"Ne Zha," now China's top-grossing animated film, features a popular young hero in Chinese legends and literature. (Xinhua/courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment)
by Xinhua writer Gao Shan
LOS ANGELES, Sept. 5 (Xinhua) -- China's animated box-office juggernaut, "Ne Zha," has garnered worldwide attention in the wake of its record-smashing performance in China and this has caused it to break out in its limited run in North America, said a U.S. box-office expert on Wednesday.
Movie analyst Paul Dergarabedian at U.S. media measurement and analytics company Comscore told Xinhua in an interview that the North American debut of the fantasy film was an IMAX-powered event that made it a "must-see" movie theatre event for cinema lovers. With more than 20 years experience in the field, Dergarabedian is one of the movie industry's most recognized and widely-quoted experts for media-based information and analysis.
Directed and written by Yang Yu (aka Jiao Zi, meaning dumpling) in his feature film directorial debut, the home-grown animation features a popular young hero in Chinese legends and literature such as the literary classic "Journey to the West."
Data from the China Movie Data Information Network as of Monday showed that "Ne Zha" grossed a whopping 4.7 billion yuan (around 654 million U.S. dollars) in the 39 days since its July 26 debut on the Chinese mainland.
"Ne Zha," now China's top-grossing animated film, has risen to the second place on the box office chart covering all the films ever screened on the Chinese mainland, second only to 2017's Chinese action film, "Wolf Warrior 2" (5.68 billion yuan).
Well Go USA Entertainment released "Ne Zha" in Mandarin with English and Chinese subtitles in select 3D IMAX theaters across the United States and Canada on Aug. 29, to be followed by other theaters this Friday. The film brought in 1.486 million dollars from 66 locations over its Thursday-Monday debut with a strong 22,528 U.S. dollars per-theater average, according to studio figures collected by Comscore.
"The success of the film is very encouraging," said Dergarabedian, "However, this was a strategically-planned limited release in just 66 locations and it's hard to say if the film could find a nationwide audience if it were expanded onto a significant number of screens."
The expert noted that its performance is very encouraging and shows that great films can find an enthusiastic audience no matter where they are made or released in the world if the marketing, release date and, above all, release strategy is handled properly, as was done in this instance with "Ne Zha."
Jason Pfardrescher, executive vice president of Well Go USA, told Xinhua last week that the company had lofty expectations for the North American release of "Ne Zha," adding that the film has potential to reach a box office of 10 million U.S. dollars in North America.
"The Wandering Earth" grossed 5.87 million U.S. dollars in North America earlier this year, becoming the highest-grossing Chinese film in the region in the last five years.
Some American moviegoers complained that it's difficult to enjoy a foreign language movie while reading English subtitles. Dergarabedian said for true breakout success in North America, it's an open question as to whether creating an English language version would inspire more mainstream popularity or whether the appeal comes from keeping these films in their original form without alteration.
"The Chinese film industry has enjoyed massive growth over the years," said Dergarabedian.
"China remains the second biggest movie market in the world and has produced some of the highest-grossing movies worldwide in any given year and, impressively, most of those have achieved that success without even having been released outside of their home market," he added.
"Hollywood has certainly provided the model on which many countries have based their film industry, and China has consistently created filmed content that connects with people who are passionate about movies," he noted.