If there’s one place that loves The Fast and the Furious franchise more than anywhere else, it’s China. 

The Fate of the Furious in 2017 made a whopping US$167 million more in China than in the US. It became the country’s best-selling imported film until Avengers: Endgame snatched the crown this year.

Now Hobbs & Shaw is hoping to replicate that success.

The franchise spinoff debuted in China on Friday, already taking up some 80% of all theater screens nationwide, according to ticketing platform Maoyan. An updated counter on the site showed that the film raked in at least US$26 million in less than 24 hours, with nearly 600,000 users saying they want to watch the film.

The anticipation is palpable on Weibo, too, where the hashtag “Fast and Furious Premiere” has been read more than 49 million times. Many say they plan to go to the cinemas even though Hobbs & Shaw is a standalone chapter separate from the main Fast and Furious storyline.

“Many people say it has nothing to do with the first eight installments, but I’ll still have to watch,” said one Weibo user.

“It’s a spinoff all from the start, with no Vin Diesel, ” another wrote. “It’s just that I’ve made it a habit to watch [the series] in the theaters. It has nothing to do with the characters or the plot.”

Dwayne Johnson (left) and Jason Statham (right) in Hobbs & Shaw. (Picture: Universal Pictures)

For many, Dwayne Johnson is the main draw. The Rock has a legion of fans in China who propelled his 2018 film Skyscraper to blockbuster status, even though it got mostly negative reviews in the US. Some movie pundits have attributed China’s love for action movies packed with bulging muscles to the lack of homegrown substitutes.

“My fondness for muscular men is so strong that I’m stopping myself from drooling,” wrote one Weibo user. “I really love Johnson!! So cool!! Looking forward to the next movie!”

The Fast and Furious series hasn’t always done well in the country, though. The fourth installment, Fast & Furious, was the first of the franchise to make it to Chinese screens. But it only brought in about US$4 million, a far cry from Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which grossed US$65 million that same year.

Things changed two years later with the release of Fast Five, which still maintains the highest rating in the series on Douban, a popular audience review site. Thereafter, 2015’s Furious 7 and 2017’s The Fate of the Furious both became the best performing foreign films in China in their respective years.

Judging from Douban reviews, though, audiences are unimpressed by Hobbs & Shaw. It scores a modest 6.3 out of 10, with reviewers criticizing the film for ignoring the spirit of the original series.

“There’s no speed or passion, so what’s the point of making this so-called spinoff?” wrote one person. “The key element of the Fast and Furious series is fast cars. Even with Tokyo Drift, there were still plenty of car racing scenes. But even though [Hobbs & Shaw] features big action scenes like planes spitting out sports cars, they’re fatuous.” 

“It doesn’t hide the fact that it’s a superhero film, having nothing to do with car racing,” wrote another user. “The middle and final parts are really boring.”

Still, timing could help Hobbs & Shaw.

The film lands without major contenders other than the four-week-old Chinese animated blockbuster Nezha.

The Rock isn’t taking any chances either, turning to his verified Weibo account to rally followers in China.

“My relationship w/ the Chinese people will always be the anchor for growth,” he posted on Friday.