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'Unbroken' unable to draw Chinese audience yet

2015-02-05 13:40 China Daily Web Editor: Si Huan
Jack O'Connell plays Louis Zamperini in the Hollywood blockbuster Unbroken. Photo provided to China Daily

Jack O'Connell plays Louis Zamperini in the Hollywood blockbuster Unbroken. Photo provided to China Daily

For Chinese moviegoers, the movie 'Unbroken' has it all-from being directed by Angelina Jolie to the screenplay written by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen to its cinematography by the 11-time Oscar-nominee Roger Deakins. In addition, there's popular Japanese singer Miyavi, who plays the villainous Mutsuhiro Watanabe.

But when Unbroken was screened across theaters on the Chinese mainland recently, box-office results weren't the most encouraging. The movie earned 21.5 million yuan ($3.4 million) in China by Tuesday, five days after its release here.

At a time when Chinese moviegoers are willing to pay more than 500 million yuan for a low-budget domestic comedy such as Running Man-a movie inspired by a South Korean reality TV show, and which was released on Jan 30, the same day as Unbroken-the Hollywood production's prospects in the mainland don't look very bright.

Running Man has already made 287 million yuan at the box office, even though critics haven't called it much of a movie.

Nominated for three Oscars this year, the war drama Unbroken came to the mainland after The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies were released one week earlier.

Oscar nominees are now battling it out at the Chinese box office during what is considered the most profitable period-Lunar New Year.

Among other nominees that had critics raving, such as Boyhood and The Grand Budapest Hotel, have yet to be shown in mainland cinemas.

With Unbroken, the mainland's moviegoers get to watch a Pacific War-themed Hollywood movie after Windtalkers (2002), though there have been a number of domestic TV series and films on World War II.

Adapted from Laura Hillenbrand's best-selling book, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, Joile's movie tells the inspiring true story of US Olympian Louis Zamperini's 47 days in a raft on the Pacific Ocean and his two-year ordeal in prison camps after being captured by Japanese forces.

"I ended up directing the film almost by default because I was shy to let it go anywhere else," Jolie said in an earlier interview.

"War sometimes brings out the best in people, when they take from each other, when they remember what they're fighting for but retain their humanity, and even go out of their way to save someone."

And despite the movie's subject, it wasn't able to draw moviegoers on the mainland, as much as Jolie and other producers had probably expected.

Movies such as Saving Private Ryan that came to China in 1999, at a time when the country was just opening up to Hollywood, became a hit.

The wartime legend's tale then resonated with audiences.

But these days in the world's second-largest movie market, where fans have gotten used to the dazzling special effects of Hollywood blockbusters, storytelling alone isn't the winning formula.

Last year, another wartime movie, Fury, starring Brad Pitt, earned 117 million yuan from the mainland's box office.

And although that didn't look too bad, when compared with the top earners in China, Fury was among dozens of movies that made more than 100 million yuan in ticket sales last year.

Transformers: Age of Extinction, the highest-grossing film screened on the mainland to date, made nearly 2 billion yuan here.

Most of China's war dramas were based on revolutionary themes that tend to highlight the protagonists' bravery on battlefields but pay less attention to the complexities of human nature.

But in 2007, the Chinese blockbuster Assembly made history with its astonishing battlefield scenes and exploration of individuals' spiritual salvation. It was directed by Feng Xiaogang.

Unbroken has been described by China's major film review websites as "a combination of Chariots of Fire, Life of Pi and 12 Years a Slave".

But the ending is "too sudden", some viewers say.

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