July 17, 2018 / 3:56 AM / 4 months ago

China big-budget fantasy epic pulled after box office flop

SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese blockbuster hopeful backed by Alibaba Pictures Group and with a reported budget of over $100 million, was abruptly pulled from cinemas after a lackluster opening weekend at the box office.

The move highlights the challenges facing China as it seeks to promote home-grown productions to rival imported Hollywood films. Several big-budget Chinese films have flopped while more modest productions have done well.

The latest disappointment “Asura” was billed as China’s next big-budget film after 2016’s “The Great Wall”, a $150 million U.S.-China co-production starring Matt Damon. It also failed to impress at the box office.

“Asura”, a fantasy epic based on Tibetan mythology, was yanked from cinemas by producers after it brought in a meager 49.5 million yuan ($7.4 million) and received a lowly rating of 3.1 on the Chinese movie review site Douban.

In a statement posted on the film’s official social media platform, the producers said Asura was pulled from Sunday night and apologized to viewers who would not be able to see the movie that took six years to make.

In a separate, earlier post the producers took aim at the mediocre ratings of the film on online ticket sales platforms, saying they believed they were the result of an “organized, premeditated” bid to manipulate the numbers.

Those behind the alleged manipulation were “contemptible, foolish and laughable”, and such action was a disgrace to the movie industry, the producers said.

Chinese media quoted unidentified investors as saying the film would be modified and re-released at an unspecified date.

Alibaba Pictures did not have an immediate comment.

Asura is something of a warning for Chinese producers on the perils of big-budget movie making.

Director Zhang Peng (R) and actors Wu Lei (2nd L) and Zhang Yishang attend a promotional event for the movie "Asura" in Shenyang, Liaoning province, China July 2, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

Even as the fantasy movie flopped, another film with a budget reported to be around $15 million struck a chord with movie goers.

“Dying to Survive”, the real-life story of a Chinese cancer patient arrested for importing drugs from India, has made over $350 million, according to box office tracker EntGroup.

China, which is on track to overtake the North America film market, has become an increasingly important region for global producers looking to pump up their box office returns, despite a quota on imported films and strict censorship.

Reporting by Adam Jourdan, Pei Li and John Ruwitch; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Darren Schuettler

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