Japanese animation “Detective Conan: The Scarlet Bullet” led both “Godzilla vs. Kong” and the debut of the 4K remastered “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” this weekend at the China box office.
Although the “Fellowship” re-release should have been a headlining event, the film’s roll-out was bungled when Chinese authorities left just one full day between their Wednesday theatrical approval for the title and its Friday opening.
Cinemas across the country did not receive the digital prints of the film in time, leading to canceled screenings on Friday and Saturday, and refunds for angry viewers who had already bought tickets.
Imax — whose prints arrived even later, since they’d been asked to prepare a new version of the film that exactly matched the standard one — missed a substantial portion of the weekend in most cities altogether.
“Fellowship” ended up coming in fifth with just $4.04 million — a far cry from the opening sales garnered James Cameron’s “Avatar” in its March 12 re-release, which hit $23.7 million including midnight screenings.
While “Avatar” accounted on average for 22% of total screenings nationwide each day of its first weekend, “Fellowship” accounted for less than 5% — highlighting the scale of the problem caused by its late approval.
Chinese authorities’ eleventh hour decision appears strangely self-defeating. The country’s film administration plans these re-releases of popular Hollywood classics to give slower box office periods an upward bump, but last-minute decisions like these dampen the effect of that boost.
In any event, the chaos of the “Lord of the Rings” distribution paved the way for “Detective Conan: The Scarlet Bullet” to shoot to the top.
Directed by Chika Nagaoka and produced by Tokyo-based TMS Entertainment, the film grossed $16.8 million over its three-day opening — more than twice the earnings of “Godzilla” and more than four times those of “Fellowship.” “The Scarlet Bullet” hit China day-and-date with Japan, after being pushed back from its original release date last April due to COVID-19.
The film is the 24th installment in the “Case Closed” franchise — adaptations of the eponymous manga series by Gosho Aoyama, which are very popular in China. Its story remains as current as it would have last year: in the film, Conan must solve the mystery of a disaster that strikes the venue where Japan is preparing to host the Summer Olympics, now delayed in real life until this July.
Local drama “Sister” came in second with $9.77 million. It examines gender discrimination in family dynamics through the eyes of a young girl who must take care of her brother after their parents suddenly die in a car crash, and has now grossed $119 million since April 2.
“Godzilla vs. Kong” stomped into third at $6.97 million this week, bringing its China cume thus far up to $178 million.
In fourth was the romantic drama “August Never Ends,” which debuted to $6.11 million. It stars Elane Zhong Chuxi (Feng Xiaogang’s “Youth”) and popular TV actress Tan Songyun (“Empresses in the Palace”), who play best friends whose relationship is complicated when a man comes between them. It is directed by Li Kai, who had a small acting role in Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and has since gone on to write and direct, with 2012’s “Crazy Foolish Thieves” becoming his most commercially successful.
Local animation “Monkey King Reborn” was sixth, grossing $1.36 million. No other titles earned more than $1 million.