(Photo by Focus)
After four decades in entertainment, Hong Kong acting legend Tony Leung Chiu-wai makes his American major movie debut with Shang-Chi and and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Even audiences who have never seen Leung on-screen before will gravitate towards the human vulnerability he brings to his antagonist role in the Marvel blockbuster. The smoldering sensitivity is something Leung has perfected over his career, though he started his career doing TV comedies in the early 1980s as part of young actor ensemble called the Five Tigers.
1989’s City of Sadness, directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien, represented an enormous leap for his international profile, leading to projects with the most renowned Chinese and Taiwanese directors, including John Woo (Hard-Boiled, Red Cliff) and Ang Lee (Lust, Caution). Across them all, Leung is best known for his collaborations with director Wong Kar-wai: Together, they’ve made seven films, including romantic masterpieces Chungking Express and In the Mood for Love, and The Grandmaster, which was nominated for Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design Oscars. A 2002 Leung-starring movie, Infernal Affairs, was remade by Martin Scorsese as The Departed.
Since the ’80s and ’90s Hong Kong cinema boom, Leung has communicated willingness to act in an American production if the role were worthwhile. That search occupied just mere decades: As Wenwu, he’ll appear with Hong Kong action great Michelle Yeoh in the MCU’s Shang-Chi. Now, discover Fresh and Certified Fresh movies starring Tony Leung!
This weekend’s The Great Wall unites Matt Damon and Willem Dafoe as imprisoned mercenaries embroiled in a battle against monsters in ancient China — and if that plot description isn’t enough to pique your interest, it’s also the latest from director Zhang Yimou, whose esteemed filmography includes some of the most globally acclaimed features to come out of China over the last 30 years. In honor of this talented filmmaker’s return, we’re taking a fond look back at some of his brightest critical highlights — and you know what that means. It’s time for Total Recall!
Zhang’s films aren’t necessarily known for having a particularly light touch, but with The Story of Qiu Ju, he tried his hand at something like satire, unspooling the story (adapted from Chen Yuanbin’s novella The Wan Family’s Lawsuit) of a pregnant woman’s determined quest to obtain legal reparations for her husband after he’s kicked in the crotch by a village chief he impugned by mocking his all-daughter brood. It isn’t exactly laugh-a-minute stuff, and Zhang couched his observations on Chinese life in a quasi-documentary format in order to avoid further trouble with censors, but Qiu Ju‘s impact was still keenly felt; as Janet Maslin wrote for the New York Times, “The Story of Qiu Ju reaffirms Zhang Yimou’s stature as storyteller and sociologist extraordinaire, and as a visual artist of exceptional delicacy and insight.”
Seeking a bit of a breather after To Live‘s political themes landed him in hot water with Chinese authorities, Zhang opted to play things a little safer with his next feature, 1995’s Shanghai Triad — a 1930s-set period look at the criminal underbelly in the titular city over a one-week span. Although the beats of the storyline, largely focused on a gangster and his dame, weren’t anything audiences hadn’t seen before, Zhang elevated the material with his distinctive eye — and the last in a long series of performances from Gong Li, whose creative and personal relationship with the director had reached its end. The duo wouldn’t work together again for over a decade; in the meantime, wrote Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum, Li “swaggers it up with a flourish” here — “a rare opportunity, given Zhang’s usual stateliness, for the serious, expressive actress to shake her booty.”
After making some more modern detours, Zhang returned to his period-piece wheelhouse with 2004’s House of Flying Daggers, a ninth-century drama about a pair of Chinese police officers (Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro) tasked with rooting out rebellion during the waning days of the Tang Dynasty. Given a handful of days to dispatch the leader of a group called the Flying Daggers, they focus on a blind dancer (Zhang Ziyi) they suspect of having ties to the insurrectionists — but find themselves tangled in intrigue as the case wears on. “This,” marveled Moira Macdonald for the Seattle Times, “is the sort of film we’re intended to wallow in, barely coming up for air — so dazzled, we barely need to breathe.”
A decade after introducing viewers to Gong Li, Zhang was fortunate enough to make a similarly fortuitous discovery in Zhang Ziyi, whose starring role in The Road Home served as the first installment in a widely acclaimed and still-prolific career. Here, the two joined together to tell the story of the bumpy courtship and passionate marriage between a teacher (Zheng Hao) and a local girl in rural China — as well as their son’s journey to understanding the legacy of his parents’ love after his father passes away. “This,” wrote Chris Vognar for the Dallas Morning News, “is a film that rescues love from the world of cliché and treats it with the awakening passion it deserves.”
After helping usher modern Chinese cinema onto the world stage — and acquiring no small amount of clout for himself as a filmmaker in the bargain — Zhang put it all on the line with 1994’s To Live, the decades-spanning story of a family (led by Ge You and Gong Li) torn apart by personal circumstance and the increasingly pervasive influence of the Chinese Communist apparatus. The film’s strong performances earned a wave of positive reviews from critics worldwide, but its critical stance against the state got it banned in China — even as it won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes. “To Live is a simple title,” conceded Roger Ebert, “but it conceals a universe.”
China’s political upheaval during the Cultural Revolution had profoundly personal effects, explored to heartrending effect in Zhang’s acclaimed 2014 effort Coming Home. Working again with Gong Li, he adapted Geling Yan’s novel The Criminal Lu Yanshi, about a couple separated when the husband (Chen Daoming) is held at a labor camp; he ultimately wins release, only to find his wife (Gong) stricken with amnesia and unable to remember him. A timeless tragedy set in unique circumstances, Home earned the director a fresh round of hosannas from critics like the Toronto Star’s Bruce DeMara, who wrote, “Chen and Gong, two of China’s most respected actors, offer two great performances in a film about love, loss and perseverance that will nearly break your heart.”
In marked contrast to many of his better-known films, Not One Less finds Zhang telling a story set in the modern era — yet retaining the sharp sociopolitical awareness that elevates much of his best work. In another change of pace, Zhang employed largely untrained actors, many playing thinly altered versions of themselves, to tell the story of a young substitute teacher (Wei Minzhi) charged with a class’s welfare for a month. If you know anything about Zhang’s oeuvre, it’s spoiling nothing to note that things take some dark and difficult turns — or that critics, by and large, were impressed. “With Not One Less,” wrote the Village Voice’s Leslie Camhi, “Zhang Yimou has fashioned what feels like an uncannily accurate portrait of a culture where Communist ideology has vanished like a brief dream, as traditional community values clash with the burgeoning cult of money.”
Zhang earned his fourth Academy Award nomination for this 2002 period drama, starring Jet Li in a lavishly filmed period epic inspired by the story of an attempt on the King of Qin’s life in 227 BC. A hugely expensive (and hugely successful) record-breaking release in China, Hero earned further accolades — and box-office receipts — during its delayed American run, as much for its patiently told saga as for its artfully arranged action. “The result,” wrote Anthony Lane for the New Yorker, “is not so much a historical epic as a kind of highly determined ballet: dreamy with bloodless violence, relying less on shades of character than on magnificence of gesture.”
Gong Li continued to serve as Zhang’s muse with Raise the Red Lantern, another period drama — set in the China of the 1920s — that used entrenched social and gender dynamics to fuel a gorgeously filmed collision between expectation and reality, dreams and despair. The story focuses on a young concubine (Gong) whose arrival at her new husband’s estate sparks a series of events that will ultimately pit the women of the house against one another in a conflict no one — except the viewer — can truly win. The end result, wrote John Hartl for Film.com, is “A near-perfect movie that often recalls the visual purity and intensity of silent films.”
After winning the Berlin Film Festival’s Golden Bear with Red Sorghum, Zhang returned to the world cinema stage with 1990’s Ju Dou, which earned the distinction of becoming the first Chinese release to earn a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. Reuniting with Gong Li, Zhang took viewers to rural China in the early 1990s, where a traveling salesman (Li Baotian) returns to his uncle’s home and discovers the older man — who has a reputation for beating his wives to death — has remarried. Naturally, the pair fall in love, setting in motion a web of domestic intrigue that seems destined from the outset to end in tragedy — and add up to what Chris Hicks of the Deseret News called “an emotionally fulfilling and viscerally rewarding adult film.”
Sumptuous costuming. Sweeping story. Production value by the barrelful. All of these we associate with the historical epic, and it’s what we’re expecting from this week’s Ben-Hur, a new take on the classic 1st century tale of betrayal, redemption, and sparkly chariots. This week’s gallery presents 24 Certified Fresh historical epics, historical as in nothing set within the past 100 years (so World War I and anything before is fair game).
When it comes to big summer movies, the opinions of critics and audiences are always out of sync. Right? Not so fast. Using our weighted formula, we at Rotten Tomatoes decided to spotlight the best-reviewed wide releases from each summer since 1975 — the year Jaws kicked off the blockbuster era — and it turns out that many of the big winners with the pundits have become perennial favorites with regular moviegoers as well.
In defense of the blockbuster, Rotten Tomatoes offers you Best Summer Movies, a countdown of the highest-rated wide releases to hit theaters during the hot season since the release of Jaws in 1975. We’re using a weighted formula that takes the Tomatometer, the number of reviews, and the year of release into account. In order to qualify, each movie needs at least 20 reviews, and to have been released wide in the months between May and August. Enough talk: grab an extra large soda and a bucket of popcorn and dive into RT’s Best Summer Movies!
This week, with The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor hitting theaters, we thought it would be a great time to take a close look at the filmography of star Jet Li, one of the most dynamic and successful martial arts performers of recent years.
Born in Beijing, Li Lianjie was wushu champion at an absurdly young age (he was dubbed “Jet” because of his quickness and power). Retiring from competition at 17, he utilized his formidable martial arts skills in a series of epic films based upon Chinese legends. But it isn’t just his athletic grace and power that has impressed audiences; Li exudes a hard-to-quantify stoicism and intensity in his performances that lend a greater level of emotional heft than your typical martial arts master. Although his Western films haven’t enjoyed the level of popularity he received in Hong Kong, he’s still a draw, as this year’s The Forbidden Kingdom proves. Without further ado, we present Li’s best-reviewed films.
|10. Once Upon a Time in China 3
(1992, 67 percent)
The third time was definitely not the charm for this venerable series. Li is back as Wong Fei Hung, and this time he’s embroiled in a whole mess of drama: he’s participating in a brutal kung fu competition, he has to stop an assassination attempt on the president, and he has to keep a whole lotta gangsters from ripping him to shreds. Critics found OUATIC 3 to be a serious letdown after the dazzling inventiveness of the first two films, and some of that might have been because of on-set tensions; Li and director Tsui Hark, who had helmed the first two installments, acrimoniously parted ways after III (they’ve since made up). Still, even at the ebb of their collaboration, Hark’s visual flair and Li’s athletic prowess elevate III above most martial arts fare. The film has a “strong blend of humor, action and drama,” wrote Doug Pratt of DVDLaser.com.
9. The Defender
The Defender (aka The Bodyguard from Beijing) found Li in a quasi-remake of The Bodyguard; it was a vehicle that allowed Li to put his skills to use in a contemporary setting after a long stretch of period epics (the movie kicked off Li’s “gun-fu” period). It also allowed him to show his softer, more romantic side. Directed by Corey Yuen, The Defender is the story of Allan (Li), an elite bodyguard who’s tasked with protecting Michelle, the mistress of a rich businessman, after she’s the only witness in a brutal mob slaying. At first, Michelle bristles at being sequestered in her apartment, but soon she comes to respect Allan’s efforts to keep her safe, and romance blossoms. The Defender is loaded with shootouts, double-crossings, and some wacky humor — and even if the critics may have found the plot a bit predictable, “All this is made up for by the sheer visceral pleasure of Jet Li’s charisma,” as James Rocchi of Netflix put it. Unfortunately, audiences weren’t as forgiving, as The Defender was one of Li’s first big flops in Hong Kong.
(2006, 74 percent)
If, as Li has claimed, Fearless is indeed his last wushu epic, he went out with a bang. Directed by Ronny Yu and choreographed by Yuen Woo Ping, Fearless is loosely based upon the life of martial arts legend Huo Yuanjia (also the basis for the master in Fist of Legend). Set in the early 1900s, Fearless tells the story of how Huo became one of the most famous fighters in China — before his arrogance got the best of him. After a series of personal (and near fatal) hardships, Huo is nursed back to health by a kindly woman in a remote community; it’s there that he realizes that the noble martial arts he has studied have become corrupted by brutality; he seeks to make good on his early promise, clear his family’s name, and restore China to the forefront of fighting. Though the critics found Fearless less impressive than Li’s early 1990s epics, they still found plenty of emotional and spiritual heft in addition to several excellent action scenes. “The film is about more than complex stunts and breathtaking acrobatics,” wrote Forrest Harman of the Reno Journal-Gazette. “It’s about a man who learns the pitfalls of pride and becomes a national hero in the process. And it’s a good time at the movies.”
7. The Legend of the Swordsman
The Legend of the Swordsman (also known as Swordsman II was Li’s highest-grossing Hong Kong film, and following the success of the Shaolin Temple series, it cemented his status as the king of the period martial arts epic. In this sequel to 1990’s Swordsman, Li steps into the role of Ling (played in the previous installment by Sam Hui), who is relocating his martial arts school to a remote mountain locale. However, he discovers that his friends, a group of female fighters, have been attacked, and Princess Yin-Yin (on whom he’s totally crushed out) has been kidnapped, by her evil uncle, who also has a scroll that outlines plenty of killer martial arts moves. Colorful, well-photographed, with a complex plot and plenty of gravity-defying fights, Legend of the Swordsman is considered a classic of the genre by many devotes. The movie contains “dazzling photography and equally dazzling fight scenes,” said Robert Roten of Laramie Movie Scope.
6. Twin Warriors
The plot of Twin Warriors (also known as Tai Chi Master) may be as old as the hills, but it continued Li’s winning streak, thanks to its electric, nimble set pieces and the able support of fellow martial arts legend (and Tomb of the Dragon Emperor co-star) Michele Yeoh. Junbao (Li) and Tienbo (Chin Sui Ho) are close friends and fellow monks who are expelled from a Shaolin temple for their troublemaking ways. Soon, they’ve gone their separate ways; Tienbo has become a powerful, despotic military head, and Li, with help from Siu Lin (Yeoh) is engaged in an uprising against him. Like many of Li’s period martial arts extravaganzas from this period, Twin Warriors is both opulent and exhilarating, and features an absolutely bonkers finale in which Tienbo literally uses an army of thousands of extras as weapons against Junbao. “Nonstop action leads to furiously ingenious set pieces shot with the traditional wire harnesses and outlandish effects,” wrote Marc Savlov of the Austin Chronicle.
One good turn as a Chinese folk hero deserves another, so for 1993’s The Legend (or, if you prefer the original title, Fong Sai-yuk), Li suited up as — you guessed it — Fong Sai-yuk, the legendary 18th century hero. Tempering all the sweeping melodrama here is a plot that focuses on Fong’s younger years, when he was more concerned with loafing — and chasing after an illicit affair with the Manchu governor’s daughter — than concentrating on nobler pursuits. Fortunately, his mother is around to help keep him out of trouble; unfortunately, according to legend, his mom was such a formidable warrior that she regularly broke Fong’s bones in an effort to make him nearly invulnerable. Painful as that sounds, The Legend (which satirized the Once Upon a Time in China series) extended Li’s stellar track record at the box office, proving so successful that a sequel (titled, naturally, Fong Sai-yuk II) was produced in time to reach theaters the same year.
|Once Upon a Time in China
(1991, 89 percent)
At once entertaining, culturally significant, and massively successful at the box office, Once Upon a Time in China helped kick off the resurgence of period martial arts movies that started in the 1990s, as well as spawning a franchise that saw Li play Chinese folk hero Wong Fei Hung repeatedly throughout the decade, starring in the series’ second, third, and sixth installments, as well as the spoofy spinoff Last Hero in China. Though criticized for straying into outlandish territory, Once Upon a Time nonetheless explores China’s early attempts to bridge the gap between tradition and modernization, examines social taboos, and — of course — contains more than a few terrific fight scenes. “Aided immeasurably by the acrobatic skills of its brilliant star, Once Upon A Time in China delivers the kinetic goods,” wrote Bilge Ebiri of Citysearch.
3. Once Upon a Time in China II
Just a year after raking in healthy box-office receipts with Once Upon a Time in China, Li returned as the legendary Wong Fei Hung in the first sequel — and managed to outdo the first installment, grossing over $30 million during its Hong Kong theatrical run. Like the first chapter in the saga, Once Upon a Time in China II combines eye-popping martial arts action with a lesson in Chinese history; this time around, the storyline is based on events that transpired around the Boxer Rebellion that took place after the first Sino-Japanese War. Don’t worry, though — even if you slept through your world history courses, you’ll still be able to enjoy watching Li whoop copious amounts of bad guy butt (including HK superstar Donnie Yen). “More concentrated and svelte than its precursor, Once Upon a Time II also has the benefit of fights staged by Master Yuen Woo-Ping that show Jet Li — another camera-age hero — to even greater advantage,” wrote J. Hoberman of the Village Voice.
(2004, 95 percent)
Hero was a massive success in Hong Kong when it was released in December 2002, but that didn’t stop Miramax — the studio that held American rights to the film — from sitting on it for nearly two years, delaying its release six times. It took Quentin Tarantino‘s pull to get Hero into American theaters, and when it finally debuted in August 2004, it took the box office crown for the week, earning over $18 million and a spot among the highest-grossing foreign films in U.S. history. Critics enjoyed Hero almost as much as audiences, sending it to 95 percent on the Tomatometer — but their praise wasn’t quite universal. Though the movie’s visual beauty is impossible to deny, some have taken issue with what they see as a tacit approval of totalitarianism. Don’t care about politics? Not to worry — Hero comes equipped with enough wire-assisted fighting to slake your thirst for epic martial arts action. “The simple fact of the matter is this: Hero is the best martial arts movie I have ever seen,” wrote David Cornelius of Efilmcritic.com.
|1. Fist of Legend
(1994, 100 percent)
Li was already an established star when he signed on for Fist of Legend — but still, it takes more than a little chutzpah to remake a classic like Bruce Lee‘s Fists of Fury. Fortunately, the results speak for themselves; at 100 percent on the Tomatometer, Legend is not only Li’s highest-rated film, but it’s entered the pantheon of established martial arts classics. And for good reason: Although there’s plenty of good old-fashioned action, the movie also makes room for a suitably twisty plot, as well as some important themes (including an updated take on the racism that fueled the original) and fight scenes so good that they convinced the Wachowski brothers to hire choreographer Yuen Woo-ping for The Matrix. It isn’t his highest-grossing film — in fact, it was something of a box-office disappointment — but any argument for Jet Li’s status as a martial arts movie superstar should begin with Fist of Legend. “[It’s] a marvel to watch,” wrote Ryan Cracknell of the Apollo Guide.
It may not seem like much when compared with the salaries of certain A-list American stars, but Jet Li‘s next paycheck will set a new record for an actor in a Chinese-language film.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Li will receive 100 million yuan — or $13 million — for his appearance in The Warlords. From the article:
Nearly half of the $40 million budget for “The Warlords” went to the cast, among whom were Hong Kong heartthrob Andy Lau, Takeshi Kaneshiro and Beijing-based actress and director Xu Jinglei, in addition to Li.
“Without Jet Li, we would not dare to invest $40 million in a Chinese-language film,” Xinhua news agency quoted director Peter Chan as saying. Li was a “guarantee” for global sales, Chan said.
With his latest deal, Li breaks the previous salary record of 70 million yuan, which he set for his appearance in Hero. The Warlords, which The Hollywood Reporter describes as “a war epic based on a Qing Dynasty story,” is scheduled to be released in Asia before the end of the year, and will reach American theaters next spring.
Source: The Hollywood Reporter
Can Ben Stiller and his living artifacts four-peat at the top of the North American box office, or will one of the new releases take the crown over the four-day Dr. Martin Luther King holiday weekend? Ticket buyers will decide.
Leading the freshman class is the dance drama "Stomp the Yard" which could have breakout potential. Also opening are the fantasy pic "Arthur and the Invisibles," the drug dealer pic "Alpha Dog," and the horror flick "Primeval." With so many schools closed on Monday, the new films are targeting students of all ages who will have extra time on their hands.
The west and east coasts meet in "Stomp the Yard," a story of a Los Angeles student enrolled in an Atlanta university who uses his unique style to help his fraternity compete in a step dancing contest. The PG-13 film is short on starpower, but makes up for that with terrific marketing which is the real ingredient that will put asses into the seats. Sony has cut exciting trailers and commercial spots which should spark lots of interest with teens and young adults. Plus, MLK weekend is the perfect time to open a black college film since interest will be high for this particular subject matter. African American students will especially be out in solid numbers. However, the opening of Justin Timberlake‘s "Alpha Dog" could take away some of the young adult crowd.
"Stomp" should appeal to the same audiences that delivered bigger-than-expected openings for "Drumline" ($12.6M opening, $6,865 average), "ATL" ($11.6M, $7,212), and "You Got Served" ($16.1M, $8,341). The urban youth of America possesses tremendous spending power and Hollywood has just woken up to this in recent years financing low cost flicks that return handsome profits through theatrical and DVD sales. "Stomp" also offers an appealing story relevant to today’s young people and looks to join this list. Stepping into 2,051 theaters, "Stomp the Yard" could collect about $16M over four days this weekend.
The weekend’s only new kidpic comes in the form of the French production "Arthur and the Invisibles," a groundbreaking feature which mixes live-action with animation in a fantasy tale. The PG-rated film from The Weinstein Co. is directed by action professional Luc Besson ("The Fifth Element," "Joan of Arc") and features the voices of Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Snoop Dogg, and Madonna. With so many young children across the country having a long school holiday, "Arthur" should get some play as the only new option for parents who have taken enough trips to the Museum. Of course "Happily N’Ever After" flopping last weekend shows that family audiences will not come out for just anything. With about 2,500 theaters, it is the widest of the new titles which could help it get into double digit millions over the extended frame. The marketing push has been admirable too. MLK weekend has often seen better-than-expected results for debuting kiddie flicks like "Kangaroo Jack," "Racing Stripes," and "Hoodwinked." "Arthur and the Invisibles" may carve out its share of the pie and gross roughly $11M over the four-day period.
Pop music king Justin Timberlake joins an ensemble cast which includes Emile Hirsch, Sharon Stone, and Bruce Willis in the gritty drama "Alpha Dog." Directed by Nick Cassavetes, the R-rated film tells of a drug dealer who kidnaps the younger brother of a friend who owes a debt. The Universal release is based on true events and will target older teens and twentysomethings. The marketing makes the film look slick and cool plus JT provides a built-in audience of fans that can be tapped into.
However, two main obstacles are in the way – the rating and competition from "Stomp the Yard." A large portion of Timberlake’s fans are young teens and they will have a hard time buying tickets. Plus, "Stomp" will be distracting the urban youth with its slick look and milder PG-13 rating. On top of that, the studio’s release is not too wide. These factors should curtail the potential of "Alpha." Critics have given solid support which may help a little, although Time Out New York boldly calls the pic the worst movie of the year in its zero-star review. Opening in about 1,200 theaters, "Alpha Dog" might bite down on around $8M over the long weekend.
Every horror film since Halloween has flopped and the streak looks to continue with "Primeval" from Buena Vista. The R-rated film about a news crew hunting down a killer boasts no starpower and lacks a compelling plot worthy of the ten-dollar bills of genre fans. Marketing support has been weak and awareness is not very high. The fright flick seems to have the same potential as last month’s "Turistas" which bowed to a weak $3.6M and $2,282 average. "Primeval" will open wider with about 2,000 theaters and has an extended four-day session so a gross of roughly $6M could result followed by steep drops.
Zhang Yimou has seen solid but not spectacular averages for his latest Chinese epic "Curse of the Golden Flower" which has already grossed $2.2M from its limited release in about 60 theaters. Its average of $6,104 last weekend will drop considerably as it expands nationwide into about 1,200 playdates. The Mandarin-language period piece seems to be going too wide too fast and with all the choices in the multiplexes, Sony Classics may find it difficult to get multiplex crowds into all those new seats. "Curse" will try to play to fans of the "Hero" director, but Chow Yun Fat and Gong Li are no Jet Li and Zhang Ziyi at the American box office. A $4M gross over the long weekend could result.
Ben Stiller and Will Smith have been inseparable blockbuster brothers atop the box office charts for the last three weeks. But the weekend’s new releases should finally cause a breakup. Stiller’s runaway smash "Night at the Museum" has been holding up incredibly well against any competition that has come its way and will attempt to become the first film since 2003’s "The Return of the King" to remain number one for four consecutive weekends. The only thing standing in its path is a possible teen explosion for "Stomp." "Museum’s" four-day holiday gross could slip 25% from last weekend’s three-day figure giving the Fox hit about $18M and a remarkable cume to date of $187M.
Smith has done pretty well for himself too with "The Pursuit of Happyness" which should see another solid turnout over MLK weekend. A 20% drop would give Sony a four-day tally of $10M boosting its total to a stellar $137M.
Since it opened nationally on Christmas Day, "Dreamgirls" has been posting the best per-theater averages of any wide release. Now, Paramount will more than double the run and expand the Golden Globe nominee for Best Picture – Comedy or Musical from 852 to about 1,800 theaters. The Jamie Foxx–Beyonce Knowles musical is the favorite to take home that honor, plus other statues, and the studio wants to make sure the product is available everywhere once the wins occur. Plus, films with African American casts routinely do very well over the King frame so a jump in sales is assured. For the four-day period, "Dreamgirls" may climb to around $11M putting the cume at $68M. If it wins the Globe for Best Picture and secures a sizable number of Oscar nominations the following week, the total domestic take could certainly surpass the $100M mark as it did for "Chicago" four years ago. The Richard Gere musical reached a similar $63.8M at the end of the weekend it went fully national into 1,841 locations and went on to a sensational $170.7M final total.
LAST YEAR: Disney kicked off the first of what would be many hit sports flicks in 2006 with the basketball drama "Glory Road" which opened at number one over MLK weekend with $16.9M over four days. The live action film barely beat out the animated comedy "Hoodwinked" which also grossed $16.9M over the Friday-to-Monday period, but was about $50,000 shy of the number one spot. The duo reached $42.6M and $51.2M, respectively. Third place also was held by a new release. Paramount’s Queen Latifah comedy "Last Holiday" bowed to a solid $15.5M on its way to $38.4M. Rounding out the top five were former number ones "The Chronicles of Narnia" with $12.8M and "Hostel" with $11.4M over the long weekend. Fox’s romance "Tristan & Isolde" found few lovers in its debut opening to $7.6M on its way to just $14.7M.
Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com
The latest from from the director of "House of Flying Daggers" and "Hero" is on its way, which means we’re due for a few new posters and maybe even a trailer. So click on in if you have more than a passing interest in Zhang Yimou‘s "Curse of the Golden Flower."
Here’s how Sony describes their movie: "China, Later Tang Dynasty, 10th Century. On the eve of the Chong Yang Festival, golden flowers fill the Imperial Palace. The Emperor (Chow Yun Fat) returns unexpectedly with his second son, Prince Jai (Jay Chou). His pretext is to celebrate the holiday with his family, but given the chilled relations between the Emperor and the ailing Empress (Gong Li), this seems disingenuous. For many years, the Empress and Crown Prince Wan (Liu Ye), her stepson, have had an illicit liaison. Feeling trapped, Prince Wan dreams of escaping the palace with his secret love Chan (Li Man), the Imperial Doctor’s daughter. Meanwhile, Prince Jai, the faithful son, grows worried over the Empress’s health and her obsession with golden chrysanthemums. Could she be headed down an ominous path? The Emperor harbors equally clandestine plans; the Imperial Doctor (Ni Dahong) is the only one privy to his machinations. When the Emperor senses a looming threat, he relocates the doctor’s family from the Palace to a remote area. While they are en route, mysterious assassins attack them. Chan and her mother, Jiang Shi (Chen Jin) are forced back to the palace. Their return sets off a tumultuous sequence of dark surprises. Amid the glamour and grandeur of the festival, ugly secrets are revealed. As the Imperial Family continues its elaborate charade in a palatial setting, thousands of golden armored warriors charge the palace. Who is behind this brutal rebellion? Where do Prince Jai’s loyalties lie? Between love and desire, is there a final winner? Against a moonlit night, thousands of chrysanthemum blossoms are trampled as blood spills across the Imperial Palace."
Wow, sounds like a soap opera. "Curse of the Golden Flower" opens on December 22nd.
I’ll keep this short and sweet: If you’re a fan of movies like "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers," you probably have a rather large interest in seeing Zhang Yimou‘s latest, "Curse of the Golden Flower." And now there’s all sorts of production stills and featurettes available for your perusal.
Synopsis, courtesy of ComingSoon.net: "In the spirit of such landmark Asian films as Akira Kurosawa‘s "Ran" from Japan and Zhang Yimou’s own "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers," "Curse of the Golden Flower" promises to be Zhang Yimou’s most colorful and biggest production to date, fusing high drama and romantic intrigue with the best of contemporary martial arts. The plot concerns the volatile balance of power between the King (Chow Yun Fat) and the Queen (Gong Li) and his three sons, which entails betrayal, deceit and passion, pitting the King against Queen and father against sons. The glorious canvas includes many of the creative team behind "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers": cinematographer Zhao Xiading (Oscar nominated for "House of Flying Daggers"), production designer Huo Tingxiao, action director Tony Ching Siu-Tung, sound designer Tao Jing and producers Bill Kong and Zhang Wei Ping. The music is composed by Shigeru Umebayashi ("Hero, "2046," "In the Mood for Love") and the costume designer is Yee Chung Man ("So Close")."
"Curse" opens on December 22nd.
Four new films open wide, but they may not be enough to stop the North American box office from suffering its third consecutive down weekend.
Leading the way is the Paramount sequel "Jackass: Number Two" which will enjoy the widest release by far. The rest of the films will take moviegoers back in time just as so many other recent releases have done. Focus Features unleashes Jet Li‘s martial arts epic "Fearless," MGM takes off with the World War I adventure "Flyboys," and Sony remakes the political thriller "All the King’s Men."
Four years ago, Paramount shocked the industry with the number one bow for its crude stunts flick "Jackass: The Movie" which managed to keep "The Ring" out of the top spot on the weekend right before Halloween. Its $22.8M debut and eventual $64.3M domestic take and DVD success helped to bring about a sequel, "Jackass: Number Two" which hopes to conquer the charts once again. The R-rated pic regroups the team from the hit MTV reality series including Johnny Knoxville and finds them taking part in another series of outlandish don’t-try-this-at-home antics. Males in their late teens and early twenties are the target audience here although slightly older guys who were devoted followers a half-decade ago might also be up for some nostalgia.
The first "Jackass" bowed to a muscular $9,073 average from 2,509 playdates which at today’s ticket prices would be over $10,000. "Number Two" is not likely to match that amount though. A wider launch will dilute the average a bit and the franchise has aged and is no longer at the peak of its popularity. But since Knoxville has found more mainstream success recently with films like "The Dukes of Hazzard" and "The Ringer," the studio is hoping that some new fans will give "Two" a try. Competition for males will be fierce with last weekend’s top film "Gridiron Gang" still playing to sports-loving boys and men while Jet Li’s new film "Fearless" will
steal away dudes who dig martial arts fighting, bones cracking, and necks breaking. Male dollars will be stretched to the limit this weekend and an already sluggish marketplace will mean that there will only be so much overall traffic. Busting into over 3,000 theaters, "Jackass: Number Two" will rank number one and may open with around $23M.
Mr. Knoxville and co. are back to cheat death and reason.
Also gunning for young men with R-rated fare is Focus Features with the historical martial arts actioner "Fearless" starring Jet Li. Already a hit at cinemas in Asia, Australia, and parts of Europe, the period pic tells the true story of a legendary fighter who inspired his nation in China at the start of the twentieth century. With a bigger star in the lead, "Fearless" is sure to perform better than Tony Jaa‘s Thai actioner "The Protector" which bowed to just $5M two weeks earlier. Li has a consistently loyal fan following that is likely to turn out especially since the marketing campaign is pushing the claim that this is his final martial arts film ever. This tactic gives the pic a level of urgency, although it should not mean much to those outside of his fan base. Crossover potential to mainstream action fans is not very likely, though the actor’s pull with urban males should not be underestimated.
Still, Li has posted some impressive numbers in his career. Each of his six films from this decade has launched with an opening weekend average of at least $5,500 with five having averaged more than $6,000. His last effort "Unleashed" bowed last summer to $10.9M and a solid $5,570 average while 2004’s Chinese blockbuster "Hero" conquered the North American charts for two straight weeks bowing to an impressive $18M and $8,865 average. Foreign language films pretty much never do that in the U.S. market. "Fearless" will not duplicate the success of "Hero" which used the "Quentin Tarantino Presents" tag to attract extra biz. Plus with "Jackass" taking away many young men this weekend, only the true followers will make it out. But reviews have been very positive (the best for any new
release) and advance buzz from overseas has been encouraging too. Kicking its way into roughly 1,806 theaters, "Fearless" might debut to about $9M.
World War I bi-planes are the draw in "Flyboys," a new historical action adventure being released by MGM. The PG-13 film stars James Franco as a courageous American pilot in France who devotes his life to fighting for the Allies. With a high pricetag and no proven stars that can sell in America, this is yet another risky period film packed into the slow month of September. The "inspired by a true story" description used by half of the films in the current top ten is once again in play here. With sex and bad language kept to a minimum, "Flyboys" hopes to appeal to a broad family audience so adults can bring their kids. However, the starpower and subject matter are both lacking making this a tough sell at the box office especially since the marketplace is already filled with mediocre product. Zooming into 2,033 theaters, "Flyboys" might climb to around $7M over the weekend.
After taking a beating at the Toronto International Film Festival, Sony’s remake "All the King’s Men" enters the marketplace on Friday with more subdued expectations. The PG-13 reworking of the classic 1949 political thriller stars Sean Penn as a charismatic politician from the South who gains power and flirts with corruption in the process. The all-star cast also includes Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Anthony Hopkins, Mark Ruffalo, and James Gandolfini. Distributors often utilize the Toronto fest to generate buzz for their Oscar contenders right before their fall commercial openings, but in this case, it seemed to have backfired with so many reviewers panning the pic. "Men" should play exclusively to a mature adult audience as teens will yawn at the premise. The marketplace has been flooded with period dramas in recent weeks with "The Black Dahlia," "Hollywoodland," and "The Illusionist" all going after the same audience. Competition will be a major factor.
Sony is not giving its usual saturation release to "King’s Men," but instead campaigning in just 1,514 theaters this weekend hoping some positive buzz will spread. The lack of screens will keep the gross in check and the bad reviews should sting even more. Last weekend, "Dahlia" found out the hard way how far a serious film for adults can go when the critics give a thumbs down. The film’s starpower is about its only major asset right now, but will it be enough to make moviegoers risk their dollars? With negative press, an abundance of direct competition, and only a moderate amount of theaters, "All the King’s Men" could find itself with only $7M this weekend and a rocky road ahead.
In limited release, The Weinstein Co. unleashes its horror flick "Feast" in 140 theaters with special midnight shows across the country on Friday and Saturday. The latest winner from the Project Greenlight series is directed by John Gulager and finds a group of people trapped inside a bar fighting off flesh-eating creatures. Filmmaker Michel Gondry ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind") returns to the surreal with "The Science of Sleep," a new fantasy drama starring Gael García Bernal ("The Motorcycle Diaries") as a man whose dreams collide with reality. Warner Independent is opening the film on Friday in eight major U.S. markets and will expand it across the country next weekend. Miramax platforms its futuristic sci-fi toon "Renaissance" in New York and Los Angeles. Set in Paris in the year
2054, the R-rated tale is the latest film to bring the look of a graphic novel to the big screen.
Last weekend’s top film "Gridiron Gang" is sure to lose its first place ranking. The Rock‘s films never have very good legs on the second weekend as evidenced by the sophomore declines of his recent films – 48% for 2003’s "The Rundown," 46% for 2004’s "Walking Tall," and a horrendous 73% for last fall’s "Doom." While "Gang" was not a favorite with critics, it has been getting favorable responses from moviegoers so its drop this weekend may not be too bad. Competition for young males will be a factor with the dueling R pics "Jackass" and "Fearless," but younger boys may still be up for an uplifting football tale. "Gridiron Gang" might see a decline of 45% to around $8M giving Sony a reasonable ten-day cume of $25M.
Universal’s murder mystery "The Black Dahlia" was not too powerful in its opening last weekend and both critics and moviegoers are giving negative feedback. A 50% fall would leave the Brian De Palma flick with $5M for the frame and a weak $18M after ten days.
LAST YEAR: One A-list Hollywood blonde replaced another at the top of the charts. Jodie Foster‘s kidnapping thriller "Flightplan" flew to number one opening with a strong $24.6M. The Buena Vista release went on to gross $89.7M making it the top-grossing film in the September-October corridor for 2005. In second place, Warner Bros. expanded its animated film "Corpse Bride" nationally taking in $19.1M. The Tim Burton–Johnny Depp collaboration found its way to $53.4M. Reese Witherspoon fell from first to third with her comedy "Just Like Heaven" which collected $9.6M. Opening in fourth place with moderate results was the skating drama "Roll Bounce" which bowed to $7.6M on its way to $17.4M from less than 1,700 theaters. Close behind in fifth was the hit thriller "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" with $7.5M in its third round.
Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com
This week at the movies, we’ve got antisocial behavior ("Jackass: Number Two," with Johnny Knoxville and the gang), hell-raising politicos ("All The King’s Men," starring Sean Penn), fearless warriors ("Fearless," starring Jet Li), and flying aces ("Flyboys," starring James Franco). What do the critics have to say?
For some, the perilous, grotesque antics of the "Jackass" posse offer inarguable proof of America’s cultural decline, if not a bellwether of the Apocalypse. For others (Critical Consensus included)… well, what can I say? Wasabi snooters? Off-road tattoo? Gets me every time. Now, Johnny Knoxville, Bam Margera, Steve-O and the rest are back with "Jackass: Number Two," a film that promises to be as puerile as its title. But guess what? It’s getting pretty good reviews! The critics say this latest collection of stoopid stunts and bad behavior maintains a certain warped integrity in addition to its sophomoric laughs. At 64 percent on the Tomatometer, this "Jackass" may be worth a ride, provided you can stomach this stuff. And it’s better-reviewed than its predecessor (49 percent).
"All The King’s Men" has everything that makes for a compelling movie. It’s got a great cast (Sean Penn, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, and Anthony Hopkins, among others). It’s based on a great novel (by Robert Penn Warren). It’s got great cinematography. Unfortunately, critics say, the superlatives end there. Loosely based on the life of populist Louisiana Governor Huey "The Kingfish" Long, "All The King’s Men" tells the story of a small town rabble-rouser’s ascent in politics and descent into shady morality. Critics say the film is too bombastic to work, with too many vague characters and an over-the-top performance from Penn. The film received a muted reception in Toronto; it currently stands at 15 percent on the Tomatometer. And it’s well below the 1949 Oscar-winning original film (94 percent).
Jet Li has come to personify a specific film subgenre: the historical martial arts epic. "Hero" and the "Once Upon a Time in China" movies were marked by sweeping visuals and Li’s remarkable athleticism. But the star says he’s no longer making that type of picture; if that’s the case, critics say "Fearless" makes for one heck of a swan song. The film tells the tale of a great martial arts master who looks inward after succumbing to his own ego and the murder of his family. The scribes say "Fearless" is quite a show, with remarkable action sequences and an interesting philosophical undercurrent. "Fearless" is currently at 70 percent on the Tomatometer. And it’s Li’s third consecutive fresh American release, following "Unleashed" (68 percent) and "Hero" (94 percent).
"Flyboys" tells an old-fashioned tale of courage and heroism with the latest in CG technology; unfortunately, critics say, the technology ends up overshadowing everything else. The film tells the story of a group of Americans who volunteered to fly in WWI alongside the French. According to the critics, "Paths of Glory" this ain’t; they note that the CG effects are excellent, and the dogfights are exciting, but the story and the characters are far less involving. At 37 percent on the Tomatometer, "Flyboys" doesn’t soar.
"And another thing… None of you better be making any wisecracks about ‘The Pink Panther!’"
Also in theaters this week in limited release: "American Hardcore," a documentary about the life and death of the louder-faster punk rock style, is at 100 percent; "The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros," a coming of age tale set in Manila, is at 100 percent; "Jesus Camp," a documentary about evangelical Christian campers, is at 93 percent; "Old Joy," a meditative tale of eroding friendship starring indie darling Will Oldham, is at 88 percent; "Solo Con Tu Pareja," the debut of "Y Tu Mama Tambien" helmer Alfonso Cuaron, is at 80 percent; "The Science of Sleep," Michel Gondry‘s latest head trip starring Gael Garcia Bernal and Charlotte Gainsbourg, is at 69 percent; the "Project Greenlight"- approved horror flick "Feast" is at 57 percent; and "Renaissance," a visually remarkable French noir, is at 50 percent.
Zhang Ziyi and action director Yuen Woo-Ping last worked together in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," a movie which helped change audience perception that martial arts movies can be artful and open the door for similar movies such as "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers." Their latest collaboration, "The Banquet," looks just as good as "Crouching Tiger," but the film is undermined by a story element that’s over-used in recent wuxia epics from China. More on that later.
Let’s start with the craftsmanship on "The Banquet." It’s impeccable. I give the people who worked on the visuals an A, maybe even an A+. You will not find a single frame in this film that wouldn’t make a great wallpaper. The costumes and sets, which are meticulously designed, look amazing. The locations are appropriately picturesque. The two lead actresses even become part of the eye candy. Some of the cinematography look like it came straight from "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." The effects work, mostly used to show off the grandness of the palace, is solid for a Chinese production.
Now here’s my major beef with the movie – "Banquet" is another wuxia epic with a love triangle. There’s one in "Hero," "House of Flying Daggers," "Seven Swords," and "The Promise." That said, of the bunch, including "The Banquet," "Hero" is most successful in its usage. But enough is enough already. Doesn’t China have any other types of stories to tell? China shouldn’t be banning directors like Lou Ye from making controversial films; it should be banning the love triangle from the wuxia genre. Please, no more. The story, about one woman’s ascension to the top of the imperial ladder, is straight-forward enough and easy to follow, but there’s really not enough here for a feature length film.
There’s also not a single sympathetic character in the film. We’re supposed to be rooting for the late Emperor’s son Wu Luan (Dan Wu) to avenge his father’s death and become the rightful ruler, but he spends most of his time brooding. I’m not sure if Empress Wan (Zhang Ziyi) is sleeping her way to the top out of pure ambition or out of necessity or both. Either way, it’s difficult to sympathize with an Empress who secretly lusts for her step-son. The Grand Marshall’s family is pretty dysfunctional as well. The brother lusts after his sister, who is in love with Wu Luan. It’s all very incestuous. I don’t have any problems keeping up with who’s lusting after whom, but the movie doesn’t make me want to care about any part of it.
For a film in which the action is directed by legendary fight choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping, the fight scenes are pretty tepid and unimaginative. Zhang Ziyi doesn’t have a single fight scene. She spends most of her screen time in lavish costumes.
In summary, “The Banquet” is a visually stunning film, but I wish the visual elements are employed in the service of a better story. That’s pretty much what other critics are saying too. Variety’s Derek Elley thinks the "main problem is Zhang, who carries herself with all the bearing of a power-hungry, lovelorn empress but doesn’t project the necessary charisma of an evil queen." The Hollywood Reporter’s Kirk Honeycutt says "The Banquet" wastes its "astonishing" and "strikingly beautiful" production "with a cliched, long-winded, logic-busting, overacted film that at times seems like a parody of the martial arts genre." Screen Daily’s Dan Fainaru thinks it’s "way too long for its own good, and may prove quick-lived at box offices after initial attention."