China’s latest fantasy epic, “Asura,” claimed to be the most expensive domestic production to date — but it didn’t even last three days in cinemas.
Six years in the making, the film was planned as the first of a trilogy based on ancient Tibetan mythology. The Alibaba Pictures production promised lush CGI from an award-winning, international team in its depiction of war between two heavenly realms. Marketing campaigns for the film emphasized its budget of $100 million.
But after opening on Friday, the film made a mere $7.1 million over its first weekend. By contrast, “Hidden Man,” a highly anticipated action-thriller by actor and director Jiang Wen, brought in $46.5 million. Meanwhile “Dying to Survive,” a dark comedy about cancer drug smuggling operations, defended its box office lead, racking up $68.5 million on its second weekend and even prompting a spike in online insurance sales.
Aggregate user ratings of “Asura” varied wildly across China’s two biggest ticketing platforms, Tencent-funded Maoyan and Alibaba-owned Tao Piaopiao, earning 4.9 and 8.4 out of 10, respectively. Users of review platform Douban rated the film a miserable 3.1 out of 10.
Following its weak opening, the film’s investors intervened. On Sunday, a statement posted to the movie’s social media pages announced without further explanation that investors had decided to pull the film out of cinemas nationwide.
Producers had earlier blamed the poor ratings and opening performance on the dark hand of “water armies” — paid online commenters — evident in the huge discrepancy between ticket platform reviews. But the Hollywood Reporter pointed to unusually strong competition, low audience interest, and poor marketing as obvious factors.
Producers complaining about reviews is nothing new. In 2016, one of the production companies behind Zhang Yimou’s big-budget blockbuster “The Great Wall” lashed out at critics for their poor reviews of the movie. (The production budget for “The Great Wall” was reportedly $150 million — higher than for “Asura” — but it was a U.S.-China co-production.)
On microblog platform Weibo, users criticized the producers’ poor choice of opening date and lack of promotion, in addition to lamenting all the time and resources that had been wasted on the production.
“It’s amazing that a film with so much investment behind it can fail to offer viewers a selling point, be barely known, and get panned online the moment it opens in cinemas,” reads the most-upvoted Weibo comment under the announcement that the film would be pulled. “Actors have already done the best they can do; the rest is the responsibility of you producers.”
Editor: Qian Jinghua.
(Header image: Actors and actresses promote the film ‘Asura’ in Wuhan, Hubei province, July 10, 2018. VCG)