‘Shang-Chi’ Passes ‘Black Widow’ as Top 2021 U.S. Box Office Release

The Disney/Marvel Cinematic Universe release Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has surpassed Marvel Studios’ Black Widow as the top-grossing domestic movie with three months left in the 2021 box office.

Shang-Chi, starring Chinese-born Simu Liu, generated $3.59 million across 3,952 theaters Friday night (Sept. 24) to reach $186.7 million. That figure tops the previous polesitter, Marvel’s Black Widow, with $183.4 million. Shang-Chi is expected to dominate the domestic box office for the fourth consecutive weekend.

Widow, starring Scarlett Johansson, still leads the global box office with $378.3 million, compared to $330.8 million for Shang-Chi.

Both titles, along with other major Hollywood releases, have not yet been released in China, the world’s No. 2 box office market. While no official reason has been given, reports suggest that with the 100th anniversary of the ruling Communist Party occurring this summer, the Chinese government is reluctant to showcase Western movies.

Despite Shang-Chi featuring a largely Asian cast, including Liu, the actor emigrated to Canada with his parents at the age of five — a move, media reports suggest, was largely due to his parents’ opposition to communism.

Regardless, the success of the two movies heralds back to Disney’s triumphant pre-pandemic 2019 box office, when it tallied more than $11 billion in global ticket sales — largely on the back of Marvel superhero movies, and the Chinese box office.

Chinese Martial Arts Actioner ‘God of War II’ Due on Digital and Disc Sept. 21 From Well Go

A follow-up the 2017 Chinese martial arts actioner God of WarGod of War II lands on digital, Blu-ray and DVD Sept. 21 from Well Go USA Entertainment.

Charles Lin (The Outsiders) and Yuxi Liu (Legend of the Phoenix) star in the story of Lü Bu. Years after escaping, Lü Bu has no memory of his hellish early life as a test subject for a ruthless imperial sorceress. Now, he is feared across the land as the conquering general under warlord Dong Zhuo, for whom he has blazed a trail of victories on the battlefield. But when a woman arrives at the palace claiming to be his long-lost love, the facade begins to fade, and he begins to realize that his closest allies may yet be his most dangerous foes.

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The first feature film of director Cong Cai, God of War II features a guest appearance from David Wu (Farewell My Concubine) and co-stars Yinghao Sheng in his feature film debut.

Chinese Mixed Martial Arts Film ‘Crazy Fist’ Due on Hi-Yah! Streaming Service Aug. 6, Disc and Digital Sept. 14 From Well Go

The Chinese boxing-meets-mixed martial arts drama Crazy Fist will debut exclusively on the martial arts streaming service Hi-Yah! on Aug. 6, before hitting digital, Blu-ray and DVD Sept. 14 from Well Go USA Entertainment.

First time feature film director Guo Qing (who also appears in the film) directs Dragon Blade-alums Steve Yoo and Wang Wei, plus Collin Chou (Matrix II, III), Xiaoming Huang (Ip Man 2), Wei Zhao (Mulan: Rise of a Warrior) and retired professional bodybuilder Kai Greene (“Stranger Things”).

In the film, after an opponent dies mid-match, a prominent MMA champion swore never to fight again, instead retiring to run his family’s international business. However, when his best friend dies under suspicious circumstances during another tournament, he has no choice but to step back in the ring to help uncover the truth.

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In addition to its original language track in Mandarin, Crazy Fist also includes an English dub.

Chinese Films ‘Little Q,’ ‘Midnight Diner’ Due on Blu-ray Aug. 17 From Well Go

Two Chinese films, the family friendly Little Q and the comic drama Midnight Diner, are coming to Blu-ray Aug. 17 from Well Go USA Entertainment.

Based on a true story, the human-canine friendship film Little Q stars Simon Yam (Ip Man) as a recently blinded chef who forms a bond with his seeing eye dog. The film also stars Gigi Leung (The Monkey King 3), Him Law (The Monkey King 2), Charlie Yeung (Bangkok Dangerous), Shanshan Yuan (Lobster Cop), Angela Yeun (The White Girl), Frankie Lam (The Merger) and Roger Kwok (Kung Fu Mahjong).

The film follows Little Q, a yellow lab with a curious birthmark, who is training to become a guide dog for the blind. When his training is complete, Little Q is sent to help Lee Bo Ting, a famous, recently blinded chef. Irritable and bitter, Bo Ting is at first reluctant to rely on Little Q and even tries to drive him away several times. But through his loyalty, Little Q eventually teaches Bo Ting how to trust again, opening him up to a new life of wonderful possibilities.

Midnight Diner

Based on the celebrated manga series “Shin’ya Shokudo” by Yaro Abe and previously adapted into  TV series in Japan, Korea and China, the cinematic version of Midnight Diner also debuts on Blu-ray Aug. 17. In the film, set in a little restaurant in Shanghai, Tony Leung Ka-Fai (Once Upon a Time in Hong Kong) makes his directorial debut and plays the leading role of a man who makes a set of special food for each guest who visits the restaurant and listens everyone’s story. It also stars Deng Chao (Shadow), Eddie Peng (Operation Mekong), and Vision Wei (Lost in White).

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In the film, a small, counter-only restaurant, open daily from midnight to 7, is lovingly helmed by its mysterious owner and chef, a quiet enigma who provides no menu yet can make any dish the customer desires. Year after year, people flock from far and wide to the mysterious Midnight Diner to share their stories, savor delicious home cooking, and finally, to leave refreshed, feeling equally full and ready for their next adventure.

Biden Ends Trump-Era War on China’s TikTok, WeChat Apps

President Biden June 9 signed an executive order effectively ending the former Trump Administration’s efforts to force a sale of Chinese-owned social media app TikTok to American business interests.

The order ends the former administration’s war on the WeChat app, a multi-purpose messaging, social media and mobile payment app developed by Chinese media giant Tencent. The Trump administration had sought the ban in the United States, citing national security risks.

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Biden’s order stipulates that the Commerce Department is now tasked with determining the potential security risks associated with software owned and operated by foreign adversaries, among other responsibilities.

“I have determined that additional consideration must be given in addressing the national emergency declared in [Trump’s] Executive Order 13873 of May 15, 2019, including the threat posed by certain connected software applications designed, developed, manufactured, or supplied by persons owned by, controlled by, or subject to the jurisdiction or direction of a foreign adversary,” Biden wrote in a letter to Congress explaining his executive order.

Trump last August issued an executive order mandating the ban unless TikTok sold its U.S. operations. An acquisition deal involving chip maker Oracle and Walmart for 20% in a newly configured ByteDance parent remains in the works, but has not been finalized.

A federal judge last September issued a preliminary injunction stopping Trump’s proposed ban that would have effectively stopped 100 million Americans who use TikTok for social messaging and commercial influencing.

The move wasn’t unprecedented considering China blocks its citizens from using American apps such as Facebook, Twitter and Netflix.

Regardless, the political posturing between the U.S. and China over TikTok saw its CEO Kevin Mayer, the former Disney executive who help launch Disney+, exit the company. Mayer was also COO of TikTok parent ByteDance.

In March, Mayer was named chairman of the DAZN sports-themed subscription streaming service.

Report: Global Pay-TV Market to Add 15 Million Subs Through 2026

Pay-TV isn’t dead. Despite living in an over-the-top video ecosystem, new data from Digital TV Research projects the addition of 15 million pay-TV subscribers between 2020 and 2026, bringing the global subscriber base to 1.02 billion. Through 2026, 92 countries will add pay-TV subs and 46 countries will lose subscribers.

China and India together will continue to provide just under half the world’s pay-TV subs. China will lose 10 million subs who see OTT video platforms as more appealing than traditional pay-TV. However, India will add 21 million pay-TV subs. The U.S. will be the biggest pay-TV loser — down by 16 million subs through 2026.

Online TV platforms will add 63 million subs through 2026 to take its total to 378 million. There will be 412 million cable subs (both analog and digital) by 2026 — 46 million fewer than the 458 million subs recorded in 2020. Satellite TV will lose 8 million subs to total 203 million. Pay-DTT (digital terrestrial television) will grow by 6 million subs to reach 25 million. Many of the DTT subs will be in Africa.

‘Avatar’ Reclaims All-Time Box Office Crown Following Imax China Re-Release

A new generation of Chinese moviegoers this weekend flocked to the virtual world of Pandora, as Imax Corporation generated $6.2 million at the box office with the re-release of James Cameron’s 2009 sci-fi epic Avatar, helping it reclaim the all-time box office crown.

Imax theaters captured 30% of the movie’s weekend box office, despite accounting for only 1% of screens in the market. The strong performance helped Avatar once again become the top-grossing theatrical release of all time with more than $2.8 billion in ticket sales. Imax has now earned a lifetime box office of $249.5 million with Avatar, which remains the highest-grossing film in the high-definition 3D format.

“A big-screen sized thank you to Imax for their contribution to the success of Avatar at the box office,” producer Jon Landau said in a statement.

Imax CEO Rich Gelfond says Avatar changed “everything” for the exhibitor’s business model — catapulting brand awareness, notably in China.

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“Yet again, Chinese moviegoers are demonstrating the pent-up demand for theatrical blockbusters that awaits cinemas around the world as they reopen,” Gelfond said.

The original 2010 Imax 3D release of Avatar in China generated $24 million on only 14 screens — a per screen average of $1.7 million — and playing to round-the-clock sold out shows. The film jumpstarted Imax’s ascent to become one of the most recognized entertainment brands in China.

The following year, the exhibitor signed a 75-theater deal with Wanda — at the time the company’s biggest international theater deal ever — and established Imax China as its own wholly-owned subsidiary of the company. Today, China is Imax’s biggest market in terms of theaters with more than 700, and the market accounts for approximately one-third of the company’s annual global box office.

Nine out of the top 10 performing Chinese theaters screening Avatar over the weekend were Imax, and the film is the highest grossing re-release in 3D since Chinese theaters reopened in July.

With this weekend’s re-release, Avatar reclaimed the box office crown it relinquished to Disney/Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Endgame in 2019. Imax holds a piece of the history of both films. Avengers: Endgame continues to hold the record for the biggest opening weekend of any Imax film ever, with $91.5 million worldwide, and was the second Hollywood film ever to be shot entirely with Imax cameras.

The second and third installments of the “Avatar” franchise are currently slated for December 2022 and 2024, respectively.

Imax Corp. Posts Record-Breaking Weekend Box Office — in China

While U.S. movie exhibitors continue to languish from government-mandated closures and wary moviegoers due to the pandemic, Imax just recorded its best-ever weekend box office in China — where the coronavirus outbreak began.

The 3D exhibitor soared to its best-ever opening weekend for the Chinese New Year holiday, grossing $25 million through Feb. 14 as the country kicked off its pinnacle box office period. Despite a continued capacity limitation of at least 75% across China, Imax grew opening weekend box office 45% over its record-breaking 2019, when Chinese cinemas were last open for the holiday.

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Shot entirely with Imax cameras, the comedy franchise film Detective Chinatown 3 led the way with $23.5 million — Imax’s biggest three-day opening weekend ever for a Chinese film. Imax captured 6% of the film’s weekend box office, despite accounting for only 1% of overall screens. Friday, Feb. 12 marked the first time Imax generated more than 1 million admissions in a single day in any global market — China or otherwise.

In a strategic effort to embrace local-language filmmaking, grow its network, and strengthen its brand in China, Imax continues to make a significant comeback at the Chinese box office. The exhibitor has grossed $126 million since theaters first reopened in China last July — with box office up 28% in December and 140% in January — despite continued capacity limitations across the country and a lack of new Hollywood movies in the market.

The tally represents 44% of the comparable U.S. weekend box office total of $286.7 million from July 2020 through January 2021.

“Given our recent success at the Chinese box office, we suspected our fans would turn out for Chinese New Year in a big way, but these early returns have blown away even our most optimistic projections,” CEO Rich Gelfond said in a statement. “With record-breaking box office, strong market share, and multiple releases filmed in Imax, this is an important milestone on our road to recovery at the global box office and our long, successful history in China.”

For the first time, the Chinese New Year slate featured an additional two Imax releases, including A Writer’s Odyssey, which includes more than an hour of exclusive and expanded aspect ratio content. New Gods: Nezha Reborn” marked the debut of a new animated franchise. All three films scored high with audiences, with Maoyan scores exceeding 8.8.

“Imax is on the leading edge of the strong box office recovery in China, with audiences emerging from the pandemic and seeking out the most immersive theatrical experience in the world,” said Edwin Tan, CEO of Imax China.

Netflix Picks Up China’s ‘The Yin Yang Master’

Netflix may not have a presence in China (due to the Communist government’s restrictions), but the SVOD behemoth is welcome to acquire Chinese content.

The streamer has secured the global exclusive streaming rights (except in China) to The Yin Yang Master. Adapted from the popular mobile game Onmyōji, the Chinese fantasy film reunites Chen Kun and Zhou Xun in their first collaboration in more than eight years. Produced by Chen Kuo-fu and Chang Chia-lu and directed by Li Weiran, The Yin Yang Master will be available exclusively on Netflix in over 190 countries.

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In The Yin Yang Master,  the world is on the verge of a devastating war with the monsters who are coming back to retrieve the Scaling Stone. The life of Yin Yang Master Qingming (Chen Kun) is in danger and he travels to different worlds to prepare for the upcoming assaults. On his journey, Qingming finds that the key to all the calamities is embracing his hybrid identity of both human and monster. In the film, we see Chen Kun and Zhou Xun’s characters Qingming and Bai Ni in a relationship. William Chan plays Ci Mu, portrays a sophisticated character that transforms from good to evil.

Producers Chen Kuo-fu and Chang Chia-lu previously collaborated on feature films, such as Painted Skin: The Resurrection and the “Detective Dee” franchise. Industry artists were brought onto the production to  bring the legendary game to life, including art director Yoshihito Akatsuka (Journey to the West: The Demons Strike BackKill BillSeediq Bale), music composer Shigeru Umebayashi (In the Mood for LoveThe Grandmaster), and Golden Horse Awards and Hong Kong Film Awards winning action choreographer Nicky Li (Shock Wave 2Wolf Warriors). The film boasts grand visual effects and CGI production and re-creates a whole new interpretation of the classic Yin Yang Master story.

Disney’s Bob Iger Wants Chinese Ambassadorship, Politics Responds

NEWS ANALYSIS — News that Walt Disney Executive Chairman Bob Iger is up for being named U.S. Ambassador to China by President-Elect Joe Biden has produced strong pushback from conservative circles, which allege the executive’s cozy relationship with Chinese government officials is the wrong signal for the United States going forward.

Should Iger be named to the position, it would represent a crowning cap to a 46-year corporate career that has seen Disney embrace China across its business segments under Iger and current CEO Bob Chapek.

In addition to operating two amusement parks in China — Shanghai Disneyland and Hong Kong Disneyland — Disney is one of the world’s largest licensing operators, with much of its merchandise manufactured and sold in China.  J.P. Morgan analyst Alexia Quadrani contends that before the coronavirus pandemic, the two amusement parks contributed $1 billion in revenue and about $50 million in operating profit to Disney annually.

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In 2018, about 66 Disney-licensed products were sold in China every second, according to Kermid Rahman, VP and GM of Marvel and Consumer Products Commercialization for The Walt Disney Company Greater China and Korea. Speaking to China Daily, Rahman said the Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars brands worked with more than 600 licensees throughout China.

In Iger’s recently published memoir, The Ride of a Lifetime, the executive recounted myriad interactions with Chinese officials, including President Xi Jinping.

“The creation of the [theme] park was an education in geopolitics, and a constant balancing act between the possibilities of global expansion and the perils of cultural imperialism,” Iger wrote. “The overwhelming challenge, which I repeated to our team so often it became a mantra for everyone working on the project, was to create an experience that was ‘authentically Disney and distinctly Chinese.'”

The latter is what some critics say underscores Disney’s growing subservience to the Chinese government in return for financial gain.

Indeed, on the theatrical side, Disney filmed some of its recent live-action movie Mulan in China’s Xinjiang province, a region where human rights groups allege ethnic Uyghur Muslims have been subjected to abuse by the erstwhile Communist government.

In recent years, Disney-owned ESPN reportedly came under fire for not calling out the NBA’s strained relationship with China regarding a coach’s comments about pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

With the outgoing Trump Administration at odds with China regarding trade, intellectual property and high-tech issues — underscored by a 2019 trade deficit that topped $345 billion — Iger’s potential ambassadorship has been put in the political crosshairs.

Earlier this year, former U.S. Attorney General William Barr warned that “if Disney and other American corporations continue to bow to Beijing, they risk undermining their own future competitiveness and prosperity as well as the classical liberal order that has allowed them to thrive.”

“The Biden administration shouldn’t put Iger — or any other entertainment industry bigwig, for that matter — in charge of diplomatic relations with China,” Sunny Bunch wrote in The Washington Post. 

“Iger … is qualified to negotiate with Beijing, but for all the wrong reasons — cozy ties, long relationships, and tolerance for the government’s terrible conduct,” Emily Jashinsky wrote in The Federalist.

Fox News host Laura Ingraham Dec. 16 suggested Iger’s selection would be keeping with what she alleges will be the Biden Administration’s “soft-on-Beijing policy.”

“The [local] government there got a special thanks credit in the film [Mulan],” Ingraham said.