Monster takings

Flopped in US, big in China


Kikuchi: taking on the Kaiju

Chinese moviegoers seem to like a good monster movie. Last year, Battleship (a rather forgettable film in which the American navy takes on aliens) grossed $65.4 million in the United States but went on to make $50.1 million in China. Similarly, the latest ‘monster’ blockbuster Pacific Rim took only $98.7 million in North America, but found a more interested audience in China, where it sold more than $109 million of tickets in just three weeks.

The film, which pits humanity against creatures called the Kaiju which pop up from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, even surpassed the box office take for Tiny Times 2, a speedily-released sequel to author-director Guo Jingming’s Tiny Times original (see WiC202).

That’s good news for Hollywood, which has had a far-from-vintage year in China. In fact, Pacific Rim is only the second Hollywood import to hit the $100 million mark in China in 2013. The first was Disney’s Iron Man 3, which has made about $120 million since it opened in June.

Still, few expected Pacific Rim to be quite so successful. For a start, there are no big-name Hollywood stars in the film. Even though the story is partly set in Hong Kong, there are no notable Chinese characters in the film (unless we’re counting the unlikely triplets who pilot a giant robot named the Crimson Typhoon – although even these three have barely any dialogue and perish within the first hour).

In fact, the only ‘Asian’ face is actress Kikuchi Rinko but that’s hardly going to win many points with local audiences because she is Japanese.

So why has Pacific Rim been so popular in China? Timing certainly helps. The alternatives currently on offer include Tiny Times 2 and Fan Bingbing’s rom-com One Night Surprise, both of which are aimed at a younger, female demographic. By contrast, the special effects and storyline of Pacific Rim may be a preferred option for boyfriends and husbands.

China’s taste for monster films might also be explained by another factor: the genre is practically non-existent in domestic movies, says Robert Cain, author of China Film Biz. While audiences thrill to the deadly threat of oversized lizards and gigantic glowworms, the censors are generally much less impressed. “It’s a quirk of the film administration’s policies that monsters can invade China – at least on the big screen – from overseas, but they’re generally prohibited from breeding, hatching or emerging from slimy lagoons onshore in the Middle Kingdom,” Cain muses.

Members of the Chinese military have also recently been advised to steer clear of Hollywood fare. In a commentary in the People’s Liberation Army Daily, Zhang Jieli warned troops not to be taken in by American deceit. “Soldiers should sharpen their eyes and enforce a ‘firewall’ to avoid ideological erosion when watching American movies,” he insisted.

Pacific Rim seems to have particularly riled the sensitive Zhang. “The decisive battle against the monsters was deliberately set in the South China Sea adjacent to Hong Kong,” he fumed. “The intention was to demonstrate the US commitment to maintaining stability in the Asia-Pacific area and saving mankind.”

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