December 11, 2023

Only the River Flows,” a pitch-black crime noir from auteur Wei Shujun, comfortably topped the mainland China box office on a quietish weekend.

The film, ostensibly a murder mystery, but one concerned more with atmosphere than linear plotting, earned $12.6 million (RMB90.8 million) in its opening three days, according to data from consultancy Artisan Gateway, or close to a third of the market.

The film had its premiere in Cannes where Variety gave it a rave review, calling it an “inventive riff on Asian-noir” and making comparisons with films by Park Chan-wook and Diao Yinan.

“Only the River Flows” has since played at a succession of festivals ever since, including New Zealand, BFI London, Vancouver, Adelaide and last week’s Pingyao event in China.

Falling to second place at the box office after three weeks on top was Zhang Yimou’s “Under the Light,” which earned $6.9 million for a four-weekend cumulative of $176 million.


Chen Kaige’s war, propaganda film “The Volunteers: To the War” earned $5.3 million in third place. Its cumulative total passed a symbolic milestone and is currently $103 million.

CMC Pictures’ “Moscow Mission” earned $4.6 million for a cumulative of $84.7 million. Huayi’s “The Ex-Files 4: Marriage Plan” took fifth place, with $3.8 million for a running total of $131 million.

The four films that took second to fifth places were all released in the final days of September in time for the National Day ‘Golden Week’ holidays. Their figures are all slightly disappointing, but there have been few major new titles released so far in October, making for a slowing trend.

Artisan Gateway reports that the latest weekend was worth $39.1 million nationwide. The year-to-date box office in China is now $6.78 billion, a 76% improvement when compared with a woeful 2022, but still 12% shy of 2019 levels.

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