This story first appeared in the Dec. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Call it the year of the tiger.
Not even 20th Century Fox expected Ang Lee’s Life of Pi to become a cultural phenomenon in China, where after two weeks it has grossed more than $68 million, more than The Dark Knight Rises ($53 million) and The Amazing Spider-Man ($49 million) earned in their entire runs. It also has outgrossed the $60.9 million earned in North America.
Taiwan-born Lee is a celebrated filmmaker in China and visited the country in November to promote the film, but Pi’s success extends beyond just hero worship. The film has lit up social media sites, with more than 5 million Pi messages posted on leading Twitter-like site Sina Weibo thanks to its spiritual themes and its depiction of Indian culture. (It doesn’t hurt that tigers like the Bengal breed featured in Pi are revered in China.)
The Hindustan Times in India even is speculating that Lee’s film could boost the number of Chinese tourists traveling to the country, while the India-Taipei Association is launching Life of Pi tours.
Chinese moviegoers are huge fans of 3D and Imax, which can raise the cost of a ticket to $25. And the movie is generating big numbers in Taiwan and Hong Kong as well. It has grossed north of $10 million in India, a notoriously difficult market to crack for nonlocal titles. All told, Pi’s international gross from 15 markets stands at north of $105 million, though it still needs to continue the pace to recoup its $120 million-plus production budget.
Fox International president Paul Hanneman is optimistic. “Everyone you talk to takes something different away from this movie,” he says. “It’s astonishing.”