Opening Figures for "Flowers of War" and "Flying Swords of Dragon Gate" New Highs for Zhang Yimou & Jet Li

The Flowers of War
The numbers are in. Round one of the Zhang Yimou vs. Jet Li match-up goes to the director. "The Flowers of War" collected $23.05M at the box office in China last week during its first four days, narrowly beating the $21.47M by "Flying Swords of Dragon Gate." Although both are huge openings and probably new highs for Yimou and Li respectively, they didn’t break any records.

In comparison, during the same period last year Chow Yun-Fat’s “Let the Bullets Fly” opened with $28.7M in its first four days and “If You Are the One II” did $33M in five days. The former ended its run with slightly over $100M, the highest grossing Chinese film of all time. The latter totalled over $72M, the third highest of all time (I think). Both of these films held up well the following week, dropping off by less than 30%.

If “War” and “Dragon Gate” follow the same pattern, then both films could end up totalling between $50-$70M. That not only makes them two of the top grossing films of 2011-2012 in China, but also two of its top grossing films of all time.

“Flying Swords of Dragon Gate” also represents a new high for director Tsui Hark, whose previous film “Detective Dee and the mystery of the Phantom Flame” opened to $17.6M and ended its run with $47M. “Dragon Gate” re-united him with Jet Li, his star in the martial arts classic “Once Upon a Time in China.” The opening for “Dragon Gate” is a huge success for both. Hopefully, this will encourage the two icons of Hong Kong cinema to work together more often.

With Jet Li’s Chinese productions out-grossing his solo efforts in Hollywood, we’ll probably see less of him in American films. This year, he had already released two Chinese films - this one and last month’s “The Sorcerer and the White Snake.” His last American film is Sylvester Stallone’s “The Expendables,” in which he’s part of an ensemble of action stars. Jet Li commands $12-13M per Chinese film; his asking price for an American film is $5M (that’s what I heard from his posse). It’s no wonder he opted to shoot “Dragon Gate” and “White Snake” instead of “The Expendables 2.” The producers of the latter film still got him to commit to two weeks of shooting while they’re in China though.

If you disregard the ginormous budget for “The Flowers of War,” it would be considered a huge success. But at a cost of $100M, Zhang Yimou’s film would have to do miraculous business in the upcoming weeks to turn a profit. It makes you wonder if Christian Bale’s clash with the Chinese security guards late last week did any damage to the film’s box office. Even though the initial gross is disappointing, I have to admire Yimou’s audacity and ambition. Now, I wonder how his company will spin this.

Although I correctly picked Zhang Yimou to win this round, I was thinking record-breaking numbers. That didn’t happen, so it looks like Avatar’s record will be safe for awhile. Maybe Yimou and Li can team up again and see what kind records they can break together. Hey, it worked for “Hero.”

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Here are a few more numbers to look at for comparisons (both films opened this year):

  • “Beginning of the Great Revival” took in $17.58M in its first five days and ended up with $59M total.
  • “Love is Not Blind” did $28.5M in its first six days recently and will probably end its run with $54-$57M.

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