China Box Office: “Ip Man 3” Could Be Hurt By Piracy and Impending Blu-ray Release

Donnie Yen Fights Eleven in "Ip Man 3"

Originally, Donnie Yen’s “Ip Man 3” was supposed to be released in China on December 24, 2015. But inexplicably, it was pulled weeks before that date, and pushed to March 4, 2016 -- this coming Friday.

Maybe the distributor felt that the period between those dates were too competitive, jam-packed with potential hits. In hindsight, if that was their reason, then they were right. That period produced ten films that grossed over $100M each: “Devil and Angle” ($100M); “Mr. Six” ($137M); “Mojin - The Lost Legend” ($256M); “Detective Chin Tang” ($125M); “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” ($125M); “Kung Fu Panda 3” ($150M); “The Monkey King 2” ($179M); “From Macau to Vegas 3” ($168M); and of course, the record-breaking “Mermaid” ($488M).

If it’s any consolation to the producers of “Ip Man 3,” Jackie Chan’s action-comedy “Skiptrace” was also suddenly pulled from the same release date. Chan’s film currently does not have a date set for China.

Delaying the release of “Ip Man 3” two months later produces several problems for its producers that could impact the film’s performance at the box office.

First, they would have to redo all of their marketing materials.

Second, I’m not sure if Yen can still promote it as his last martial arts film when he and the film’s producers have repeatedly said that “Ip Man 4” is “very likely” now because of its recording-breaking success in regions nearby China during its initial release.

Third, the film has already been pirated and shared online. On one of the pirate sites, the downloads have already exceeded 400,000.

Finally, neighboring countries will release the “Ip Man 3” blu-ray within weeks of its China theatrical debut. Soon, there’ll be crystal clear versions of the film floating around online. The distributors will try to combat that by showing the film primarily in 3D, which is still a thing in China.

Less of a factor might be the fact that another Donnie Yen movie, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny,” was released only a few weeks ago and is still playing.

So how much does “Ip Man 3” need to make in order to break even? The film cost $36M to produce. The film company generally gets 45% of the box office. It has already grossed around $30M in foreign markets. All it needs from China is $50M if we’re basing this solely on theatrical revenue and excluding marketing cost and video sales.

That’s very doable even with the piracy and blu-ray issues because the China market has expanded so much since the first two installments. Since “Ip Man 2,” China’s film market has grown from $1.5B to $6.8B. “Ip Man” (2008) and “Ip Man 2” (2010) grossed $14M and $30M, respectively. Although those figures seem modest now, they were blockbusters in their respective years.

Even though “Ip Man 3” only needs to “roll punch” $50M in ticket sales from the China audience to break even, I think it still needs to get to $100M in order for it to be considered a hit nowadays. And that figure could be affected by online piracy and the impending blu-ray release. We’ll see in a few days.

(Box office figures from Entgroup.cn)

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