Chinese movie theaters have pulled the fantasy epic Asura after a calamitous opening weekend that earned just $7.1 million. This wouldn’t be all that bad except for the fact that producers promoted the film as the most expensive production in Chinese history. Asura cost over $110 million to produce and made only a fraction of that number in its opening weekend, leading producers to pull the movie on Sunday night. However, the story doesn’t end there. Apparently, there’s a few reasons why this could have happened.
Jack Ma’s Alibaba Pictures put Asura out and quickly pulled the movie after the disastrous opening. Late Sunday evening, all of the social media accounts for Alibaba Pictures and the movie itself announced that it was going to be pulled promptly at 10 PM local time. After the incredible fanfare leading up to the release of the most expensive Chinese movie ever, it has now vanished into thin air. Zhenjian Film, which is credited as lead producer, claims that the box office wasn’t the only culprit. Apparently, Alibaba Pictures is going to take the film back to re-edit it and re-release it at a later date.
Alibaba Pictures has yet to make a statement regarding the reasoning for taking Asura out of theaters, as of this writing. Another rumor to the movie’s terrible opening is possibly because of fake reviews, or “water army,” as they call it in China. It’s very much like the fake reviews that trolls do in North America for Rotten Tomatoes, except the “water army” writers are often paid to sabotage marketing campaigns. Financial backers for Asura claim that the epic fantasy movie was the victim of a rather aggressive “water army” attack.
Another factor as to why Asura failed so spectacularly at the Chinese box office is due to high competition for its opening weekend. The blockbuster Dying to Survive added another $69 million for an 11-day total of $366 million. In addition veteran actor-director Jiang Wen’s highly anticipated movie Hidden Man opened with $46.2 million. Both of the aforementioned films have considerably higher ratings with critics as well. It has been alleged that the marketing for Asura was pretty weak and some analysts predicted that the film was going to have a poor opening weekend. In addition, those other movies were made with budgets that cost half as much as Asura.
The producers of Asura had hoped to build a franchise, but that seems highly unlikely at this point in time. The franchise was aiming to be set up like a Chinese Lord of the Rings based off of “an original dramatization of ancient Tibetan mythology, with a vast set of characters occupying different heavenly realms.” Asura even had Chinese heartthrob Lei Wu in the main role, but it was not enough to save the doomed project. You can read more about the box office failure of Asura at The Hollywood Reporter.