Chinese Fantasy extravaganza “Asura” has broken few records in the past weekend, unfortunately not the kind of records to be proud of.
The film is allegedly the most expensive Chinese film ever made, with the cost of a hefty 750 million Yuan (US$113.5 million). But “Asura” has also turned into the biggest loss ever recorded as it took in just over US$7.4 million at the opening weekend and by Sunday night the film was removed from theaters. With the estimated loss of US$106 million “Asura” is therefore a contender as fifth biggest flop in movie history worldwide (according to Box Office Mojo).
Based on Tibetan Buddhist mythology and rich in special effects, “Asura” is backed by Alibaba Pictures, together with Zhenjian Film Studio and Ningxia Film Group, and it was meant to be the first installment of a franchise trilogy, in the style of Hollywood epics such as The Lord of the Rings. The story of a young boy on an epic journey to save Asura, a godly realm of pure desire, after it is threatened by a lower kingdom, the film is directed by first-time-director Peng Zhang, a renowned Hollywood stunt coordinator (“The Twilight Saga” and “Ant-Man”) and it took six years in the making. Big international names are included in the cast and crew; Hong Kong actors Tony Leung Ka-fai and Carina Lau starred alongside young heartthrob Leo Wu as the protagonist Ruyi. In the production credits we can spot Oscar-winner costume designer Ngila Dickson (“The Lord of the Rings” franchise), audio director Martín Hernandez (“The Revenant”, “Birdman”) and Charlie Iturriaga (“Deadpool”, “Furious 7”, “The Social Network”) in charge of the visual effects.
Disastrously, despite the high production value the film didn’t resonate with Chinese audience who deserted the theaters. Moreover, the extreme score discrepancy between different ticketing websites Tiao Piaopiao (owned by Alibaba) and rival Maoyan has sparked a heated discussions among the producers about a possible sabotage by anonymous paid users, purposely giving bad scores.
According to Kevin Ma, Entertainment Editor for Discovery Magazine, in an interview with the CNN, a clue to the flop lies in the list of the top grossing films in China where very few period fantasy dramas can be spotted. Films like “Wolf Warriors II” and “Operation Red Sea” are among the favorites by the public, making you wonder why taking such a massive risk, producing an expensive genre film with no precedents of success.
The good news is that the same weekend has also confirmed the huge success of the film “Dying to Survive,” the story of a market vendor who teams up with a funny bunch to smuggle cheap and effective Indian alternative drugs to treat cancer patients. Starring popular comedy actor Xu Zheng and based on a real story, the movie’s controversial moral has found its way through Chinese censorship and it may have set an important precedent.