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'Hero' jets to first place

August 30, 2004|Robert Welkos | Times Staff Writer

When Miramax Films this weekend opened its visually engrossing Asian martial arts film "Hero," featuring Hong Kong star Jet Li, questions abounded. Among them: Did the stylized, period foreign-language film with English subtitles stand a chance of becoming a hit in America or would it be lost in translation?

Fueled by strong reviews and promoted by Miramax as a film presented by famed "Kill Bill" director Quentin Tarantino, who championed the film with Miramax chief Harvey Weinstein, "Hero" ultimately made a daring leap toward box office gold. The late-summer theatrical attraction came in at No. 1, grossing $17.8 million on 2,031 screens and outdistancing "Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid," at No. 2 with $13.2 million.

It was a satisfying debut for Miramax, whose strategy of delaying the release of the 2002 Chinese film, and putting it in theaters after its DVD release, had been questioned. Miramax, however, said it wanted to distance the film from another hit Chinese martial arts film, 2000's Oscar-nominated "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," which grossed $128 million in America. Both films feature Zhang Ziyi, the striking-looking actress whose gravity-defying martial arts sequences in "Crouching Tiger" enthralled movie audiences.

"The strategy absolutely paid off," said Miramax Chief Operating Officer Rick Sands. The risk of taking the subtitled film wide and putting it in theaters after a DVD release, he said, was minimized by research: "We knew the way it played for audiences."

Directed by Zhang Yimou and photographed by Christopher Doyle, "Hero" takes place from 475 to 221 BC, a time of endless, brutal wars among China's kingdoms. Li plays the storyteller Nameless, an assassin who tells the king of Qin that three fellow assassins are determined to kill him. The film, costing an estimated $30 million, is China's most expensive production to date.

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Box Office

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Preliminary results (in millions) based on studio projections.

*--* Movie 3-day gross Total

*--*

*--* Hero $17.8 $17.8

Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid $13.2 $13.2

Without a Paddle $8.7 $27.9

The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement $8.1 $75

Exorcist: The Beginning $6.7 $30.8

Collateral $6.3 $80

Open Water $5 $23.5

Alien vs. Predator $4.8 $72.1

The Bourne Supremacy $4.6 $157.7

Suspect Zero $3.4 $3.4

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Source: Nielsen EDI Inc.

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Los Angeles Times

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