Chinese censors may search content obsessively for what they deem to be objectionable material, but they apparently don’t consider a film’s off-screen controversy quite as closely.
At a time when China is booting major films like “Nomadland” or “Monster Hunter” from cinemas for perceived “insults to China,” its authorities have green lit Woody Allen’s troubled “A Rainy Day in New York” for theatrical release in the world’s largest film market.
Although a few of Allen’s films, such as “Midnight in Paris” and 2012’s “To Rome with Love,” have screened at the Shanghai Intl. Film Festival, “Rainy Day” will mark Allen’s first proper theatrical release in the country.
Its debut will make China only the third country to release the title in the wake of the pandemic, and the first to do so in wake of last month’s HBO doc miniseries “Allen v. Farrow,” which put long-running allegations that the director molested his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow back in the headlines. (Allen denies the charges, and the title has not aired in China.)
Many of the film’s actors began distancing themselves from the production as early as 2017, starting with Griffin Newman, who tweeted that he regretted participating in the production and would be donating his entire salary to charity. Since then, his colleagues Timothee Chalamet, Selena Gomez, and Rebecca Hall have followed suit.
“Rainy Day” wrapped in the summer of 2018, but its planned release that year was pushed back as Allen kicked up controversy with his comments on the Harvey Weinstein case and molestation allegations. After Amazon shelved the project and pulled out of a four-picture deal with the director, Allen filed a $68 million breach of contract suit against the company in 2019, which ended in a settlement and the film’s distribution rights returned to the director.
Even after that, the film never received a wide release in the U.S., opening quietly on a few screens before moving quickly to streaming. The $24 million-budgeted film has grossed $22 million so far from overseas markets in Europe, Latin America, and Asia, starting with Poland in July 2019.
Since the pandemic began, it has released only in the Asia-Pacific region and never broken the $1 million mark, with outings in Japan ($843,000), South Korea ($649,000), Taiwan ($85,000) and New Zealand, in last place with an incredible $429 in sales, according to Box Office Mojo.
China could easily become the film’s largest overseas market, a dubious honor currently held by both Italy and France, which each notched grosses of $4.2 million.
Chinese promotion for the film highlighted Allen’s seniority and respectability as a director, prominently noting his four past Oscar wins and lifetime achievement awards from major festivals like Cannes and Venice. It also called attention to locally popular Chalamet’s leading role and the film’s “sweetness and romance.”
Variety’s review said that “A Rainy Day in New York” “feels like a film born of profound creative exhaustion,” assessing that its “engaging, youthful cast [could not] resuscitate this markedly out-of-date Woody Allen misfire.”
The film is already widely available in pirated version on the Chinese web.