Moon Man Becomes The (Pretty Great) Blockbuster China Needed

Entertainment News

Chiyu Zhang’s Moon Man earned $6.9 million on its third Friday in China, bringing its 15-day total to $336 million including around $14 million in IMAX theaters. It’s the first true-blue China since New Years’ week when Water Gate Bridge earned $626 million while To Cool to Kill earned $393 million this past February. China’s annual box office was, for the first half of 2022, down 38% compared to 2021, with a government bailout on the way. Meanwhile, Hollywood blockbusters are crushing it globally either sans China (Top Gun: Maverick, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, etc.) or earning less (Jurassic World Dominion, The Batman, etc.) than in pre-Covid times. Moon Man, which should end the weekend just over $355 million is, pardon the cliché, the movie China needed right now. It’s also very good.

The second Battle at Lake Changjin flick is an unapologetically nationalistic (but not jingoistic/xenophobic) Korean war epic. It’s a 2.5-hour, shot-on-IMAX blowout that’s probably the closest to non-stop action I’ve seen since The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Too Cool to Kill, which you can watch on Viki, is a pure crime comedy farce. It’s a goofy, sometimes clever but comparatively slight little romp about an actor who gets coaxed into impersonating an assassin without realizing that it’s not for a movie. There’s a priceless gag toward the end which made my son guffaw. Moon Man is a successful blend of Chinese-specific patriotism and old-school Hollywood blockbuster spectacle. It’s just a damn good movie that, and this is neither criticism nor compliment, I can easily see being remade by Hollywood in the next few years.

Moon Man, which opened on July 29 with a $148 million Fri-Sun weekend, stars Teng Shen as a willfully underachieving engineer who finds himself working maintenance on an outer-space mission meant to prevent an asteroid from smashing into Earth. Pre-title spoilers ahoy, but things go to hell when he’s accidentally left behind amid an emergency evacuation. Oh, and the plan fails. The asteroid does collide with our planet. By the time the title card pops up around twenty minutes in, Dugu Yue is stuck on the moon, seemingly doomed to live out his natural life as Earth’s only survivor. That’s a considerable jolt right there. I wouldn’t call it subversive, but the Chinese blockbuster opens with the hyper-competent Chinese government launching a plan which does not save the Earth from an extinction-level event.

First act spoilers, but we soon discover that at least some of humanity survived the disaster, including Yue’s workplace crush (astronaut Ma Lanxing, played by Li Ma). His moon base day-to-day life, starring him and a single surviving animal (no spoilers there) eventually becomes a kind of Truman Show/Ed TV-type entertainment for those needing escapist optimism in post-apocalyptic China. What follows is a skewed mix of Passengers, The Truman Show, The Martian and its unique sensibilities as we get a fair share of self-satirizing bureaucratic humor and macabre punchlines. It’s a reminder that not every big Chinese tentpole is ‘China is always right and never makes mistakes.’ The film peaks in the first hour, but there are genuine pleasures and some ‘never seen that before’ images in the second half before the poignantly satisfying finale.

After a $148.1 million debut and a $60.5 million second-weekend gross, we can expect around $27 million for an over/under $355 million 17-day total. A 60% drop in weekend two (following a $37 million day-six gross on China’s Valentine’s Day) and a 55% drop in weekend three isn’t super leggy. Still, the film seems to be fending off competition amid China’s annual ‘only Chinese flicks allowed’ blackout period. It could still clear $400 million global by the end, even as it ironically faces competition next Friday from Minions: The Rise of Gru. We have a genuine Chinese blockbuster and a tentpole Hollywood export, whose last installment (Despicable Me 3) earned $153 million in China, facing off in the biggest overseas market. It may just feel like pre-Covid times for the first time since late 2019.

Also make sure to check out some other lists of ours to see other recommendations we have for shows and movies to watch and some streaming to play:

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