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"The Flowers of War" Debuts in China to Good Numbers, But They Need To Be Great

Photo of Dana Harris By Dana Harris | Indiewire December 20, 2011 at 10:04AM

"The Flowers of War" will begin a North American rollout tomorrow in New York, but the most expensive production in China's history showed signs of wilting in its home-country debut.
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Christian Bale stars in Zhang Yimou's "The Flowers of War"

"The Flowers of War" will begin a North American rollout tomorrow in New York, but the most expensive production in China's history showed signs of wilting in its home-country debut.

Last week, the Zhang Yimou drama starring Christian Bale received the encouragement of a Golden Globe nomination for best foreign language film. (It's also China's official entry for Oscar consideration.) And with the film's release in China last weekend, it topped the box office at $23.9 million.

That's great -- except with its $91 million budget, even that debut could fall short. Per Chinese film business analyst Robert Cain:

"Flowers of War" needs to do "Avatar"-sized numbers (that film cumed $208 million in China in 2009-10) to have a profitable theatrical run, but it failed even to exceed the opening of the $1.4 million budgeted "Love is Not Blind," which took in $28.5 million in its opening week back in early November.

Although it’s too early to say for sure, it looks unlikely that "Flowers" will break $100 million in Chinese ticket sales, much less the $200 million it needs. Given its limited international prospects due to its dark and China-specific subject matter, "Flowers" could earn the unwelcome distinction of becoming the biggest money-loser by far in China’s film industry history.

"Flowers of War" is also slated for release in Hong Kong December 25, with a wider bow in January.

Wrekin Hill Entertainment and Row 1 Prods. will release Yimou's film in North America, where its awards standing could greatly impact its box-office chances. At the Globes, "Flowers" will stand off against Angelina Jolie's "In the Land of Blood and Honey," Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's "The Kid With a Bike," Asghar Farhadi's "A Separation" and Pedro Almodovar's "The Skin I Live In."