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“Detective Chinatown 3” is Breaking Box Office Records Despite Bad Reviews

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Although this Spring Festival holiday has been a little different in China — with “the world’s largest annual human migration” decidedly smaller than usual due to Covid-19 related travel restrictions — the country’s box office is at least showing some signs of normalcy. At least, it’s showing signs of breaking records, which these days tends to pass for normal at this time of year. How those records are being broken is a bit more unusual.

Seeing box office records smashed during the Lunar New Year holiday isn’t usually enough to raise too many eyebrows but this year we’re seeing not one but two films absolutely destroying records. Both family time travel comedy Hi, Mom and slapstick action adventure Detective Chinatown 3 are on course for massive box office takes, even while the latter gets slammed on reviews site Douban.

Related:

Film and TV in 2021: What Will China Be Watching?

Detective Chinatown 3 smashed the China box office weekend record previously held by Avengers: Endgame after taking in a whopping 424 million USD over its opening three days. The figures appear to have vindicated the decision to delay the film’s release by an entire year after 2020’s Spring Festival box office was decimated by Covid-19.

Variety put those mind-boggling numbers in some interesting context: “In three days, ‘Detective Chinatown 3’ made over $100 million more than did Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” worldwide, and nearly triple the global sales of ‘Wonder Woman 1984.'”

Meanwhile, Hi, Mom has emerged as this year’s dark horse at the Spring Festival box office. The film has earned writer and star Jia Ling top spot among China’s highest-grossing movies led by a female director after taking 161 million USD on its opening weekend.

Despite numerous pandemic-related restrictions still in place in many theaters across the country — including alternate seating and mandatory face coverings — China’s box office broke 1 billion RMB (155 million USD) a day consecutively for the first three days of the Lunar New Year holiday, the first time such a feat has been realized.

Both Hi, Mom and Detective Chinatown 3 may now be eyeing up the overall box office record of Avengers: Endgame, which stands at 629 million USD and would take either movie into China’s all-time top three behind The Wandering Earth and Wolf Warrior 2.

The extraordinary box office performance comes even as Detective Chinatown 3 continues to get panned on notoriously hard-to-please user ratings site Douban. At time of writing, the film has a score of 5.7 out of 10 there, putting it into Disney’s Mulan territory on the platform.

While one of the most uprated reviews on Douban includes the poo emoji, others blast the movie as “boring” and compare it unfavorably with the Spring Festival Gala. One pithy write-up provides a breakdown of the film’s 136 minute run-time: “110 minutes of running around, 15 minutes of the parents’ story, 10 minutes of deduction, + 1 minute of ads.”

The Douban score for the film even became a trending hashtag in its own right on Chinese social media during the first few days of the nationwide holiday. As some accused the platform’s users of snobbery, others felt the movie’s box office success showed just how bored people were this Spring Festival, after many in the country opted to stay put rather than travel due to fears around Covid-19.

For a whole host of films to watch to better understand China, most of which are far more entertaining than Detective Chinatown 3, check out our run-down here:

100 Films to Watch to Help You Understand China

Cover image: promotional shot for Detective Chinatown 3

Jake Newby
Jake Newby is a Shanghai-based writer and editor with more than a decade's experience living and working in China. Previously managing editor of RADII and Time Out Shanghai, he's also written for the Associated Press, The Wire, the Financial Times and more.