‘Kung Fu’ Stumble?

Kung Fu Hustle - Image courtesy of Sony Pictures ClassicsDuring its first two weeks of limited release in New York and Los Angeles, KUNG FU HUSTLE played like gangbusters, with nary a drop-off the second week.

Sony Pictures Classics had already planned on rolling it out on more than 2,500 screens, and must have been delighted with the initial returns since they had already budgeted $12 million for prints and advertising. Television advertising was noticeable.

But when the returns were totaled for its first wide weekend, HUSTLE stumbled to a fifth-place finish, with a per-screen average of $2,915 for a gross of $8.0 million.

It’s easy to see why THE INTERPRETER came out on top: PG-13 rated suspense thriller with big name stars in Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman, and nothing else quite like it.

Yet I was astonished to see that A LOT LIKE LOVE did about the same business as HUSTLE. I would have thought that Ashton Kutcher and Amanda Peet were played out as box office attractions — especially Kutcher.

Two hold-overs were surprisingly resilient. Despite awful reviews, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR dropped just 39.6% to finish #2, and SAHARA dropped just 31.1% in its third week to claim the #3 spot. Both are indications that word of mouth has been positive.

The last time Sony Classics expanded an Asian film to a broad audience, it was CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON in late 2000. But that was a much slower roll-out. Did that make the difference?

Did HUSTLE’s R-rating keep away some of the younger audience? According to a report in Box Office Mojo, Sony Classics said that “70 percent of the audience was males 18 to 40.”

Where were the girlfriends, wives, and unattached single women? Were they not attracted to Stephen Chow? Did the trailers and R-rating make it look too violent? Did the absence of an attractive female lead matter?

What does it all mean?

That it’s hard to break a new (to America) star? (Can’t dismiss the Jet Li factor when looking back at HERO’s success last summer.)

That it’s hard to get people to come to a CGI comedy when the hard-core geek crowd has already been satisfied by SIN CITY? (Can’t dismiss the Quentin Tarantino/skin factor either.)

Having finally seen KUNG FU HUSTLE last week, I must admit to feeling distinctly underwhelmed by the picture. As a result, I’m not terribly disappointed by the news of its flat returns. It could be that enough people will love it and let their friends know, and that next week’s admissions will increase.

If not, we move on, like a shark.

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