Half Billion Dollar Haul for ‘Battle at Lake Changjin’ as Patriotic Holiday Propels China Box Office

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Cinema box office in China hit RMB4.2 billion ($651 million) over the seven-day National Holiday period, according to government sources on Friday.

By far the top title was “The Battle at Lake Changjin,” which had grossed RMB3.50 billion ($543 million) by 5pm local time on Friday, its ninth day of release. In second place over the holiday period was “My Country, My Parents” with RMB1,08 billion ($167 million).

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Like “Battle,” “Parents” was released on Sept. 30, a day before the Oct. 1 festivities which celebrate the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, and kick off a prolonged official holiday, also known as ‘Golden Week.’

The total is 5% short of the RMB4.4 billion recorded in 2019, the last year before the coronavirus pandemic disrupted the global film industry. Including the weekend preceding the 2019 official holiday, the ten-day total in 2019 was RMB5 billion.

A key difference is that 2019 benefited from the release of three blockbusters – “My People, My Country,” “The Captain,” and “The Climbers” – which each comfortably exceeded $100 million.

As of Oct. 3, consultancy Artisan Gateway had shown China’s year to date box office at $5.66 billion, a 27% deficit compared with 2019.

The astonishing haul by “Changjin” makes it the third biggest film of this year in China, behind Chinese New Year holiday titles “Hi, Mom” and “Detective Chinatown 3.”

And in just nine days of release “Changjin” has become the eighth biggest film ever released in China. The absolute record of RMB5.69 billion ($882 million at current exchange rates) belongs to 2017 fictional war film “Wolf Warrior 2.”

Ticketing agency, Maoyan is forecasting that “Changjin” will achieve a lifetime score of RMB5.5 billion. Other sources suggest it can go higher and become the all-time champion.

The current trajectory certainly sees “Changjin” overtake sixth placed “Avengers: Endgame” which is the highest grossing foreign film in the Middle Kingdom, with a RMB4.25 billion ($659 million at current exchange rates) total.

Both “Changjin” and “Parents” are typical of the trend towards nationalistic and patriotic fare that is being produced in large quantities, at government behest, by private sector and state-owned studios alike.

“Changjin” documents an early chapter in the Korean War (1950-1955), when a poorly-armed group of soldiers from the Chinese People’s Volunteers force were fighting American-led United Nations troops.

These big-budget, so-called ‘main melody’ titles feed a current narrative of China’s growing power and elevated global position. These are used to compare muscular and decisive China with a decaying and hesitant U.S. that is said to have: been defeated in Afghanistan; been diplomatically outfoxed in the case of Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou; failed at tackling coronavirus; and is unwilling to admit that it is no longer the world’s only superpower.

The state-owned tabloid newspaper this week crowed that the film “pushes Chinese patriotism to the peak.” “ ‘The Battle at Lake Changjin,’ whose box office is expected to be the largest in Chinese film history, has pushed the patriotic sentiment of people across the country to a peak mid the tense China-U.S. competition and China’s effective control of the epidemic,” it said

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