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Why ‘Star Wars’ Movies Are Bombing at the Chinese Box Office, According to ‘Rogue One’ Star Donnie Yen

"The Last Jedi" was such a box office failure in China that it was pulled from theaters after two weeks of release.

Donnie Yen, "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story"

Donnie Yen, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”


Star Wars” is one of the most popular film franchises in the world, but not so much in China. While entries like “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi” have easily surpassed the $1.3 billion mark at the worldwide box office, it turns out the Middle Kingdom isn’t one of the reasons why. Each new “Star Wars” installment since “The Force Awakens” has progressively grossed less in China, with “The Last Jedi” being such a box office bomb that it was infamously pulled after two weeks in theaters.

In a new interview with JoBlo, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” actor Donnie Yen hypothesized why the movie franchise has never caught on in China. “Rogue One” was another billion dollar grosser worldwide when it was released in December 2016, but China contributed only $69.4 million to that global take. And if you thought “Solo: A Star Wars Story” underperformed at the U.S. box office earlier this year, just take a look at its disappointing $3 million debut in China.

“Chinese audiences didn’t grow up with ‘Star Wars’ culture so unfortunately it didn’t work,” Yen explained. “Marvel is a lot easier to understand. ‘Star Wars,’ there’s a whole universe out there. Marvel, from the costumes, to the music, to the idols, to the stars, it’s much easier to close the gap between the film itself and the audience.”

Yen is one of the most popular and recognizable Hong Kong actors in the world. He starred as Chirrut Îmwe in “Rogue One.” The actor said not enough American filmmakers and executives have taken the time to really understand the Asian film business, and if they did they wouldn’t be surprised why a franchise like “Star Wars” in the Disney era has not succeeded in China.

“When you’re talking about American films you’re essentially talking about Western filmmaking: The structure, the finance, the distribution, the marketing,” Yen said. “That’s the gold standard, that’s the bible and I’m still learning. Chinese filmmakers are still learning, but at the same time we have an edge. We’ve been watching and studying these films. But – vice versa – I don’t think enough western filmmakers have spent the time to really analyze the Asian market, that’s why you’ll notice a lot of American films don’t work over here.”

The “Star Wars” franchise will have another shot at the Chinese box office when “Episode IX,” directed by J.J. Abrams, opens in December 2019.

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