HONG KONG – What a bumbling businessman and a primitive pancake-maker can do, the Monkey King can do better. With the Chinese film industry having just finished celebrating the success of low-budget Lost in Thailand’s record haul last month, another box-office bonanza arrives to take its place, as the 3-D extravaganza Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons now stands firmly in line to become the third film to break the domestic-film box-office record in China in under a year.
Having benefited from the cinema-going boom during the so-called “Golden Week” of the Chinese New Year holidays – which began on Feb. 10, the very day the film opened – Stephen Chow Sing-chi’s comedy has already taken 640 million yuan (US$102.4 million) by Feb. 17, according to figures posted on the Weibo portal of China Film News, a publication backed by the country’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television.
A self-styled prologue to the classic Chinese novel – with Chow offering an origins story for the monk Tang Sanzhuang (played by Wen Zhang) and the Monkey King (Huang Bo) before they are to join forces and embark on their later quest for a holy scroll – the film has been breaking single-day earnings records for domestic productions throughout the past week, and even topped the country’s overall daily box-office record on Feb. 14, with takings of 122 million yuan (US$19.5 million), shattering the 114 million yuan (US$18.2 million) mark previously held by Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
Journey to the West is largely expected to overtake both Painted Skin: Resurrection (the holder of China’s domestic movie box-office record from July 2012 to Dec. 2012) and Jackie Chan’s CZ12 to become the second highest-grossing domestic release in China by the end of this week. Moreover, the film is now widely expected to ease past the 1.2 billion yuan (US$192 million) record attained last month by Xu Zheng’s comedy Lost in Thailand, the much-feted small-scale gag-fest about the mishaps of an odd couple of Chinese men as they travel across the Southeast Asian country in the title.
What remains to be seen is whether Chow’s film could go all the way to beat the all-time Chinese box-office record currently held by Avatar. James Cameron’s 3-D spectacle took 1.38 billion yuan (US$220.9 million) in the country in 2010.
Journey to the West’s runaway success has put nearly all its competitors in the shade. According to China Film News’ figures, which accounted for earnings up until Feb. 17, the romantic comedy 101stMarriage Proposal – which also stars Huang Bo – has taken 117 million yuan (US$18.7 million) since its Feb. 14 opening. Jack Reacher, which opened in China on Feb. 16, ranked third in the weekly standings with earnings of 30 million yuan (US$4.8 million), followed by the Chinese ensemble romance drama Together at 26 million yuan (US$4.2 million).
Skyfall and Cloud Atlas, which are nearing the end of their runs in China, have now brought in 380 million yuan (US$60.8 million) and 160 million yuan (US$25.6 million), respectively.