'Mermaid' takes crown of highest grossing Chinese film

The Chinese science fiction romantic comedy "Mermaid" is truly "invincible" as it has become the highest grossing Chinese film ever in a record time.

The film, directed by Stephen Chow and starring Deng Chao, Show Lo, Zhang Yuqi, and newbie actress Lin Yun, took in 2.45 billion yuan (US$375.58 million) by 6:00 p.m. on Friday, officially surpassing "Monster Hunt."

This film, directed by Raman Hui, Hong Kong animator and DreamWorks Animation employee, grossed 2.439 billion yuan (US$374 million) in a two-month period last year, and raised the standard to a whole new level for Chinese home-made films.

Before its debut, it was said the distributors had bet "Mermaid" would gross an astronomical 2 billion yuan, but its actual performance showed this figure was far too conservative as a benchmark figure for the film industry

It was released in China on Feb. 8, Chinese lunar New Year's Day facing stiff competition from rival blockbusters "The Man from Macao III" and "The Monkey King 2." However, it broke almost all box office records such as the biggest opening day and the biggest single day gross through its seventh day of release, as well as the biggest opening week of all time in China, with new landmarks appearing each day within hours of each other.

The film tells a story of a playboy businessman (Deng Chao) who falls in love with a mermaid (Lin Yun) that had been sent to assassinate him. The film received generally positive reviews though some critics were hard on it, calling it "trash" with old and cliche tricks and no groundbreaking progress evident in Chow's artistic evolvement.

Clearly, however, audiences love Chow's effort more than critics and the box office performance speaks for itself.

It grossed more than 230 million yuan a day during the Spring Festival, and even since it has continued to earn more than 100 million yuan on ordinary working days, which has never happened before.

The Golden Week of the Spring Festival ended on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, when "Mermaid" proclaimed it has grossed more than 300 million yuan (US$46.02 million) thanks to a romantic theater rush. This was even more than its opening day and created a new one-day box office record for any Chinese film.

Chow had already built up a reputation as one of best comedians in the Chinese world. A lot more of Chow's previous comedies were never screened on the mainland, but generations of fans grew up with his films from VHS video tapes, and DVDs, even the pirated ones. Fans applauded him as the "King of Comedy" after he made a tragicomedy film with such a title in 1999.

Chow was absent from the big screen for three years as he focused on making this new film. His previous film, "Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons" (2013) made box office history as the highest grossing film released during the lunar New Year holiday and remains one of the top grossing films of all time, with domestic revenue of US$189.75 million and a worldwide total of US$215 million. A sequel should be ready probably for the next Spring Festival with Chow producing and the legendary Tsui Hark directing.

"Mermaid" along with "The Man from Macao III" and "The Monkey King 2" also helped the Chinese box office break the world record for the biggest box office week with US$556.38 million from Feb. 8–14, 2016. The previous record was set during the week of Dec. 26, 2015 – Jan. 1, 2016 when "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" led the box office with US$261 million and total revenues for films that week reached US$529.6 million.

It is hard to tell how high "Mermaid" will go or whether the film will also achieve a two-month first run like "Monster Hunt" did, but it is highly probable to be the first Chinese film to cross the 3 billion yuan mark in ticket sales and create the peak the industry had never expected to see so soon.

Industry observers predict the box office achievement will be very hard to top for a while and the next film that may join the 2-billion-yuan club is possibly "The Great Wall" by Zhang Yimou, or a film from Stephen Chow himself.

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