Insiders have been worrying that the Chinese film industry could be facing a cold summer due to the absence of big hits, And it seems their concerns have come true.
The highly anticipated Hong Kong film "The White Storm 2: Drug Lords" debuted Friday with a 427 million yuan (68.6 million U.S. dollars) opening weekend, ranking second on China’s weekly box office chart.
The weekend's winner was "Spider-Man: Far From Home", which grossed 1.16 billion yuan (170 million U.S. dollars) as of Sunday.
However, compared to its box office success, the Hong Kong film only has 6.3 out of 10 on China's largest film rating website Douban.com, making it the lowest ranked of this week’s top five box office hits, provoking the question: Can Hong Kong cinema return to its glory days?
"The White Storm 2: Drug Lords" was directed by Herman Yau, best known for his Category III horror films in the 1990s but began a new, successful chapter in his career with 2017's blockbuster "Shock Wave". It's a crime thriller film about the global drug trade and is the sequel to the 2013 movie "The White Storm", which was directed by Benny Chan, but does not have any connections besides for theme and lead actor.
The most noticeable and widely discussed part of the film is its casting: The ensemble features superstars Andy Lau, Louis Koo and Michael Miu. But many Chinese netizens say that even the all A-lister headlining could not win back the lost glory of Hong Kong cinema.
The character Yu Shun-tin, as played by Lau, offers a reward of 100 million Hong Kong dollars to take out drug dealer Jizo (Koo). Miu plays Lam Ching-fung, the police officer who is after Jizo, but has to protect him from the gangsters trying to cash in on the bounty.
"The film touches on a problem: Whether the drug dealers have the rights, and whether it is all right for someone to disregard the law as long as he is after a drug dealer. Even in the name of justice, could crime be treated as real justice?" reads a comment on Douban.com.
"It could be a political thriller dealing with tactics, and humanity, but it only ended up a popcorn film with no depth at all," another comment ruefully said.
Others also noticed that the female characters barely feature again.
"Even Hollywood has been overthrowing their stereotypes," complained some fans, "and yet the Hong Kong films have been sticking to old fashioned ways." Most of the fans didn't hesitate to criticize the films, saying that what's limiting Hong Kong films are the cliches – gun battles, drug crackdowns, gambling and gangsters – but the audience has already moved on.
Spider-Man vs. The Lion King: Disney wins again
The only real challenger for "Spider-Man: Far From home", which still occupied the film throne, is "The Lion King", the photorealistic CGI remake of the classic animation film.
No matter which one ends up on top, Disney wins.
"The Lion King" is directed by Jon Favreau, who has a supporting role in "Spider-Man: Far From Home" and previous directed "Iron Man" in 2008, which kicked off the Marvel Studios series of movies, and 2016's "The Jungle Book", which won Best Visual Effects at the 89th Academy Awards in 2017.
The third place is still occupied by Studio Ghibli's "Spirited Away", which has now earned 457 million yuan (66.43 million U.S. dollars) in China, with 75.3 million yuan (10.9 million U.S. dollars) newly added from last week. Not bad for a movie that is almost 20 years old.
In fourth is "The Secret Life of Pets 2", which earned 71.4 million yuan (10.4 million U.S. dollars) in its the first weekend. and then behind that is another Disney animation: "Toy Story 4". Woody and Buzz's latest adventure has now made 195 million yuan (28.3 million U.S. dollars), with 24.8 million yuan (3.6 million U.S. dollars) added last week.
This week's new releases includes "The Rookies", which stars Milla Jovovich, best known for her role as Alice in the Resident Evil movie franchise, which is incredibly popular in China. There is also the anime "Mobile Suit Gundam NT" (Mobile Suit Gundam Narrative in English); it's the latest release in the long running Gundam series but ties into the Universal Century storyline which began in 1979 with the original series. Both films will have their audiences but neither look likely to really take on the titans of Disney.