that of Hollywood’s A-class fantasy movies.

With the sky-high budget, Asura grossed merely 49.2 million yuan during its four days of release. The box office failure was partly caused by extremely strong competition from other summer movies like Dying to Survive, which is hailed as the second real Chinese blockbuster after last year’s Wolf Warrior 2. The human interest film explores the sensitive topic of unaffordable prices of cancer drugs in China. In the first two weeks, the filmed earned 2.6 billion yuan.

Last Friday, Asura starring popular teenage actor Wu Lei and veteran Hong Kong movie stars Ka Fai Leung and Carina Lau was released nationally. Unexpectedly, in the afternoon of Sunday, the official Weibo account of the movie said investors had collectively made a decision to pull the film from cinemas nationwide. The statement did not provide any specific reason for the withdrawal, nor did it say whether or not Asura will be released again.

Sina Entertainment reported the lead producer of the movie, Zhenjian Film Studio denied previous reports that the film was merely taken back for some modifications. Instead, Zhenjian Film emphasized “the film has no flaws in itself” and the decision is mainly triggered by “unfair market environment brought about by Maoyan”. Maoyan is a mobile ticketing platform and film review aggregator that scores every film upon its release.

On Asura’s premiere day, the producer had raised questions about Maoyan’s 4.9/10 marks for the film. It noted the discrepancy between Maoyan’s low score and the 8.4/10 given by Tao Piao Piao, another major film ticketing-review platform, while calling it a “shame on the industry”.

Actually, Maoyan, which is partially backed by China’s tech giant Tencent, did not give the lowest grade. Douban, known as a more impartial film review platform with no ticketing services attached, graded Asura at 3.1/10 while it graded Dying to Survive at 9/10. The film became a hot topic on the Internet only after the news of the withdrawal broke. And most viewers are outspoken about the film’s obvious weakness. “The film is all about special visual effects. The story is dull, and I almost fell asleep,” one netizen posted.

Asura investors reportedly talked about their misjudgment in the project behind closed doors. “Six years ago, Chinese people quite admired Hollywood big productions, and so the producers of Asura invited many North American teams to partake in and spent big money on them,” the Securities Daily quoted a source familiar with the investors as saying.

The film's costumes were designed by Oscar-winner Ngila Dickson (Lord of the Rings), while Hollywood veteran Martín Hernandez served as audio director (The Revenant, Birdman) and Charlie Iturriaga (Deadpool, Furious 7) supervised the VFX work. The film is the directorial debut of Hollywood stunt coordinator-turned-filmmaker Peng Zhang (Rush Hour 3, Twilight 1 & 2), reported

Industry analysts generally believe the failure of Asura is caused by transformation of the country’s film industry.  Based on data released by the National Cinema Special Fund Office, among the top five box office films made in China, four are dramas themed on realistic modern life. These days, only big screen stories capable of striking a sympathetic chord with their audiences can succeed.

Some media said the withdrawal decision may be related to the other major producer of Asura - Ningxia Film Group, a state-owned company. It’s believed by some that suspending the project will look better than letting it fail totally, at least on the financial statements of the government-backed business. 


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