Whether motivated by filmic friendliness or cinematic schadenfreude, East Asia’s big three neighbors like to keep an eye on one another.
Mainland movie fans continued to honor Japanese animé sensation Your Name, which retained its top spot in the Chinese box office. Shinkai Makoto’s film accumulated another US$31 million on top of its bountiful debut last week, bringing its haul so far to US$71.1 million and setting it on course to soon become the most successful Japanese film ever released in China.
But there’s nothing like watching your neighbors endure wartime defeat. In this week’s battle of the box office, Mel Gibson made a surprise assault on China with Hacksaw Ridge, seizing second place in his first outing as director since 2006’s Apocalypto. Chinese moviegoers shelled out US$16.9 million to see America attack Okinawa in this World War II real-life drama about a conscientious objector who, despite refusing to bear arms, earned a Medal of Honor for military service.
In third place, with a more modest US$10.7 million, was romantic comedy Suddenly Seventeen. The directorial debut of Zhang Mo, Zhang Yimou’s daughter, this vice versa fantasy revolves around a romantically confused woman (Chinese actress, Ni Ni) who reverts to her teenage self after eating magical chocolate.
Despite studying film at New York University and having edited three of her father’s films, including 2011’s Flowers of War (also featuring Ni Ni), some of China’s cattier pundits have been speculating that the film — which the younger Zhang wrote, directed and edited — really belongs to Daddy. That seems unlikely. While Zhang senior has a producer credit, he’s had his hands full with next week’s opening of epic monster movie The Great Wall. Bulwarked by Western (Matt Damon, Willem Dafoe) and Chinese stars (Andy Lau, Zhang Hanyu), The Great Wall is expected to easily overshadow Suddenly Seventeen.
In South Korea, widely anticipated drama Pandora was the first out of the box over the weekend, topping the charts with a robust US$10.1 million on its debut. Obviously inspired by Japan’s Fukushima catastrophe, the movie imagines the tragedy that unfolds when an earthquake strikes a nuclear reactor near Busan, a port city in Korea’s southeast. While indicating how Koreans still occasionally seek inspiration from their neighbors, the film’s subplots of government corruption mean Pandora might be just the metaphor for the Park Geun-hye meltdown that the Korean people have been waiting for.
Either way, with competition from a true homegrown blockbuster, maudlin Korean comedy/drama My Annoying Brother had to make do with a US$3 million top-up to bring its total to US$17.8 million.
While audiences in China and Korea both seem to be looking at Japan, the Japanese box office has returned to its regular obsession with movie spin offs from games and local TV shows as sales for Your Name have started to dwindle. Monster Strike The Movie, based on a role-playing phone app that combines elements of Pokemon with Angry Birds, pushed aside the J.K. Rowling franchise’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them to take the number-one slot with US$3.8 million.
Moving in at number three was the latest entry in the never-ending, ever-popular Kamen Rider superhero series entitled (…take a breath …) Kamen Rider Heisei Generations: Dr Pac-man vs Ex-Aid& Ghost with Legend Rider (…gasp!), which took US$2.4 million at the Japanese box office.
Your Name’s international standing seems safe. But remember, it was only a few months ago that Stand By Me Doraemon, 2014’s animé about the iconic robot cat, was then the biggest-selling Japanese film ever in China. There’s simply no accounting for taste.