Screen grab of xXx: The Return of Xander Cage
Screen grab of xXx: The Return of Xander Cage

It’s a fine romance. And we’re not just talking about La La Land taking US$12.5 million at the Chinese box office on that most commercialized of Western non-holidays: Valentine’s Day.

Hollywood’s bumpy love affair with China’s foreign film quota has received a double boost. Ahead of key Sino-American talks later this year, the state run Global Times newspaper recently predicted that the current limit of 34 foreign films granted access to the Chinese market per year could go up by a dozen and foreign producers’ take on ticket sales might jump from 25% now to 40%.

The other gift to Hollywood over the past week, was the attention lavished on American films at the mainland box office, with all three of the weekend’s top films being American.

Continuing on its dynamic debut last week, xXx: the Return of Xander Cage pulled in another US$76.3 million to stay at number one for a second week and now sits on a comfortable total of US$138.1 million.

The Valentine’s Day triumph of La La Land notwithstanding, the runaway success of the Vin Diesel vehicle suggests that either Chinese men are choosing the movies they see with their loved ones or the “bare branches” are driving China’s movie-watching.

Bare branches refers to the disproportionate number of male singles in the population as a result of the now rescinded “one-child policy.” The policy led to decades of families favoring males by sex-selective abortions.

Released a few days after LA La Land, Sing chimed in with a gross of US$11.8 million at the end of the weekend to take second place in front of La La Land on the Chinese charts and the animated film now sits on US$13.6 million.

Though American films are currently ascendant, the trace of Chinese films that dominated the Lunar New Year period are still evident lower down the chart. Jackie Chan’s Kung Fu Yoga hangs in at the number four position with a gross of US$245.8 million; time-travel comedy/drama Duckweed reached US$144.4 million as it perches at number five; and the Stephen Chow/Tsui Hark collaboration Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back is levelling out at US$237.7 million in the number eight slot.

In Korea, Kim Tae-yoon’s New Trial based on a true story about a witness to a taxi driver’s murder, hit number one as it picked up a haul of US$8 million.

The legal drama pushed Park Kwang-hyun’s cyber murder mystery Fabricated City to number two where it scored an additional US$3.3 million over the weekend to enlarge its overall take to US$14.3 million. Though it was a significant slide on Fabricated City’s impressive US$8.5 million opening the week before, Park’s gamer fantasy still managed to keep out the invasion by Matt Damon and Andy Lau Tak-wah. At the end of its Korean opening weekend, Zhang Yimou’s fanciful embellishment of history, The Great Wall sat in Korea’s number three slot and had accumulated US$3.1 million.

Over in Japan, while Your Name and In This Corner of the World continue to hang on at the lower rungs, the box office chart is dominated this week by the movie debut of a new anime franchise: Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale. Based on a “light novel” series about a virtual reality role-playing game, the teen-friendly, novellas by Kawahara Reki, since their 2009 inception, have already spawned multiple manga, TV anime shows and, unsurprisingly, video games.

Simultaneously released in Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and, would you believe, Germany, on February 18, Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale carved US$3.7 million from the Japanese market.

Eyes will be on Germany’s response as an indicator of how it may be received by Westerners as the anime is scheduled for American release on March 1 with Australia and New Zealand to follow on March 9.