How badly does your record-shatteringly expensive fantasy movie have to tank with opening-weekend audiences before you screech all marketing to a standstill, yank the bomb from theaters, and then hope everyone can just forget the whole thing?
Well, if your market is China, and your movie the lavish, CGI-live action fantasy Asura (think of it as a Lord of the Rings-style swords-and-sorcery epic and you’ll be in the ballpark), recouping at least 10 percent of your production budget would have been a nice start.
Instead, after Asura debuted to a mere $6.8 million Chinese box office over the weekend, earning back the smallest shard of the reported $110 million it cost to make, producers abruptly pulled it from theaters, stopped marketing it altogether, and suggested they’d haul it in for some editing and another go at a later release, according to Variety.
Directed by Hollywood stunt veteran Peng Zhang (Kick-Ass, The Last Samurai, Kingsman: The Secret Service), Asura was intended to launch its own multi-movie franchise. Starring major Chinese A-lister Lei Wu, along with Carina Lau and Tony Leung Ka-Fai, the movie is set in its namesake realm of Asura — a vast and colorful “realm of desire” that’s CGI-enhanced to portray all the magical and supernatural lore of its Buddhist mythological roots.
The movie reportedly is China’s most expensive domestic film ever, and the lineup of American creative talent brought in to help create Asura and its distinctive world certainly makes it look like a serious blockbuster project. “The film's costumes were designed by Oscar-winner Ngila Dickson (Lord of the Rings), while Hollywood veteran Martín Hernandez served as audio director (The Revenant, Birdman) and Charlie Iturriaga (Deadpool, Furious 7) supervised the VFX work,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Producers chalk up some of the movie’s bad box-office juju to online trolls, alleging that Chinese ticketing websites (which account for less than half the country's ticket sales) were artificially spammed with bad early user reviews in a coordinated attack, THR adds. But Asura also faced box-office headwinds from Dying to Survive and Hidden Man, two hugely successful films that feature some of China’s biggest stars.
Most of China’s homemade blockbusters reportedly have cost about half what Zhenjian Film Studio, Ningxia Film Group, and Alibaba Pictures Group spent to make Asura, and it sounds as though the producers aren’t ready to throw in the towel completely in the wake of the pricey film’s DOA weekend. “This decision was made not only because of the bad box office,” a Zhenjian studio rep told Chinese news outlet Sina, via THR. “We plan to make some changes to the film and release it again.”