Why ‘Crazy’ failed to attract many rich Asians in China
Back in August of this year, the global media waited with bated breath to see how Asian-centric romcom Crazy Rich Asians would perform at the American box office. To everyone’s surprise and delight, it went on to gross $35.2 million during its opening weekend, finishing first at the box office and surpassing its $30 million budget. To date, the film has grossed over $237 million worldwide.
Last weekend, Western entertainment reporters likewise waited at the edge of their seats to see how the same movie would perform during its debut in the Chinese mainland. Though four months had passed and the international buzz surrounding Crazy Rich Asians had died down, everyone was still curious how China, who heretofore had been shielded from the hype due to a delayed release, would turn out.
Unfortunately for Warner Bros, Crazy failed to attract any rich Asians on this side of the world. According to Variety, the movie placed an embarrassing eighth, earning less than $1 million over the weekend. By Saturday, most Chinese theaters had already begun to pull it from screens to make way for more popular Chinese-directed movies.
Having read a dozen media reports about the spectacular failure of this movie in China, along with a few hundred comments from armchair critics, nobody was surprised Crazy Rich Asians would bomb here. The reasons, however, are debatable.
In an outdated stereotype, many Westerners are accusing the Chinese of having “pirated” the movie online, thereby making its mainland
screening irrelevant. “Most Chinese viewers who wanted to see it probably found a way to pirate the film in the intervening months, chipping away at its potential theatrical audience,” Vanity Fair wrote.
Other media are reporting that seeing an all-Asian cast on the silver screen – which is considered a novelty in the West – is unappealing to the Chinese. But this argument doesn’t hold any water, either, for were it true, then every film with an all-Chinese cast would fail in China, which is obviously not the case, as the Middle Kingdom is now home to the world’s second-largest and fastest-growing movie market.
As I see it, most people go to the movies for an escape. They want to immerse themselves in other worlds, lose themselves in unfamiliar stories and learn about the lives of people unfamiliar to them. That is why Crazy Rich Asians had such appeal to Caucasian moviegoers in North America – and likewise why it did so poorly in China.
China now leads the world in millionaires, outpacing even the US. According to Forbes, “virtually all new entrants are self-made instead of from multi-generational family inheritance.” A report by UBS and PwC also found that “China had the highest number of new billionaires, adding one every five days,” according to a 2017 report by Business Insider. The pool of wealth held by China’s high net worth individuals grew by more than 144 percent between 2010 and 2017, to reach $6.5 trillion, according to the latest Asia-Pacific Wealth Report from Capgemini.
Surrounded by all these freshly minted millionaires and flush with nouveau-riche cash, why would any middle- or upper-class Chinese (who statistically comprise the majority of moviegoers here) want to pay to essentially watch themselves and their luxurious lifestyles on screen? On the contrary, they are turning out in droves for movies about the criminal underworld (A Cool Fish), the underprivileged (Dying to Survive) and traveling (Lost in Thailand).
Alas, in a desperate attempt to over-compensate for their poor China showing, Warner Bros and Crazy Rich Asians director Jon Chu announced that they are going to set the sequel, Crazy Rich Girlfriend, in Shanghai. So, basically another Tiny Times? Nice to see Hollywood copying China for a change.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.