Why Crazy Rich Asians flopped in China

Asians in a ro­man­tic com­edy are noth­ing new here — and piracy and tepid lo­cal buzz didn’t help it


Crazy Rich Asians was a mas­sive hit in the U.S. when it opened this sum­mer, thanks to the ro­man­tic com­edy’s ground­break­ing cast­ing, stel­lar re­views and feel-good story. But the movie barely reg­is­tered in China when it fi­nally opened there last week­end.

The $30-mil­lion (U.S.) Warner Bros. re­lease, di­rected by Jon M. Chu, opened with a mea­gre $1.1 mil­lion in main­land China, rank­ing in eighth place dur­ing the week­end, ac­cord­ing to box of­fice data firm Ent Group.

It’s a dis­ap­point­ing re­sult for the film, which takes place in Sin­ga­pore and Malaysia and fea­tures a cast al­most en­tirely com­posed of Asian and Asian-Amer­i­can ac­tors. China is by far the most im­por­tant for­eign coun­try for Hol­ly­wood stu­dios, rep­re­sent­ing the sec­ond­largest box-of­fice mar­ket in the world, be­hind the U.S. and Canada. There’s no deny­ing that Crazy Rich Asians is still a highly prof­itable suc­cess, hav­ing col­lected $238 mil­lion in global re­ceipts, in­clud­ing $174 mil­lion in the U.S. and Canada. But mul­ti­ple fac­tors ex­plain why au­di­ences in China didn’t turn out for the movie.


The stu­dio strug­gled for months to even get the movie shown in the coun­try, where the gov­ern­ment heav­ily reg­u­lates what films are shown in the­atres and frowns on de­pic­tions of gra­tu­itous wealth. When Crazy Rich Asians fi­nally opened in China, it had been more than three months since it pre­miered in U.S. the­atres, and it was al­ready avail­able through dig­i­tal re­tail­ers such as iTunes, Ama­zon and Google Play.

That means any­one in China who wanted to see the film had am­ple time to do so through piracy, which re­mains a ma­jor is­sue for stu­dios in the coun­try.

“If you have a movie peo­ple want to see and they don’t have ac­cess to it legally, they are go­ing to find other ways to see it,” said Rance Pow, founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of cinema con­sult­ing firm Ar­ti­san Gate­way. “That lag prob­a­bly hurt Crazy Rich Asians.”

On­line re­views

An­a­lysts also blamed the poor per­for­mance on neg­a­tive au­di­ence re­views for the film in China. Users of the Chi­nese film in­for­ma­tion web­site Douban, known as a hub for cinephiles, gave the movie a lack­lus­tre rat­ing of 6.2 out of 10.

Some on­line com­menters in China took is­sue with the por­trayal of Chi­nese fam­ily con­cerns in Crazy Rich Asians. The film’s cen­tral con­flict hangs on Michelle Yeoh’s dis­ap­prov­ing mother char­ac­ter, who goes to ex­tremes to pre­vent her son from mar­ry­ing a Chi­nese-Amer­i­can economist. Many found the story line too stereo­typ­i­cal, ac­cord­ing to lo­cal me­dia.

“Chi­nese fam­ily dy­nam­ics are not what is por­trayed in the film,” said one user of the so­cial me­dia site Weibo, ac­cord­ing to Hong Kong’s South China Morn­ing Post. “The fam­ily plot feels starchy.”

So­cial me­dia buzz is cru­cial for movies in China, where au­di­ences pri­mar­ily go on­line to buy tick­ets and de­cide what they want to see, said Rob Cain, a pro­ducer and ex­pert on the Chi­nese movie busi­ness.

“That’s what makes or breaks a pic­ture in China, and it’s in­stan­ta­neous,” Cain said. Been there, done that An­other likely fac­tor is that Chi­nese movie­go­ers didn’t find the movie cul­tur­ally rel­e­vant. Whereas it had been 25 years since a Hol­ly­wood stu­dio made a con­tem­po­rary film with an all-Asian and Asian-Amer­i­can cast, China’s film in­dus­try fre­quently releases lo­cally made come­dies.

The film’s pro­duc­ers had said all along that they were not mak­ing the film for Asian mar­kets, but rather thought the story and themes would have broad ap­peal. Un­like most mod­ern block­busters, it did more than 70 per cent of its busi­ness in the U.S. and Canada.

“There wasn’t a cry­ing need for some­thing like this in China to be­gin with,” Cain said.


Michelle Yeoh as Eleanor, Henry Gold­ing as Nick and Con­stance Wu as Rachel in Crazy Rich Asians.

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