From Beijing with love

Sony Pictures enjoys its biggest ever Chinese opening with new Bond movie

Cast members Craig and Seydoux pose for pictures during a promotion event for the new James Bond 007 film "Spectre" in Beijing

Bonding together: Daniel Craig in China with co-star Lea Seydoux

Ling Ling Qi! Ling Ling Qi!” Even the ticket sellers sounded excited about Spectre at a cinema in downtown Beijing last weekend, heralding James Bond’s latest appearance on the big screen as “007”.

The excitement has translated into impressive box office returns, with Spectre opening with $48 million for the Friday-Sunday weekend — a record for a non-3D film from overseas.

Perhaps this is another symbol of China’s new closeness with the UK – James Bond is, after all, a British secret agent.

The opening weekend was only $11 million short of the total take for its predecessor Skyfall, which earned $59 million during its run in China.

Although this is the 24th film in the Bond series, Spectre is only its fourth outing in China. With nearly 200,000 showings and 9.8 million admissions in its first three days, it also marked the biggest opening day ever for Sony Pictures in China, despite unspectacular reviews of 6.2 points on Douban and 6.7 on Sina Weibo out of 10.

Spectre seems to have reaped the benefits of a marketing campaign that involved major promotions on social media, 007 exhibitions in Beijing and a series of other marketing efforts.

Bond’s official 007 Sina Weibo account attracted 170,000 fans, while Craig’s personal Sina Weibo account, which opened on November 2 carried this debut message: “Hello, China. I am so deeply touched by the passion of Chinese fans that I cannot help inviting you to see 007 Spectre. Enjoy the movie!”

Writing on Craig’s Sina Weibo account, Chinese Bond fans described him as “handsome, and a real man”.

One commented: “Wow, welcome to weibo. I do like watching your movie. It’s awesome! I saw the new movie yesterday, and you are so handsome!”

Another welcomed Craig to China and said: “You are the No. 1 Bond in our heart!”

The multi-pronged marketing push included Bond joining Alibaba founder and chairman Jack Ma to sell Cadillacs in a live national broadcast to kick off Singles’ Day, the country’s biggest online shopping day. The e-commerce group’s event was seen by over 500 million viewers.

Also, an episode of the popular Day Day Up talk show on Hunan TV was dedicated to Spectre, while co-star Lea Seydoux and producer Barbara Broccoli did question and answer sessions from an Apple Store that was livestreamed to millions of viewers.

Sony also partnered with local pop star Jane Zhang for a Chinese version of this year’s Bond theme, “Writings On The Wall.”

The movie was distributed in 43% of all available screens, including IMAX cinemas.

James Bond first screened in China in 2007 with Casino Royale, 45 years into the franchise, and was one of the first movies to promote itself by sending its stars to tour China. Craig, then a Bond debutant, Eva Green, director Martin Campbell and Broccoli went to the premieres in Beijing and Shanghai, helping the film to show at more than 1,000 venues, a big number back in 2007.

Bond had earlier faced difficulty in China because of a censorship rule banning stories that featured spying, acts of violence, and war in other jurisdictions or “third countries”.

007’s escapades pretty much tick all of those boxes.

Looking at the back catalogue, the fact that so many of his missions took place in a Cold War context also made him unattractive for the state censor, even if the old enemy Soviet Russia was often on the receiving end of the secret agent’s exploits.

James Bond and China go way back, mind you.

The first time we meet SPECTRE is in Dr No and we learn from Ian Fleming’s novel that Julius No was born in Beijing to a German Methodist missionary father and a Chinese mother.

In The Man with the Golden Gun, Scaramanga’s island is in “Red Chinese waters”, while in Tomorrow Never Dies, Michelle Yeoh plays a Chinese spy who develops an uneasy alliance with Bond.

Perhaps one of the reasons that movie didn’t get a Chinese release is that Yeoh’s character is initially disguised as a Xinhua News Agency reporter.

But viewings of Bond’s back catalogue could increase now that internet giant Tencent has signed a deal with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for the online distribution rights for the franchise.

Meanwhile Craig has deliberately stopped short of comparing himself to his predecessors, even if the latest movie does pay homage to Sean Connery’s famed ejector seat.

“I’m part of a huge, wonderful franchise that’s being going for 50 years, and all of the films, in their own individual way, are absolutely wonderful. All the other people who played Bond before me are wonderful in their own way, and I never felt this is a competition. Just a complete honour to be given the chance to play the part,” Craig said.

But does Bond have a soft side, CCTV asked Craig?

“I never forget that he’s James Bond. The character is very tough. He wins the day. He always fights the bad guys and wins. But along the way, I think it’s good to see him being emotional,” Craig replied.

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