China Box Office: Social Drama ‘Dying to Survive’ Earns Heroic $200M in Four Days

Some local analysts now believe the film has a shot of unseating Wu Jing’s ‘Wolf Warrior 2’ ($870 million) as China’s biggest box-office hit ever.

Chinese drama Dying to Survive opened to an astonishing $200 million over a long four-day weekend in the Middle Kingdom. The huge total out of China, which includes some large-scale preview screenings, easily dwarfed the $76 million debut of Marvel and Disney’s Ant-Man and the Wasp in the U.S.

Widely hailed as both a creative and commercial breakthrough for the Chinese industry, Dying to Survive is directed by newcomer Wen Muye and produced by local hitmaker Ning Hao. Based on real events, the film tells the story of a shady health supplements supplier — played by comedy favorite Xu Zheng (Lost in Thailand) — who smuggles generic drugs from India to sell to leukemia patients who can’t afford the wildly expensive official medication in China. Initially driven by quick profits, the smuggler’s motives evolve as he realizes how desperately his customers need help (more on the backstory here).

Dying to Survive has earned the highest scores China’s reviews aggregators have ever awarded to a local film. Among Douban’s notoriously fickle reviewer community, the film has scored 9/10 (by comparison, Avengers: Infinity War is rated 8.2/10 and Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom is 6.9/10). On the more mainstream ticketing platform Maoyan, Dying to Survive has near-perfect rating of 9.7/10.

Imax saw opportunity in Dying to Survive even though the title is conspicuously light on visual effects and large-scale set pieces. The film opened to a solid $5.7 million from 532 Imax screens.

Maoyan currently estimates that Dying to Survive will earn over $600 million. Some local box-office analysts even believe the film has a solid shot of unseating Wu Jing’s military action flick Wolf Warrior 2 ($870 million) as China’s all-time box office champion.

Dying to Survive is produced by Ning Hao’s production banner Dirty Monkey Films and distributed by Beijing Culture, the same studio behind Wolf Warrior 2. Alibaba’s ticketing service Tao Piaopiao served as an online marketing partner. 

Thanks to the winner-take-all nature of China’s theatrical market, all of the other films on release were left scrambling for limited screen share.

Animated comedy sequel New Happy Dad and Son 3: Adventure in Russia was the top counter-programming option, earning $10.5 million over three days.

Han Yan’s effects-heavy youth thriller Animal World slipped dramatically to third place, adding $8.8 million for a two-weekend total of $64.3 million. The film, which co-stars Michael Douglas, has won rave reviews and likely would have been a substantial second-weekend earner in Dying to Survive‘s absence.

Hollywood holdovers Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and The Incredibles 2 both managed to squeak out some minor adds to their sizable totals, taking $5.5 million and $3.3 million, respectively. Universal and Legendary’s Fallen Kingdom sits $245 million after 45 days in China, while Incredibles 2 has $47.9 million from 17 days on release.

Friday will see the release of two additional Chinese tentpoles: Jiang Wen’s much-anticipated period action film Hidden Man (co-financed by Warner Bros.) and Alibaba’s fantasy action epic Asura, reportedly produced for $100 million. The producers of both titles are no doubt eying their openings nervously, given Dying to Survive‘s phenomenal momentum.

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