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A lot has been made in recent years about just how important China's movie business is becoming. However, growth like that is bound to come with its own growing pains. In this case, China has apparently found itself with its first big-budget box office flop. A film called Asura, which is reported to be the most expensive movie in Chinese history had such a bad opening that it's already been pulled from theaters.
Asura is a Chinese fantasy epic that is reported to have cost $110 million to produce. Unfortunately, the movie only succeeded in bringing in a minuscule $7.1 million in ticket sales over its opening weekend. This led the producers to take the drastic measure of pulling the movie from theaters on Sunday evening.
Asura is based on ancient Tibetan mythology and was expected to be the first in a fantasy franchise, something akin to China's Lord of the Rings, but certainly, that entire plan is on hold at best, and more than likely completely scrapped.
While China is a nation that, on more than one occasion, has lifted western films that looked like bombs and helped their global box office recover, it turns out China can make movies that bomb just as hard. It's probably something of a filmmaking rite of passage to make a really expensive movie that nobody wants to see. Some of Hollywood's greatest filmmakers have done it on one occasion or another. It's certainly no indication of the film's actual quality or the state of the Chinese film industry.
The exact reason that Asura has performed so poorly isn't clear. According to The Hollywood Reporter, producers believe there has been a coordinated campaign to tank the film's reviews. China has online sites similar to Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic, and just as there have been times when it appears that internet trolls have attempted to artificially drop review averages here, it seems the same thing can happen in China. Regardless of the state of review scores, it appears the film just didn't have the necessary audience interest going into its release.
It also had significant competition from a pair of Chinese films. Dying to Survive had been released the previous week and was already a solid hit that drew significantly in its second weekend. Hidden Man is the new movie both directed by and starring Jiang Wen, known to western audiences as Baze Malbus from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which was much more highly anticipated by audiences.
It seems that even in a country the size of China you can't always get enough people interested in your movie to make it a success. It's a lesson we know well on this side of the ocean.