Box office heist

Why the remake of Hollywood cult classic opened in China 3 weeks before US

Australian actress Teresa Palmer attends a screening of the film "Warm Bodies" in New York

Surf’s up: new role created for Palmer in Point Break remake

Asia has given Hollywood some spectacular remakes – The Seven Samurai became The Magnificent Seven, Infernal Affairs became The Departed. Now comes the $120 million-budgeted remake of Kathryn Bigelow’s 1991 cult classic Point Break. And Warner Bros has decided that China has become so important that the film has been released there a full three weeks before it debuts in the United States.

Driving the early release was the movie’s Chinese co-producer, DMG, whose high-profile co-founder Wu Bing was very much in evidence at the movie’s launch in Beijing last week.

Point Break took $12 million in its opening three days in China, and DMG will be hoping that once the popular blockbuster The Martian ends its run, that it can build some impetus at the box office.

However, reviews have not been great. The South China Morning Post, giving the film one and a half stars, says it “struggles mightily to replicate the original’s guilty pleasure”.

Wu focused on the action elements of the movie during the promotional tour, knowing these will likely be popular with Chinese audiences. “This remake can’t be thought of in early nineties terms. The extreme stunts in the 2015 version created a complete visual and audio concept. It represents a new level of film technology and actions,” she told a Chinese news conference.

Wu, a former medal-winning gymnast and synchronised swimmer, became an actress in the 1990s and starred in a number of Jackie Chan’s kungfu movies. Then in 1993 she formed DMG, which stands for Dynamic Media Group, with New Yorker Dan Mintz and analyst Peter Xiao. Its original business focus was advertising, with clients that included Nike and Volkswagen.

However, DMG later moved into film financing and distribution (see WiC147 for our first profile of DMG). In a further diversification it began running cinemas and exhibitions.

DMG’s first movie investment was in patriotic epic The Founding of a Republic (released in 2009 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Party’s 1949 coming to power) and since then it has been involved in many US movies, including Looper and Iron Man 3.

Wu and DMG look to have helped get Point Break the red-carpet treatment in China. No other Hollywood movie has opened in the country so far ahead of its US release. Penguins of Madagascar opened 12 days ahead of its US debut (Iron Man 3 also hit Chinese cinemas ahead of American ones).

Why the haste? Point Break’s December 3 opening gives the movie three weeks to take advantage of a period in which no new foreign movies will show (the annual 34-film quota for foreign imports has been used up – indeed, the latest Star Wars movie won’t appear in Chinese cinemas till January). December is also typically a month when only domestic movies are permitted on the big screen. US-made Point Break qualifies thanks to its being a co-production with a Chinese entity.

Competition will be sparse, with wily producers knowing that no other major locally-made release is scheduled until December 18 when Wanda’s The Ghouls – starring Shu Qi and Angelababy – screens.

So is the plot the same as in the nineties original. Not quite. The focus of this Point Break’s heists is to carry out The Ozaki 8, a series of eight different trials – involving different natural forces. Still in the script: the same proto-hippie musings about nirvana and conquering nature. The earlier movie’s focus on surfing is supplemented with the addition of a range of other extreme sports.

Instead of Keanu Reeves in the lead role we get Australian actor Luke Bracey as up-and-coming FBI agent Johnny Utah, while Patrick Swayze’s philosopher-king-cum-surf-dude Bodhi is played by Venezuelan actor Édgar Ramírez.

The movie also features Teresa Palmer, Ray Winstone, and Delroy Lindo. It took 221 days to shoot, in part because it uses real effects rather than computer-generated imagery.

Bracey joined Wu, Mintz and others at the movie’s lavish red-carpet launch in Beijing, while DMG ensured that heavy TV promotion showcased the film’s high-octane snowboarding, motocross and wingsuit flying scenes.

Wu Bing said she is not worried that the extreme sports concept will dilute the story, saying the new version was “a very moving tale about love and friendship”.

Meanwhile her firm is undertaking its own corporate acrobatics as it seeks to buy a stake in Eastern Broadcasting Corp. To do so, DMG will have to persuade Taiwanese regulators that it has no links to China’s military, reports Variety (for more on this acquisition and its sensitivity, see page 10).

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