EXCLUSIVE: Another casualty of China’s crackdown on potentially sensitive local films this past summer has been given a lifeline. Derek Tsang’s Better Days will release this Friday in the Middle Kingdom after being okayed just this week. Well Go USA has the movie domestically and was forced to postpone the release this summer when Better Days was shelved by the Chinese authorities. Well Go says it is now finalizing plans for a U.S. date, but nothing is confirmed as yet.
The youth drama, which was also previously pulled from the Berlin Film Festival, focuses on issues of suicide, bullying and sexual abuse. A synopsis calls it a “melodramatic thriller” that “paints a bleak picture of an oppressive society, in the guise of a gripping fairy-tale love story.”
When it was originally kiboshed, we reported that among the vast number of ministries required to approve its release, there was reticence from the education authorities because the movie is too realistic in its depictions. Now, I hear that less than five minutes have been cut. But the short window to theaters means there won’t be time for any notable marketing, a source on the ground says, and that could have an impact on box office while the film had been tipped to possibly do similar numbers to Dying To Survive ($450M) if it bowed this summer.
It no longer faces competition from Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood which was halted after censors balked and the director refused to make cuts. The following weekend, it will face competition from Japanese Oscar entry Weathering With You which made roughly $127M in its home country earlier this year and has a large IMAX component in China (director Makoto Shinkai’s previous film, Your Name, made about $84M in the Middle Kingdom in 2016). Also on deck for November 1 is Terminator: Dark Fate.
Also at the time of Better Days being pulled locally, it was in the midst of other titles facing a similar fate. China censors were in overdrive as they cancelled The Last Wish — which finally got a September 12 date — as well as potential blockbuster The Eight Hundred. The latter’s situation was believed to be caused by a political message that was not acceptable to key members of the Chinese military regarding revolutionary history. This would have been particularly prickly ahead of the October 1 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic. The fate of the film is still not determined, though there is speculation it could slip into December.
Ultimately this summer, China had a massive hit with animated pic Ne Zha which made just over $700M locally and is the country’s Oscar submission. China has also been enjoying recent success with My People, My Country ($400M) and The Captain ($392M).
The Central Propaganda Department did in turn rubber stamp studio movies at an unprecedented level for the month of July, de facto kiboshing the annual blackout and freeing up screens. This past weekend, however, it set two major Hollywood movies against one another with Disney’s Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil and Paramount/Skydance’s Gemini Man. Neither film fared particularly well, though Maleficent ultimately won the weekend, also after a short window to market.