China Box Office: "Journey to the West," "So Young," and "Young Detective Dee" Top Chinese Films of 2013

Journey to West: Conquering the Demons

In the second largest film market of the world, Stephen Chow’s Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons is the top film of 2013, grossing a monstrous $206M. It’s the second highest-grossing Chinese film of all time, just a few million behind 2012’s Lost in Thailand. What makes this even more remarkable is that Stephen Chow doesn’t appear in the film; he only directed. Chow has been the box office king of Hong Kong for the last decade or so, supplanting Jackie Chan. Now, it appears that he’s taking over China too.

It was a great year for Taiwanese actor/singer/model Mark Chao, who stars in the next two films on the list.

The first of which is “So Young,” an adaptation of a bestselling Young Adult novel about the life of several college students. It’s the directorial debut of actress Zhao Wei (Shaolin Soccer, Red Cliff). Young adults propelled the film to $119M at the box office and fourth best all-time, by far the best performance by a female director.

Chao took over Andy Lau’s role in Tsui Hark’s Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon and more than doubled the first film’s business. The fantasy/action-adventure prequel soared to $99M at the box office, placing third in 2013 and seventh on the all-time list. With this and The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate -- $87M and twelve best of all time -- Tsui has become one of China’s most commercially successful directors, which leads us to ...

Personal Tailor, helmed by arguably the most commercially successful Chinese director Feng Xiaogang, is fourth with $96M. For all-time honors, it ties another Feng film, Aftershock, for eighth. Since it’s still playing in theaters, it’ll likely move up a few rankings in these charts.

In fifth with $89M is Peter Chan’s American Dreams in China, about three friends who struck it rich building a network of schools. The coming-of-age story stars mainland China’s top earning actor Huang Xiaoming. On the all-time list, it ranks eleventh, just above The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate. Chan’s previous highs as a director are Dragon (Donnie Yen) with $25M and The Warlords (Jet Li, Andy Lau) with $28M; Takeshi Kaneshiro stars in both films.

Next on the list with $86M is Finding Mr. Right, a romantic comedy starring Tang Wei (Lust Caution). It ranks thirteenth all-time.

Following that is another romance and YA adaptation Tiny Times with $81M, fourteenth best all-time.

Jackie Chan comes in eighth with his cop thriller Police Story 2013, which grossed $56M by the end of 2013. It’s still going strong in theaters, so it could go up a few spots when it’s all said and done. It’s another great year for the 59 year-old action star whose Chinese Zodiac also did huge business towards the end of 2012, topping out at $138M -- third on the all-time list. With two consecutive year-end blockbusters in a roll, Chan can probably claim the title as the top action star in China, if not the top drawing actor.

Occupying the last two spots on the list of top ten films of 2013 are two Andy Lau films, Firestorm and Switch. Both grossed about $50M each, new highs for the actor. His previous best was Tsui Har’s Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame with $44M. If Jackie Chan is the top box office drawing actor in China, then Lau can now claim the second spot.

While we’re talking about top draws, we have to give a special mention to comedic actor Huang Bo. Coming off of the success of the record-breaking Lost in Thailand towards the end of 2012, Huang appeared in five films in 2013: Say Yes!, The Chef, the Actor, the Scoundrel, No Man’s Land, and the aforementioned Journey to the West and Police Story 2013. All of them are hits. No other actor in 2013 has been this consistent and prolific at the box office.

All in all, 2013 is another record year at the box office in China. You can probably tell because most of last year’s top earning films are also on the all-time list. Helping matters is that about 5,000 new screens were added, for a total of about 18,000.

All films in 2013 together grossed $3.6B, a 28% improvement over 2012, which is itself a 30% improvement over 2011. If China’s growth continues at this blistering pace, they’ll reach $5B by the end of 2014, which is about half of the U.S. market. What’s encouraging for the local industry is that regional films are outperforming big-budget Hollywood productions.

Here’s the list of the ten highest-grossing Chinese films of 2013:
1. Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons $206M (1.246B Yuan)
2. So Young $119M (718M Yuan)
3. Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon $99M (601M Yuan)
4. Personal Tailor $96M (582M Yuan) *
5. American Dreams in China $89M (539M Yuan)
6. Finding Mr. Right $86M (519M Yuan)
7. Tiny Times $81M (488M Yuan)
8. Police Story 2013 $56M (340M Yuan) *
9. Firestorm $51M (306M Yuan)
10. Switch $50M (300M Yuan)

* Still playing in theaters. All totals as of December 31, 2013.

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