Netflix is to edit scenes of its hit series “Squid Game,” after large numbers of viewers began dialing a phone number that appears in the production – much to the despair of those on the other end of the line.
The dystopian series sees hundreds of people who are experiencing the misery of financial ruin, invited to an undisclosed location where they play childhood games in a bid to win a billion-dollar-prize. The rules are clear: if they lose, they die.
When protagonist Ki-hun flashes his games invitation card, an 8-digit number is seen. That number, however, just so happens to belong to a South Korean woman who says she has been bombarded with calls and messages from strangers ever since the show first premiered.
“I’ve been unceasingly getting calls and texts 24/7 to the point where my daily life has become difficult,” said Kim Gil-young, a dessert shop owner who has used the number for 10 years.
She explained that the flood of calls during the day and night was constantly depleting her cellphone battery.
“I’ve had to delete more than 4,000 numbers,” she said, adding that she was “quite taken aback” by the whole experience, which has resulted in some people swearing at her over the phone and others telling her about their financial woes.
“I’m trying to participate in Squid Game, is it possible?” read one text shared by SBS News.
“This is not Squid Game. I sell handmade sugar-free sweet bean jellies,” Kim replied.
Netflix said on Wednesday: “Together with the production company, we are working to resolve this matter, including editing scenes with phone numbers where necessary.”
Others who share similar phone numbers have also been experiencing the same woes as the woman from Seongju County in South Korea’s North Gyeongsang Province.
One woman, whose personal number is just two digits different to the one shown in the series, told The Wall Street Journal that she had been receiving random calls since the show launch – some from as far as Colombia.
While some callers hang-up instantly, others demand to know: “Is this Squid Game?”
The show’s director, Hwang Dong-hyuk, began writing the series as a screenplay more than a decade ago. It took just ten days for the series to rise to the number 1 spot in 90 countries – putting it on track to become Netflix’s most watched program to date.
“We’ve never seen anything grow as fast and aggressive as ‘Squid Game,'” said Minyoung Kim, Netflix’s Vice President of Content across several locations including Korea and South East Asia.
On social media, some questioned how it was possible that the film-giant had not checked the number or used a fake one before releasing the series.
“They actually used someone’s real number?” questioned one user, while many others expressed sympathy for those caught up in the debacle.
Some, appeared to find the phone-number frenzy somewhat entertaining, with one fan tweeting: “I say let them play.”
Netflix did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Its the rare work of art that births an entire genre, but “Metroid” accomplished this in 1986. In a world in which running to the right of a screen was the default action in a video game, “Metroid” dared you to run left, up, down and all over an entire planet.
The genre is now commonly referred to as “Metroidvania,” which acknowledges the Castlevania series as the next franchise that meaningfully moved the genre forward. Today, it is among the most popular genres with independent studios, and its influence is felt in games as diverse as “Dark Souls” to the Batman: Arkham series.
“Metroid Dread” is the first new game in the series since 2017. It has to balance reintroducing the series – one that has struggled in the sales department relative to Nintendo’s other notable franchises – to a new generation of players and recapture what made the series so influential in the first place. And the challenge comes at a time when we’ve seen high-quality, “Metroid”-like games (like “Ori and the Blind Forest”) that understand why the original “Metroid” was such a compelling, unforgettable work.
“Metroid Dread” and Spain-based developer Mercury Steam very nearly accomplish all of these goals, except for one key component: Its world design is hard to commit to memory. Players of Metroid games are required to remember inaccessible locations they discover early on so when they finally do find the tool or powerup required to access that location, they would know to revisit the area and find a reward.
Planet ZDR of “Metroid Dread” makes a noble attempt at this. The backgrounds, for example, are often stunning, particularly when protagonist Samus Aran stumbles upon the palatial grounds of ancient Chozo civilizations, a race with which she’s had a long history. Unfortunately, backgrounds don’t do enough to make navigating ZDR easier or more memorable. It’s the gameplay situations that matter more, and it might be a case of spreading itself too thin. While the planet has eight different regions, more than any other Metroid game to date, that expanse seems to work against the game’s strengths.
For example, the Cataris region is supposed to represent the classic “fire and brimstone” trope. However, there are at least two other regions with significant rooms also caked in lava and fire. This makes navigating the map a pain, since your mind has to keep track of multiple lava-infested regions to revisit. This would be less of an issue in a game with fewer regions, but I don’t believe the eight regions do enough to distinguish themselves from one another.
The result is a Metroid game that feels like it is designed by gridwork and less about creating a convincing world. Again, background details like wildlife roaming the planet help alleviate this somewhat, but in a Metroid game, the foreground should be a priority over the background. The first and second Metroid games were mostly designed with pitch-black backgrounds, yet I could still describe what the Brinstar and Norfair regions were like because the developers placed the details of those regions at the forefront. Norfair was filled with lava, and its music was a raging, syncopated march. And although it’s been years since I’ve played “Metroid Prime,” I could still tell you what the snow-capped Phendrana Drifts look like. But put a space blaster to my head, and I would not be able to describe the Ghavoran or Dairon regions of “Metroid Dread,” a game I played as recently as last night (Oct. 5).
That’s not to say “Dread” doesn’t have its saving graces. For Metroid fans, this is going to be a must-play, if only to see a story that is mindful of every previous game in the series. While many believed “Dread” would be a true sequel to the excellent, horror-tinged “Metroid Fusion,” it’s more accurate to say that it’s a continuation of that story, as well as the ones found from “Super Metroid” and even the original Game Boy release, “Metroid 2: Return of Samus.” I won’t risk ruining any surprises, but it’s safe to say that “Dread” will force longtime players to look at the older games in a new context.
The end of “Metroid Dread” left me stunned in its story reveals, and these moments ultimately justified this new entry in the series. “Dread” raises huge questions for Samus and the series moving forward. I can tell it’s a tale that series writer Yoshio Sakamoto has been wanting to tell for years, and it’s a victory for him and for the fans that it saw the light of day.
And the game got better, both in gameplay and in its environments the deeper I plumbed through my 10-hour journey. Later locations like Ferenia and the aforementioned palatial grounds may stay in my memory longer than others. And as Samus tears through the planet, older locations will be reshaped and redesigned to keep backtracking feeling fresh and ever so confounding. As you regain your powers (yes, “Dread” follows the classic Metroidvania trope of stripping her of all her abilities at the start), the act of exploring and finding more items on the planet finds a comfortable groove.
But that groove is sometimes threatened by ZDR’s world design. There will be certain choke points in the planet where the player won’t be able to proceed unless they figure out what to do next or how to beat the next enemy. This may be an issue for some players, because this game is difficult. “Metroid Dread” requires you to hold the L shoulder button to aim, the R shoulder button to select missiles, Y to shoot, sometimes B to dodge, and the R trigger to use a grappling hook. All of these buttons and abilities must be pressed, sometimes all at the same time, while you dodge screen-filling attacks that hit hard and can take out anywhere from one to three energy tanks in a single swipe.
The melee counter from Mercury Steam’s first outing, its “Metroid 2” remake on the Nintendo 3DS, adds another feature that requires constant monitoring while balancing everything else. While I appreciate the melee counter adding to the appeal of Samus Aran as an untouchable bounty hunter, it also adds an unnecessary layer of combat that’s trying to balance so many things at once. This issue is only worsened by the fact that several boss encounters can only be finished by performing a melee counter like a quick-time event. Failing this means fighting the boss again until they wind up the attack again.
The new enemy encounter of “Dread” are the nigh-invincible EMMI robots, seven of which stalk you in predetermined, locked-off areas of the planet. These sequences are great and far more varied than you might expect. Each one escalates when it comes to tension, pressure and even speed. The Metroid series has always had a strange balance between its heavily inspired H.R. Giger aesthetic (as seen in “Alien”) with the rough-and-tumble, space-faring Flash Gordon tales, complete with ray guns. With the EMMI machines, “Dread” is able to fully lean into its horror roots to great effect, as some of these machines will throw new twists and turns at you to keep you on your toes.
Once again, these EMMI encounters are difficult. There’s only one kind of weapon that can kill them, and it’s only given to Samus as a reward for surviving the EMMI and the planet long enough. Once Samus expends this weapon, it’s done until she finds another one. The EMMI segments almost become a whole different game, as this weapon also requires a new control scheme, and even a new perspective, to wield.
I have to stress that this game’s battles with its bosses and EMMI robots left my hands cramped. “Metroid Dread” is a game that requires not just a working, instinctual knowledge of every single one of Samus’s tools, but the dexterity to pull them off. While every attack in the game is avoidable, you’re likely going to see a “Game Over” screen several times in a row until you memorize these enemy patterns. The game has a generous number of checkpoints, especially outside boss rooms, but this only underscores how “Metroid Dread” will funnel you into choke points until you and your fingers are able to wriggle yourself free, back into the rest of the world.
To be honest, I had hoped that “Metroid Dread” would have taken important lessons from its contemporaries, like the exemplary 2017 game “Hollow Knight” by indie studio Team Cherry. That title presented loneliness and solitude in ways the original “Metroid” strove for back in 1986. I’m all for reviewing games as they are, and this is a fine Metroid game by any measure, even with my complaints about world design.
“Metroid Dread” was always going to struggle against its own legacy. I can’t help but think of what we’ve been missing since Nintendo left its wildly innovative spin-off “Metroid Prime” series to languish for the last 14 years. Nintendo has promised a fourth game in the main line series, and that kind of fresh look at the Metroidvania genre demands a revisit. “Metroid Dread” is a good Metroid-style game, but does little more. Even the EMMI horror aspect was previously explored at the end of the excellent remake of the first game, “Metroid: Zero Mission.”
As the game industry has proven throughout the years, the Metroid formula is worth iterating and reiterating upon. Now that the formula is back home in the original series that created it, here’s hoping Nintendo remembers this too.
Note: This article discusses some plot details from Netflixs “Squid Game,” but avoids major spoilers.
When a new series called “Squid Game” popped up on Netflix last month, some social media users assumed it was a new competition reality show. Thankfully, the ultraviolent thriller – in which people participate in children’s games with a deadly twist – is purely fictional. But like reality TV, it’s a window into how human beings treat each other and what we’ll do to succeed or, in this case, what we’ll do to survive. And people can’t stop talking about it.
In the Korean-language series, written and directed by filmmaker Hwang Dong-hyuk, hundreds of debt-ridden people sign up to compete for billions of South Korean won (roughly $38 million) under mysterious circumstances. One of the players is Seong Gi-hun (Jung-jae Lee), a divorced man who lives with his elderly mother, rarely sees his 10-year-old daughter and, thanks to a gambling problem, owes hundreds of thousands to loan sharks.
After one of his creditors violently tracks him down to collect, Gi-hun signs a cryptic contract in an effort to buy himself more time. We truly see his desperation when he accepts a well-dressed stranger’s challenge to play a popular South Korean game in which players attempt to flip tiles of folded paper, for a bet of 100,000 won (a little more than $84 in the United States). Since G-hun is broke, he agrees to receive a slap in the face for every round he loses.
Many rounds later, Gi-hun leaves with a scarred and reddened face, 100,000 won and a business card that includes several symbols – and a number to call if he wishes to play more games for money. Confronted with the weight of his failures, Gi-hun calls the number and is given a location from which he is picked up by a masked individual in a van filled with other prospective players. The van fills with sleeping gas and when Gi-Hun wakes up, he’s in a warehouse in an undisclosed location with hundreds of others. The players are all dressed in the same green-and-white track suits and Gi-hun realizes that he is player No. 456.
Masked men wearing red jumpsuits appear; one explains that the players will participate in six games: “Those who win all six games will win a handsome cash prize.” When a few of the players object, their massive debts are revealed to the group.
“Every person standing here is living on the brink of financial ruin,” he says as a large screen plays footage of players being slapped repeatedly in an effort to win a small prize. Several in the crowd hang their heads in shame. But the extreme stakes aren’t revealed until the first game, “Red Light, Green Light,” when the players come to the horrific realization that being eliminated from the game means a brutal death.
Though many of the players struggle with the circumstances of the game, the majority actively choose to remain at the compound, where everything is methodical – from meal distribution to the violence that escalates with each game. As their stories come into full view, “Squid Game” becomes much more than a gory dystopian thriller. It’s a haunting microcosm of real life, unpacking the many implications of inequality, which has in some way drawn each of the players to this battle for their lives.
Since its Sept. 17 debut, “Squid Game” has become a political talking point in South Korea, and, as Deadline reported, quickly surged to Netflix’s Top 10 rankings in the United States – becoming the first Korean show to do so – and has become a worldwide hit. Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s co-chief executive, said recently that the show is primed to become its most-watched original series. That means, according to the company’s somewhat mystifying internal metrics, that it will have been watched more than “Bridgerton,” currently the most-viewed original, and other hits including “The Queen’s Gambit,” “Tiger King,” “Emily in Paris” and the fourth season of “Money Heist.”
Like “Money Heist,” a Spanish series that also features prominent red jumpsuits (and is the inspiration of a forthcoming Korean adaptation), “Squid Game” has become an Internet obsession, spurring memes and TikToks. In a recent Variety interview, Hwang said he kept the show’s ruthless games “simple” so viewers could “focus on the characters, rather than being distracted by trying to interpret the rules.”
“I wanted to write a story that was an allegory or fable about modern capitalist society, something that depicts an extreme competition, somewhat like the extreme competition of life,” he told the magazine. “But I wanted it to use the kind of characters we’ve all met in real life.”
The characters represent the best and worst of human beings, and how they compete in the deadly games – at the whim of an unidentified entity – is far more illuminating than how they accumulated their debts. “You don’t trust people here because you can,” Gi-hun tells a young woman named Sae-byeok (model HoYeon Jung, in a standout acting debut), a North Korean defector whose family was tragically separated. ″You do it because you have to.”
As conflicts flare between games, players build uneasy alliances. Gi-hun and Sae-byeok become part of a makeshift group that includes an elderly man known as player 001 (Oh Yeong-su), Ali (Anupam Tripathi), a Pakistani refugee who fell victim to abhorrent labor practices‚ and Gi-hun’s childhood friend Sang-woo (Park Hae-soo), a disgraced businessman who winces every time Gi-hun speaks proudly of his old buddy’s accomplishments.
Their compelling backstories are juxtaposed with one particularly suspenseful story line that offers clues about the men in red jumpsuits, who are bound by strict rules designed to hide their identities at all times. The power they wield over the players is supervised by an enigmatic figure dubbed the Front Man, who wears a distinct, more obscure mask. Their identities and motivations are one of the show’s biggest mysteries, along with those of their benefactors.
As in life, the answers to these questions don’t come easily or without disappointment. In some ways, they are more brutal than the games themselves.
Streaming giant Netflix has established a $5.4 million endowed scholarship at Howard University to honor actor and alum Chadwick Boseman, officials announced Monday.
The Chadwick A. Boseman Memorial Scholarship will award full scholarships to students in the historically Black university’s College of Fine Arts, which was named after the late actor in May. The first gifts have already been doled out to Sarah Long, a freshman who studies musical theater; Shawn Smith, a sophomore in the acting program; Janee’ Ferguson, a junior in theater arts administration; and Deirdre Dunkin, a senior studying dance.
Starting next year, a first-year student will be selected annually for the scholarship, which covers full tuition for four years – a total of about $113,800. The award targets students who “exemplify exceptional skills in the arts reminiscent of Mr. Boseman” and demonstrate a financial need, officials said.
“Many exemplary artists are not afforded the opportunity to pursue higher learning, we hope to support as many students as possible by removing the financial barrier to education,” the actor’s wife, Simone Ledward-Boseman, said in a statement. “This endowment represents Chad’s devotion to the craft, his compassion for others, and his desire to support future storytellers.”
Boseman is widely known for playing the titular character and hero of Marvel’s “Black Panther.” But his legacy rests largely in his sensitive portrayal of Black icons – from Jackie Robinson in “42” to James Brown in “Get On Up” and Thurgood Marshall in “Marshall.”
The actor, writer, director and producer died in August 2020 of colon cancer. He was 43 years old.
Boseman was posthumously nominated for an Academy Award for his work in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” – an adaptation of August Wilson’s 1982 production – which premiered on Netflix after a short stint in theaters.
“While he was taken from us too soon, his spirit is with us always in his work and the good that he has inspired,” Ted Sarandos, Netflix co-chief executive and chief content officer, said of Boseman. “He always spoke of his time at Howard and the positive way it shaped his life and career. Now, we will have the opportunity to give many future superheroes a chance to experience the same.”
Before he graced movie screens, Boseman was a Howard student. It was there he befriended Howard alumna and “The Cosby Show” actress Phylicia Rashad – now dean of the school that bears Boseman’s name. Rashad became one of Boseman’s mentors and helped him secure funding for a summer acting program at Oxford University.
A native of South Carolina, Boseman graduated from Howard in 2000 with a bachelor of fine arts in directing. He delivered the university’s commencement address in 2018, where he applauded activism on campus and encouraged students to find a purpose, not just a job.
“Purpose crosses disciplines. Purpose is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history,” he told the graduating class.
Wayne A.I. Frederick, Howard’s president, said the endowed scholarship embodies Boseman’s love for the university.
“I think Howard meant a lot to Chadwick,” Frederick said. The actor had an “incredible journey” at the school and built lasting relationships on campus. “All of those things inspired him to want to give back to the university,” Frederick said.
The scholarships will be a launchpad for students, many of whom struggle financially, Frederick said. About half of Howard’s student body is eligible for federal Pell grants reserved for low-income families. “I would underscore that this type of support is support that means a lot to our students,” Frederick said, adding that opportunities that lessen the financial burden on students are “critical.”
The Nintendo Switch OLED model is coming soon, and even though it boasts a sleek design, has vibrant colors and impresses with its graphics, ultimately its still not a very exciting upgrade.
Nintendo is basically serving up gamers another version of its best-selling 2017 console that is nearly identical besides its nicer screen.
The Switch OLED costs $50 more than the standard Switch and $150 more than the Switch Lite. For that price, Nintendo has upgraded the Switch’s screen to a seven-inch OLED touch screen (rather than the 6.2-inch LCD screen of the standard model), doubled the storage space and added a port to the console dock so people can hardwire into their Internet router for a stronger connection. In a preview event, The Washington Post was able to get over an hour with the Switch OLED and the game “Metroid Dread,” both slated for an Oct. 8 launch.
The Japanese company has sold more than 89 million units of the Switch so far, making the console one of its most popular ever, ahead of the Nintendo 3DS, the Nintendo 64 and the Game Boy Advance. In the years following the Switch’s launch, Nintendo has continued to serve more consoles to the market, releasing a handheld-only version, the Switch Lite, in 2019 and various themed Switches for fans of specific game franchises.
The main things to like about the Switch OLED are the enhanced graphics. But one can imagine that for many Nintendo games, starring amorphous blobs or turn-based combat, the slight improvements to vibrancy, sharpness and overall crispness of animations might not make a huge difference. The new console provides a small boost that fans of the Switch’s online multiplayer titles might really appreciate, because hardwiring into the Internet coupled with a longer, sleeker screen could ultimately mean improved performance in games like “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate,” “Splatoon 2″ or “Mario Golf: Super Rush.”
It’s fitting, then, that Nintendo chose to showcase the upcoming action-adventure game “Metroid Dread,” which follows Samus as she explores passageways, runs from robots and loads different blasters into her arm cannon. The early cutscenes in “Metroid Dread” are rendered in bright red and clean, white colors, with details looking visibly clearer than how graphics usually look on the regular Switch or the Switch Lite. It’s still easy to notice that the Switch OLED model has 720p resolution on handheld mode, and while that’s not a bad resolution on a small screen, it makes you wonder how much nicer the graphics could get if Nintendo bumped it up to 1080p in handheld mode.
In TV mode, though, the Switch is only as good as the TV that’s being used, rendering the fancy magic of the OLED display moot. Both the OLED and standard Switch models go up to 1080p via an HDMI cable in TV mode, which is still far from the 4K resolution of the new Switch’s latest console rivals, the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X.
The Joy-Con controllers, too, are nothing new, though the new Switch is backward compatible with older Joy-Cons. That’s good news for anyone who has bought themed Joy-Cons, like the blue and green “Animal Crossing” ones or the purple and orange ones sold at retailers.
For all the improvements, the Switch OLED model is only slightly heavier than the original Switch, but because of its longer screen size, it also feels different to hold. I found it most comfortable to play while having both hands propped on a table, as holding the console in the air alone felt unwieldy after an hour of dodging and weaving through obstacles.
After all the rumors of a “Switch Pro” with a potential update to storage, graphics and battery life, it’s clear the Switch OLED model is not exactly the impressive refresh that fans were hoping for. But maybe for those who have been slow to buy a Nintendo Switch, or those who want to collect them all, the OLED model could find its audience.
Britney Spears is engaged. Fans are urging her to consider a prenup as her conservatorship battle continues.
Britney Spears and long-term boyfriend Sam Asghari are engaged, the couple announced Sunday – days after the singer made progress in the long-running battle to resume control over her own life and end her fathers financial conservatorship over her.
Thirty-nine-year-old Spears announced the news in a video on her Instagram account, where she posed alongside Asghari, 27, and held a four-carat diamond up to the camera. Thousands flocked to congratulate the couple, who have been dating for almost five years. The ring, already branded “The Britney,” is engraved with the word “Lioness” – Asghari’s nickname for the star.
Among the celebratory comments came pleas from fans – and other celebrities – for the best-selling singer to implement a prenuptial agreement to protect her estimated $60 million fortune.
The engagement comes shortly after the popstar’s father, Jamie Spears, filed to end the financial conservatorship that has been controlling her life for over a decade. “If Ms. Spears wants to terminate the conservatorship and believes that she can handle her own life, Mr. Spears believes that she should get that chance,” the filing said.
Spears’s battle to break free from the legal arrangement has been closely followed by fans around the world for years, sparking a “Free Britney” movement. Concerned fans have long pointed out that within a year of being placed in a conservatorship because of erratic behavior, Spears was back on tour performing and even launched a residency in Las Vegas.
“I shouldn’t be in a conservatorship if I can work,” Spears told a court in June.
Conservatorships are designed to protect the monetary and personal interests of the elderly and people who are seriously ill. Britney’s family and close aides maintain that the structure was put in place in 2008 to protect her as she battled with her mental health. Following her breakdown, Spears lost custody of her two children and was hospitalized twice under psychiatric holds.
Spears told a Los Angeles court this summer that the “abusive” conservatorship had left her “traumatized” and begged the judge to help her regain control of her life. The singer said that initially she had been unaware that she was able to appeal to end the conservatorship.
“I’m not happy. I can’t sleep. I’m so angry it’s insane. And I’m depressed. I cry every day,” she said, telling the court that although she wanted a baby with Asghari, she had been forced to keep an IUD.
Asghari is an actor and personal trainer from Iran who immigrated to the United States at the age of 12. The couple are believed to have met on set for a music video in 2016.
In a statement Sunday, Asghari’s manager Brandon Cohen said the pair “made their long-standing relationship official today and are deeply touched by the support, dedication and love expressed to them.”
Among the well wishes on social media, many – including actor Octavia Spencer – urged Spears to take steps to protect her wealth.
“Make him sign a prenup,” Spencer wrote – a remark that did not go unnoticed by Asghari who replied with the emoji “100,” in apparent agreement.
Alongside laughing emoji on his Instagram story, Asghari wrote early Monday morning: “Thank you everyone who is concerned about the prenup! Of course we’re getting iron clad prenup to protect my jeep and shoe collection incase she dumps me one day.”
Spears has been married twice. In 2004, she tied the knot with longtime friend Jason Allen Alexander – a marriage that lasted 55 hours. Later that year, she married dancer Kevin Federline – with whom she had two sons, Jayden James and Sean Preston. The pair split in 2007.
The next court hearing regarding the star’s conservatorship is scheduled for Sept. 29.
Disney Shang-Chi breaks Labor Day record with Asian turnout
“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” the first Marvel film featuring an Asian superhero, dominated the weekend box office with an all-time record for a film opening over Labor Day.
The Walt Disney Co. movie made an estimated $71.4 million in U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to data from Comscore Inc. The result blew past initial estimate of $52 million expected by researcher Boxoffice Pro.
The film hit home with Asian filmgoers, who represented about 17% of theater attendees over the weekend, more than double the usual turnout for a Marvel film, according to demographic data supplied by Disney. It did particularly well in cities with large Asian populations including San Francisco, Honolulu and Vancouver.
“Shang-Chi” had the second-highest opening weekend of the pandemic, after “Black Widow.” All the films in theaters took in $106.2 million, the best first-three days of Labor Day weekend since 2014, Comscore data showed.
The Labor Day holiday is traditionally a slow one for the film industry, as consumers are usually distracted by kids returning to school and the start of college football. The movie business is still struggling to cope with the pandemic, with swaths of theaters in Asia and Latin America closed.
Disney took a gamble releasing “Shang-Chi” only in theaters and on this weekend. It’s the second major movie this year Disney has debuted solely in cinemas, instead of making its movies simultaneously available on Disney+ for free or for a $30 fee.
The Marvel picture tells the story of Shang-Chi, played by Simu Liu, who is “drawn into the mysterious Ten Rings organization,” according to a description from the studio. It has a 92% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, making it one of the more critically acclaimed comic book films.
“Candyman,” a thriller from Universal Pictures, took the No. 2 spot at the box office this weekend, in its second week out. It made $10.6 million domestically, with analysts from Boxoffice Pro expecting it to take in $9.3 million. Another Disney film, “Free Guy,” which is also only in theaters, made $8.7 million in its third week.
China summer box office slows amid star crackdown concerns
China is seeing one of its slowest summer holiday box office seasons in years after a delta-driven outbreak kept audiences home, while concerns grow that a regulatory crackdown on celebrities and idols could prevent the industry from bouncing back.
Ticket sales during the June-August summer holiday amounted to 6.7 billion yuan ($1 billion) as of Tuesday morning, according to ticketing platform Maoyan Entertainment. That’s the lowest number since 2013, excluding last year, which saw much of China locked down for months in a bid to contain the virus.
The slump reverses a boom from earlier this year, when China reported record New Year’s Day and Lunar New Year holiday box office revenue as normal life resumed across the country. It comes as the outbreak hits the wider Chinese economy, with the country’s services industry contracting for the first time since March of 2020.
The lack of blockbuster releases contributed to the slump. The three-month season was dominated by patriotic titles as the ruling Communist Party celebrates its 100th anniversary.
There’s uncertainty about whether China’s box office will make a full recovery this year now that the delta outbreak has been contained, as the regulatory spotlight turns to the entertainment sector. After cracking down on the technology and education sectors, signs that government officials want to rein in the influence of celebrities and idols have spooked investors.
Some Hollywood titles were also impacted by the slow summer. Walt Disney Co.’s much-hyped “Cruella” collected just 155 million yuan, compared with the company’s “Mulan,” which was shot in China and took in 278 million yuan last year.
“The box office outlook indicates a decline from pre-Covid years,” said Stanley Rosen, a China politics and film specialist at the University of Southern California. “But given the situation in other countries, China will be the clear number one box office in the world.”
The record new year period was largely driven by two blockbusters, “Hi, Mom” and “Detective Chinatown 3.” But on the party’s July 1 anniversary and the People’s Liberation Army’s founding day on August 1, most releases were reruns of decades-old patriotic films.
“The authorities were concerned that more popular domestic films could embarrass the patriotic films, so they made sure that there would be a minimum of such popular films,” said Rosen.
The dearth of popular releases was compounded by China’s return to lockdowns over the last two months. On August 5, authorities announced that they would temporarily shut movie theaters in regions with higher risks of spreading Covid, while those in lower-risk areas were given a 75% capacity cap. The closure affected over 2,000 cinemas, state media reported.
There could be more box office hurdles ahead, as officials increase their scrutiny of the movie industry. On Friday, the Cyberspace Administration of China issued a statement requiring further regulations on online fan communities and celebrity management, including banning rankings of stars.
The Communist Party’s top internal disciplinary body on Tuesday posted an article online criticizing the “abnormal ecosystem” of the entertainment industry, where it said companies were able to make huge profits from fans by creating superstars who may not be qualified for their work.
“The ability for high profile celebrities to influence consumers and promote projects will be closely watched with harsh punishments for those crossing red lines,” said Chris Fenton, a film producer and author of “Feeding the Dragon: Inside the Trillion Dollar Dilemma Facing Hollywood, the NBA, & American Business.”
Some stars have already been ensnared in the campaign, including actress Zheng Shuang, who was fined 299 million yuan last week for tax evasion. Online video platforms have also removed the name of Vicki Zhao — one of China’s best-known actresses — from several drama series and movies with no explanation, raising questions about whether she had come into regulators’ crosshairs.
Chinese entertainment stocks have already felt the blow. Alibaba Pictures has dropped 13% since Friday, while studio and video platform operator Mango Excellent Media Co. fell 12%.