CZ12’s Massive Opening Marks a Massive Shift in China’s Film Business

December 21, 2012

On Thursday Jackie Chan’s and Huayi Bros’ action-comedy film CZ12 (formerly known as Chinese Zodiac) confirmed a reality that should strike fear in the hearts of Hollywood’s studio executives: China doesn’t need Hollywood films to break box office records.

One-man band Chan, who wrote, directed, produced and DP’d the $50 million CZ12, has exceeded all expectations by delivering a film that set a new December single day record in China with 43 million RMB (US $6.8 million) on Thursday, adding fuel to an already blazing hot month at PRC multiplexes. Last week China set an all-time single-week revenue record, and this week is on track to break that record.

CZ12 follows on the heels of smash Chinese hit Lost in Thailand, which will pass $100 million in its first two weeks and should easily eclipse $160 million by the end of its run (my Chinese colleague Firedeep was the first to go on record with a prediction that the film’s gross will exceed $200 million). That will make it the second highest grossing film in China’s history after Avatar. With its lower ticket prices, Lost in Thailand will actually beat Avatar’s record for total admissions.

Although I haven’t yet seen it, CZ12 gets my vote as the film most likely to break out from China and become an international hit. Release dates are lined up in Russia, South Korea, Malaysia, Vietnam, and all over Greater China, and a U.S. release now seems likely.

Just as Detroit mocked the clunky little imported Toyota cars from Japan in the 1950s and RCA, Magnavox and Zenith (remember them?) ignored Sony’s little transistor radios in the 1960s, Hollywood has so far done little to protect its position vis a vis China as the world’s leading provider of movies.

To be sure, China has a long way to go, but if Hollywood had any common sense it would be sending legions of smart, China-savvy execs and producers to the PRC to figure out how to make movies there and profit over the long run. Instead Hollywood has yielded that advantage to the Hong Kongers and South Koreans, who are now much better positioned to ride the China wave and profit there than Hollywood may ever be.

There is still time for the major U.S. studios to counteract the competitive threat from China, but the success of films like Lost in Thailand and CZ12 ought to be viewed as the first shots across the bow of Hollywood’s global hegemony.

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