Martial arts spectacular “Ip Man 4: The Finale” was the no-contest winner at the Chinese box office over the weekend. “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” while doing great business in the rest of the world, limped into third spot in China.
The Wilson Yip-directed historical action film “Ip Man 4” sees Donnie Yen as the eponymous kung fu teacher, and mentor to Bruce Lee, journeying to the U.S. where his pupil has upset the local order by opening a school devoted to the Wing Chun branch of the sport. In addition to being the supposed closing element of the hit franchise, the film is an excuse to pitch Yen against Western brawler Scott Adkins.
“Ip Man 4” dealt knockout blows every day from Friday through Sunday, accumulating some $43 million according to provisional data from local sources. That was roughly 45% of the nationwide box office total.
In second place was Chinese-made thriller “Sheep Without A Shepherd.” It scored $22.3 million, for a 10-day cumulative of $77 million.
Feng Xiaogang’s tear-jerking New Zealand-set road trip “Only Cloud Knows” and “Skywalker,” both new releases, duked it out for third place. “Cloud” came out higher on Friday and Sunday, but was narrowly beaten on Saturday by “Skywalker,” which also had bigger previews. “Cloud” floated a $10.7 million estimated score for the full weekend. “Skywalker” managed $8.73 million in normal sessions, but with the addition of previews on Wednesday and midnight screenings late Thursday, rang up an estimated $12.1 million cumulative by the end of Sunday screenings.
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That is far, far away the weakest opening performance of any of the recent “Star Wars” films in China. And its lifetime total won’t come close to any of the others in the franchise.
Online ticketing agency Maoyan slightly upgraded its forecast of the film’s final total, from $18 million on Friday to $22 million by Sunday. That compares with a lifetime score of $126 million in 2015 for “The Force Awakens”; $69.4 million for “Rogue One” in 2016; and $42.6 million for “The Last Jedi.”
The early “Star Wars” films were not released in China in the same cycle as in the West, and Chinese film-goers have not been steeped in the franchise’s lore and legend. That, more than poor reviews, seems to have limited the film.
“Skywalker” earned average ratings on China’s film websites: 6.0 out of 10 on entertainment driven social media platform Douban, 7.3 on Mtime, 7.8 on Maoyan and 8.0 on rival ticketing platform Taopiaopiao. Those were only a few notches behind “Ip Man 4,” which had ratings of 7.3 on Douban, 7.4 on Mtime, 9.5 on Maoyan and 9.3 on Taopiaopiao.
In October, it was announced that Disney and Tencent-owned China Literature would soon release a “Star Wars” novel specifically for China, featuring “Chinese-style expression.” It is not clear that will be enough to revive the film franchise in the Middle Kingdom, which is now beginning to discover its own sci-fi movies.