The First Foreign Film to Hit China in Weeks? A British Christmas Movie About a Cat

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The first import to break through China’s nearly two-month political moratorium on foreign films apparently won’t be “Black Widow” or “Space Jam: A New Legacy.” Instead, Beijing is opening its doors to an unlikely contender for August: a little-known British Christmas film about a cat.

A Christmas Gift From Bob” — a seasonal, feel-good sequel to the uplifting 2016 biographical drama “A Street Cat Named Bob” — will hit Chinese screens on Aug. 6. The first film told the real-life story of how busker and recovering addict James Bowen turned his life around after befriending a stray cat, and was based on Bowen’s memoirs. The second finds Bowen fighting to keep Bob by his side after the local authorities attempt to take the cat away during Christmas.

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“Gift From Bob” counts Chinese firm DDDream amongst its backers, with the company’s Yang Yiwen listed as an executive producer. It is directed by Charles Martin Smith, who also helmed a different animal story made with Chinese finance in 2019: “A Dog’s Way Home” starring Ashley Judd and Bryce Dallace Howard, which was backed by China’s Bona Film. It grossed $5.4 million in China.

In June, China began paving the way for homegrown nationalist movies premiering in July by clearing the release schedule of big Hollywood tentpoles that could challenge those political films at the box office. The last foreign imports to hit theaters were Oscar-winning ”The Father” and Thai drama “Happy Old Year,” which both debuted June 18, seven weeks before “A Christmas Gift From Bob” will hit screens.

“Gift From Bob” released in seven countries last November and December to gross a mere $485,000 worldwide amidst the pandemic, just $19,000 of which came from the U.K.

No matter what its popularity, it will assuredly earn more in China, where the market has rebounded from COVID-19 many months ago. “Gift From Bob” will be helped along by the addition of China-friendly elements: a new girlfriend for the main character of Asian descent, and a fleeting cameo from a new Chinese character who does not appear in the version of the film shown last winter.

The trailer released last year as the movie debuted in Europe features a scene where a racially diverse group of well-wishers crowd around Bowen while he’s busking in the snow. Two older women wish him Merry Christmas as they hand him Christmas cards.

In the China version of trailer, the only one wishing Bowen well is a young Chinese boy in a red fur-lined parka, who proffers a bright red scarf dotted with pandas with both hands to Bowen and says in accented English “Hello from China.” (Inexplicably, the line is translated in the Chinese subtitles as “These are pandas from China.”) Bowen then turns to Bob to let the cat give it a sniff, asking: “What do you think, do you like it?”

Perhaps in deference to the season, the China trailer has also removed a title card that reads “Packed with Christmas Spirit.”

The original “A Street Cat Named Bob” movie released in China in 2018, two years after its initial debut. According to data from Maoyan, it grossed $8.2 million in the territory, half of what the platform lists as its global gross — and a hundred times more than what Box Office Mojo stats show it earned in Britain ($83,000).

“A Christmas Gift From Bob” will premiere in China alongside “Bigfoot Family,” a 2020 French-Belgian animated drama targeting young viewers.

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