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UPDATED: 08:29, August 30, 2004
Chinese film "Hero" snatches top place of N. America box office
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Chinese martial-arts thriller "Hero," directed by acclaimed director Zhang Yimou and starring action star Jet Li, snatched the No. 1 place of North America box office in the weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday.

The beautifully made martial arts epic took in about 17.8 million US dollars, according to box office tracker Exhibitor Relations.

"Hero," which retells of an assassination plot against the first Chinese Emperor of the Qin dynasty, was nominated for the foreign-language Academy Award for 2002, although it did not succeed.

Besides Jet Li, the film also stars Maggie Cheung, Zhang Ziyi and Chen Dao Ming, a rare lineup of Asian superstars.

"It obviously hit a nerve and certainly bodes well for Chinese films and foreign-language films," said Rick Sands, chief operating officer at Miramax, which opened "Hero" in 2,031 theaters, unusually wide for a foreign-language movie. "We believed in the movie and went for it."

The adventure thriller "Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid," a sequel to 1997's monster-serpent flick, debuted in second place with estimated 13.2 million dollars.

"Without a Paddle" took the third place with a take of 8.7 million dollars, while Disney's "Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement" followed with 8.1 million dollars.

Meanwhile, last weekend's No. 1 movie, "Exorcist: The Beginning," tumbled to fifth-place with 6.7 million dollars, a steep 63 percent drop from its first weekend.

Final weekend figures are due to be released on Monday.

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