'Warlords' rakes in $14 million in opening weekend in Asia's cinemas

HONG KONG, Chinese cinema's main Christmas offering, "The Warlords," has raked in US$14 million across Asia in its opening weekend, including US$12.2 million in mainland China, where it faced no major Hollywood competition.

The US$40 million production starring Jet Li made US$1.1 million in Hong Kong Thursday through Sunday; US$685,000 in Singapore; US$300,000 in Malaysia and US$192,300 in Indonesia, according to figures issued Tuesday by Hong Kong film company Media Asia, an investor in the film.

Making US$12.2 million in China in four days is a stellar result. A film that grosses US$20 million in total is considered a big hit.

By comparison, the Hollywood movie "Transformers" made more than US$13.5 million in its first week in China earlier this year, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. "Spider-Man 3" made US$11.5 million in a week in China, according to Sony Pictures.

Yu Dong, chief executive of the movie's Chinese distributor, Polybona Film Distribution Co., said in a phone interview he expects the film to surpass the 200 million Chinese yuan (US$27 million) mark — a feat only achieved by famed Chinese director Zhang Yimou.

Zhang's "Hero" made 250 million yuan in 2002 and "Curse of the Golden Flower" hit 280 million yuan in 2006.

Yu said he has issued more than 1,000 copies of "The Warlords" in China — a wide release for a country which has more than 3,400 screens.

"The Warlords" will face some competition starting on Dec. 20, when Feng Xiaogang, one of China's most successful commercial directors, releases his new war movie "Assembly."

But "Assembly" is a smaller production and doesn't boast any major stars.

"The Warlords," also starring Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro, opened amid reports that China has decided to ban foreign movies for three months. China often blocks foreign films to protect local productions.

Chinese film officials have denied the ban, saying they are still reviewing Hollywood movies for import, but acknowledged that China won't be showing any more major Hollywood movies this year — which cleared the way for "The Warlords" to be shown without facing any major American competition.

China only allows about 20 foreign films to be imported each year if movie studios get a cut of the box office revenue, instead of selling distribution rights for a flat fee. It's unclear how many films it allows in under the flat fee model.

Major Hollywood studios, however, prefer the revenue-sharing model, which would boost their profits if the movie is a big hit.

"The Warlords," directed by Hong Kong's Peter Chan, is Chinese cinema's latest historical epic — currently the dominant genre in the market. It follows the breakdown of the friendship between three mercenaries during civil unrest in 19th century China.

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