22 August 2019
Produced by Stephen Chow (left) and directed by Tsui Hark (right), Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back is said to carry mostly Tsui’s style.  Photo:
Produced by Stephen Chow (left) and directed by Tsui Hark (right), Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back is said to carry mostly Tsui’s style. Photo:

Journey To The West 2: Why Stephen Chow’s magic touch is missing

Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back has enjoyed huge box office success and is poised to top the mainland record set by The Mermaid, also produced by comedy icon Stephen Chow.

However, reviews by audiences have been far less encouraging.

In this Chinese fantasy-adventure-comedy film, Chow serves as investor, producer and joint screenwriter but ceded the director’s seat to Tsui Hark.

Box office receipts hit 370 million yuan (US$53.79 million) on its Jan. 28 debut, setting a new mainland record for Chinese movies.

With a three-day box office of 850 million yuan, the movie is on track to surpass The Mermaid’s 3.4 billion yuan record to become the most popular Chinese movie.

The Spring Festival is viewed as the most lucrative time of the year for the film industry.

Apart from Chow’s The Demons Strike Back, Kung Fu Yoga starring Jackie Chan, Buddies in India directed by Wang Baoqiang, Duckweed directed Chinese writer Han Han and the Chinese animated cartoon Boonie Bears have also been well received.

Despite the strong numbers, audience feedback on The Demons Strike Back has been mixed at best. The film got 5.6 out of 10 in Douban, a popular China movie and book rating website. By contrast, Duckweed got 6.9 and Boonie Bears received 5.8.

Compared with previous Chow releases, The Mermaid scored 6.9 despite mixed views. And his Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons in 2013 was rated 7.1.

Some mainland moviegoers said “Chow owes us a movie ticket” after watching The Demons Strike Back.

The latest Chow movie is not so bad, but it is more like Tsui Hark style. Die-hard fans of Chow have reasons to be disappointed.

In fact, Chow has slowed his production pace since King of Comedy in 1999 in order to deliver the best quality. It’s an exception that he has made new films for two straight years.

The frequency change may have something to do with a deal Chow made earlier.

Last year, Chow injected 51 percent of his movie company PDAL into mainland-listed Shanghai New Culture Media Group (300336.CN) at a valuation of 2.6 billion yuan.

Under the valuation adjustment mechanism, PDAL pledged to earn at least 1.04 billion yuan between 2016 and 2019. Otherwise, Chow had to cover the difference.

A successful movie usually earns about 10 percent from the box office. That means Chow’s movies should gross at least 10 billion yuan during the four year period.

With a target to reach, Chow perhaps has to speed up and can no longer afford to pour all his heart into each and every one of his productions.

It has been reported that Chow has another four new movies under way, including another Journey to the West sequel, Tai Chi, King of Comedy 2, and Kung Fu Hustle 2.

It would be interesting to see how many of them will be the real Chow stuff.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 1

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist

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