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Pixar’s Coco has made more money in China than at home

#Movie #Poster Coco (2017) [1475 x 2000]

Probably my first China story. This was a lead suggested by my senior writer that I followed up on. (See published version here).

Pixar’s Toy StoryWall-E, and Finding Nemo are beloved in the US, but the iconic film studio has long struggled to replicate its stateside success in China. Its latest title, surprisingly, is changing that.

Coco, the story of an aspiring Mexican musician who meets the ghosts of his ancestors, has struck a chord with Chinese audiences. According to EntGroup, a company that tracks China’s box office, the film has raked in $157.3 million in ticket sales in China since it opened on Nov. 24. That’s a hair above the $151.9 million it has generated to date in North American box office sales, which in the film industry refers to the US and Canada markets.

That makes Coco the first Pixar film to perform better in China than at home. In contrast, Finding Dory, Pixar’s second-highest grossing film in China, raked in a fraction there of what it generated in the US.


Coco no longer occupies top spot in China’s box office rankings, displaced there instead by a local film about a female dance troupe in the army at the end of the Cultural RevolutionBut its strong showing in its fourth weekend in theaters mimics the Chinese success of another foreign film drawing on cultural themes beyond the US.

Dangal, an Indian film about a father who trains his daughters for competitive wrestling, generated $193 million at China’s box office this year. The movie’s focus on female empowerment in a predominantly patriarchal culture resonated in China, where a gender imbalance from the one-child policy is only now being corrected. The story in Coco, meanwhile, takes place in Mexico, but its theme of honoring one’s ancestors parallels Chinese culture’s tradition of filial piety.

Hollywood is relying on China for a growing portion of its overall revenue. Many of the top-grossing films of this year have earned a significant percentage of their revenues from China. The most recent film in the Fast and the Furious franchise, for example, grossed $1.2 billion worldwide, making it the second-highest grossing film of the year. And 32% of its global ticket sales came from China alone, according to Box Office Mojo. Despicable Me 3, meanwhile, generated just over $1 billion worldwide, of which 15% came from China. (Not every hit crosses over—Beauty and the Beast, which beat Fast in worldwide sales, had a middling showing in China).

Even at $157.3 million right now, Coco could still have legs in China. The next benchmark to watch out for is if it passes Disney’s Zootopia, which grossed $235.6 million in China over seven weeks in theaters in 2016, making it the country’s highest-grossing animated film ever.

The hottest place on Earth this weekend was a suburb of Sydney

Penrith 1

A story that told the truth. Most other international publications said Sydney was the hottest place on Earth that weekend. (See published version here).

The temperature near Sydney was 47.3°C (117.1°F) on Sunday afternoon, making it temporarily the hottest place on Earth. The last time this part of Australia recorded temperatures this high was the year World War II started.

The reading was recorded in the suburb of Penrith, about 60 km (37 miles) inland from Sydney, on Australia’s eastern coast, a city that’s perennially near the top of “most livable cities” lists. People flocked to beaches to cool off. On a highway connecting Sydney and Melbourne the asphalt melted (paywall). Today the weather cooled considerably, with Sydney’s high in the low 30s, while Penrith registered a high of 42.5°C.

Heat waves aren’t uncommon in Australia, with a particularly harsh one in 2009 causing hundreds of deaths, and the town of Hopetoun, in Victoria, recording a temperature of 48.8°C.

The heat wave in eastern Australia comes as part of a wave of extreme weather around the world, with the eastern US recently in the grip of record-shattering low temperatures. Even US states known for their warm weather like Florida and Texas have seen snow in recent days, while the Arctic is unusually balmy for this time of year.

It’s not just humans that are being affected by the unusual temperatures—sharks froze to death off Massachusetts and iguanas have fallen out of trees in Florida.

Singapore will keep jailing people without a trial—but it’ll be more transparent

Prison Food

A story focused on a legal development in Singapore with an angle for an international audience that the local publications did not cover. (See published version here).

Singapore has always been tough on crime—now it wants to be a bit more clear.

The Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, passed in 1955, allows authorities to put individuals “associated with activities of a criminal nature” into detention without a trial. But which activities? That’s always been a bit fuzzy. On Tuesday (Jan. 9), lawmakers outlined a proposed amendment—likely to pass this month—that better defines the act’s scope.

Among the offenses listed in the amendment are rape, murder, kidnapping, drug trafficking, unlicensed moneylending, human trafficking, robbery with firearms, and involvement in a secret society.

Authorities have long used the CLTPA to detain criminals without trial. Secret societies—clan-based associations of Chinese immigrants running brothels, gambling operations, and opium dens—were a serious problem in Singapore’s earlier, rougher years. They made it difficult to secure witness testimony in open court, as witnesses would be fearful of reprisals.[read more=More less=Less]

Today of course Singapore is a prosperous city-state and one of the safest places on the planet. But secret societies continue to operate(pdf, p. 9), though less prominently, as do unlicensed moneylenders, known for intimidating debtors.

“There is recognition that such a law is still required in certain situations, but the key challenge is to ensure that the powers provided for will not be abused,” said Eugene Tan, a law professor at Singapore Management University.

Over the years various observers have argued that the CLTPA gives authorities too much power, allowing detention without trial for an overly broad range of activities. Suspects can be imprisoned indefinitely, as detention orders may be extended (pdf) repeatedly after an initial period. Strikes by workers carrying out “essential services” are also specified under a provision in the act.

Authorities used that provision against Chinese foreign nationals working as bus drivers in 2012. The drivers had campaigned for pay equal to that of their Singaporean and Malaysian counterparts and staged the first strike in the country in over 25 years. Though they were given a trial, some of the drivers—providers of “essential services”—were jailed for over a month.

The introduction of the CLTPA amendment this week follows a case a few years ago involving syndicate head Dan Tan Seet Eng, accused of global match-fixing activities. He was freed after the scope of the CLTPA was questioned during appeals. That played a part in authorities wanting to specify which activities were covered.

The late Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first prime minister, said the CLTPA was “not democratic” when speaking as an opposition leader in 1955. Today the People’s Action Party he founded, in power since the mid-1960s, has an absolute majority in parliament, and looks set to extend the act for a 14th time in 2019. At least it will be a bit more specific moving forward.