By Silvia Wong
Published July 7, 2022
Asia scored record-breaking local hits in 2021, even in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic and competition from US blockbusters, according to the latest Made in Asia report.
The annual report on the Asian film industry is published as part of the Made in Asia industry programme organised by Korea’s Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (Bifan), which runs July 7-17. Scroll down for the box office leaders in the 12 Asian markets profiled in the report.
Screen spoke to distributors and producers from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Vietnam about the success of three local hits.
Anita (Hong Kong)
Dir. Longman Leung
Local distributor: Edko Films
Local box office: $7.8m
This biopic dedicated to the legendary Hong Kong singer-actress Anita Mui received its local release in November after being presented as the closing film of South Korea’s Busan International Film Festival. Produced and distributed by Bill Kong’s Edko Films, the film went on to become the highest grossing local film and the third highest grossing film overall in 2021.
“Anita Mui is a collective memory. Her life and her songs have exerted a strong influence on Hong Kong people,” says Mandy Lam, general manager of sales and acquisitions at Edko Films.
Despite her humble background, Mui’s bold image and charismatic stage presence catapulted her into becoming the most sought-after Canto-pop diva of Hong Kong’s golden age in the 1980s and 1990s. She was also an acclaimed actress, earning the best actress prize from both the Golden Horse Awards and Hong Kong Film Awards (HKFA) for her role as the ghost lover of Leslie Cheung’s character in Stanley Kwan’s Rouge in 1988.
Some of these key moments in her life are captured in Anita, which opens with her final concert in 2003, less than two months before she died aged 40 of cervical cancer, and looks back on her legacy.
“Louise Wong’s wonderful performance and the authentic recreation of old Hong Kong also helped make a mark in the Hong Kong box office,” adds Lam.
The casting of Wong, a professional fashion model, was kept under wraps until a few months before the release. She is nominated for both best actress and best newcomer at the HKFA, at which the film has received 12 nominations. The event is set to take place on July 17.
Outside Hong Kong, the film received a wide pan-Asian release, including throughout Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam, all distributed through Sony, and China. A 45-minute five-episode director’s cut was launched on Disney+ in February.
Man In Love (Taiwan)
Dir. Yin Chen-Hao
Distributor: Sony Pictures Releasing
Local box office: $13.84m
This romantic drama is a remake of Korean director Han Dong-wook’s 2014 film of the same name. Released in early April 2021 – before Taiwanese cinemas closed in late May for the first time during the pandemic, it became the highest grossing local film and the second highest grossing film of the year after Spider-Man: No Way Home. It is the sixth highest grossing local film of all time.
“Based on the original Korean film, we added a lot of Taiwanese elements from production design to local customs and spent time on getting the heart and soul of the adapted story right,” says executive producer Veronica Jin. Man In Love marks the first film project of Jin’s Taipei-based production company Calendar Studios.
“We marketed the film as a new style of Taiwanese romance,” she adds. “The outstanding performance of the two leads didn’t go unnoticed. Their romance was handled in the most natural way that resonated well with the audience.”
The A-list cast features Roy Chiu (Dear Ex) as a petty thug who asks a young woman, played by Hsu Wei-Ning (Netflix’s The Victims’ Game) to go on dates with him to offset her family’s debts. The two actors married in real life after the release of the film.
Man In Love marks the feature debut of filmmaker Yin, a music video director. He and the cast have worked hard to promote the film, conducting nearly 200 post-screening Q&As. “Taiwanese audiences generally keep their feelings to themselves, but they teared up as they came to say thank you to us,” says Jin. “The film is melodramatic. If a melodramatic film can make people cry, we have accomplished something.”
The film was also released in China where it made an additional $41.5m and in Korea. It is available on Netflix worldwide.
Dad, I’m Sorry (Vietnam)
Dirs. Tran Thanh, Vu Ngoc Dang
Local distributor: Galaxy Studio
Local box office: $18.3m
Comedy drama Dad, I’m Sorry broke all local records following its release in Vietnam in March 2021, selling more than 5 million tickets and surpassing Avengers: Endgame as the country’s highest grossing film of all time with $18.3m at the box office.
“Unlike a remake with a westernized theme, the film is a genuine, authentic portrayal of Vietnamese culture, and is made for the mass audience,” says Vo Thi Thuy Trang of Hanoi-based producer-distributor Galaxy Studio.
The story revolves around an extended family living in a noisy alley in Ho Chi Minh City. Conflicts and arguments among the family members are daily affairs even over small things.
“The characters will come to realize that family is the most beautiful thing that they should treasure,” adds Trang. “This meaningful message was successfully relayed to the audience who can easily relate to the touching story.”
She also attributes the film’s success to the enormous popularity of comedy actor-emcee Tran Thanh who previously directed and produced a five-part web drama of the same name, which has clocked up a combined 180 million views on YouTube since December 2020.
The film version of Dad, I’m Sorry marks Thanh’s directorial feature debut, which he co-directs with Vu Ngoc Dang and also stars as the eponymous dad.
Internationally, the film reached another milestone in the US, taking a $1.3m through distributor 3388 Films – the first Vietnamese-produced title to top the $1m mark. Local success also led to theatrical releases in Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore. The film was also Vietnam’s submission for the international feature film Oscar but did not make the shortlist.
Top grossing local films in Asia in 2021
* Top grossing film overall in local market
1. CHINA: The Battle At Lake Changjin: $864.5m *
Dir. Chen Kaige, Tsui Hark, Dante Lam
Distributor: Zhejiang Bona Film and TV Production, Huaxia Film Distribution Company
2. JAPAN: Evangelion 3.0 + 1.01, Thrice Upon a Time: $78.97m *
Dir. Hideaki Anno
Distributor: Toho, Toei, Studio Khara
3. INDIA: Pushpa: The Rise: $32.72m *
Distributor: Mythri Movie Makers
4. KOREA: Escape from Mogadishu: $27.33m
Dir. Ryu Seung-wan
Distributor: Lotte Cultureworks Lotte Entertainment
5. VIETNAM: Dad, I’m Sorry: $18.7m *
Dirs. Tran Thanh, Ngoc Dang Vu
Distributor: Galaxy Distribution
6. TAIWAN: Man In Love: $13.83m
Dir. Yin Chen-Hao
Distributor: Calendar Studio, Sony Pictures Entertainment
7. HONG KONG: Anita: $7.82m
Dir. Longman Leung
Distributor: Edko Films
8. INDONESIA: Makmum 2: $4.94m
Dir. Guntur Soeharjanto
Distributor: Dee Company, Blue Water Films
9. THAILAND: 4 Kings: $1.99m
Dir. Puttipong Nakthong
Distributor: M Pictures, Neramitnung Film
10. SINGAPORE: The Diam Diam Era 2: $1.25m
Dir. Jack Neo
Distributor: Golden Village Pictures
11. MALAYSIA: Rumah Maduku Berhantu: $73,024
Dir. Abdul Razak Mohaideen
Distributor: GSC Movies
12. PHILLIPPINES: Taya: box office n/a
Dir. Roman Perez Jr
Distributor: Viva Films
Source: Made In Asia, published by Bifan