The global box office enjoyed a long overdue blockbuster weekend, with James Bond installment No Time To Die rocketing to $119.1 million from 54 markets and Venom: Let There Be Carnage opening to a pandemic-best $90.1 million at the domestic box office.
But the truly enormous business was happening over in China, where local war epic The Battle at Lake Changjin made an explosive opening during the country’s long National Day holiday weekend, earning $235 million from Thursday to Sunday (from Friday to Sunday, it totaled $203.2 million). Bringing additional energy to the Chinese multiplex, the patriotic ensemble film My Country, My Parents opened in second place with a healthy $90.6 million during the same stretch, according to data from Artisan Gateway.
The National Day holiday period, running Oct. 1-7, is one of China’s biggest box-office windows of the year. With several days still to go, local analysts are forecasting further heavy holiday sales for the two tentpoles. Chinese ticketing app and data company Maoyan is currently projecting The Battle at Lake Changjin to finish its run with a total of approximately $785 million, which would make it the third-biggest film in Chinese box office history. My Country, My Parents, meanwhile, is pegged to top out at $245 million.
The Battle at Lake Changjin is a rare co-directorial effort, uniting A-list Chinese filmmakers Chen Kaige, Hark Tsui and Dante Lam at the helm. Produced by Bona Film Group and state-backed film companies Shanghai Film Group and Huaxia, the title is believed to be China’s most expensive film ever made, with a production budget of over $200 million. The film also stars China’s most bankable leading man, Wu Jing of Wolf Warrior 2 fame, along with twenty-year-old rising star Jackson Yee, the breakout lead of the Oscar-nominated Better Days (2020) and A Little Red Flower (2020).
A gritty battlefield actioner, the film is in keeping with the nationalistic tone of recent tentpole Chinese filmmaking. The film glorifies Chinese sacrifices and heroism during the real-life, 1950 Battle at Lake Changjin during the Korean War (or “the War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea,” as it is known in China). A crucial victory for the Chinese side, the historic battle saw the PLA overcome long odds to successfully blow up the Shuimen Bridge and push U.S. military forces into retreat.
The Battle at Lake Changjin has generated strong scores with Chinese filmgoers — 9.5 on Maoyan and 7.6 on Douban — driving the big forecasts for the film’s career run.
My Country, My Parents is the third installment in a series of patriotic ensemble films that began with 2019’s My People, My Country, followed by 2020’s My People, My Homeland. The new film is falling short of its predecessors, however, as the first installment earned $425 million and the second brought in $433 million.
Like its predecessors, My Country, My Parents aims to tell a series of charming stories of ordinary Chinese life, stirring a sense of pride in Chinese culture. The franchise’s patriotic messaging gets a big lift starry casts and big-name Chinese directors. My Country, My Parents is comprised of four vignettes, each helmed by an A-list actor/director, including Wolf Warrior‘s Wu Jing; actress Zhang Ziyi (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) in her directorial debut; comedy hitmaker Xu Zheng (star of Dying to Survive, 2018, $451 million), and comedy actor turned director Shen Teng (most recently seen in Hi, Mom, which earned $822 million earlier this year).
Several smaller Chinese titles opened opened offer National Day but none of managed to cruise very successfully in the wake of the two leading blockbusters. Children’s animation Dear Tutu: Operation T-Rex and adventure film Little Canned Men both earned $3.5 million for the weekend by catering to the family crowd. Fellow kids animation Gold Beak, also produced locally in China, came in a notch below with $2.7 million.
The first major Hollywood title to open in China once the holiday period wraps up will be Denis Villeneuve’s space opera Dune, produced by Legendary Entertainment and Warner Bros., on Oct. 22.