‘Iron Man 3’s’ efforts to appeal to Chinese audience fall flat

BEIJING -- “Iron Man 3” made its Chinese debut Wednesday -- two days ahead of the U.S. opening -- and while the film is drawing good crowds here, it’s leaving many viewers unimpressed with Hollywood’s latest attempt to crack China’s booming cinema market.

Partly financed by Chinese firm DMG Entertainment, the superhero sequel by Walt Disney’s Marvel Studios had impressive openings last weekend in Britain, South Korea and other countries.

The partners are counting on strong China sales to help make it this summer’s first global blockbuster, and Marvel said it had added “significant Chinese elements” to the movie, including an appearance by popular singer and actress Fan Bingbing.


However, the sprinkling of Chinese near the opening and a little bonus footage with Fan at the end did nothing for moviegoers such as Gloria Zhang.

“It’s not necessary,” said the 26-year-old, who paid nearly $20 to watch the 3-D film at a multiplex theater in Beijing’s Sanlitun area. Zhang said she goes to the movies twice a month.

“I just want to see Robert,” said Stephen Qin, 25, referring to Robert Downey Jr., who stars as hero Tony Stark.

The Chinese edition of “Iron Man 3” also includes some product placement of Chinese brands, which drew a stinging rebuke online from viewers. And in an apparent effort to get past China’s sometimes hypersensitive cinema censors, the name of the film’s villain, the Mandarin, played by Ben Kingsley, was translated in a way to have no connection to its meaning in English.

Hollywood has struggled for decades to break into China’s film market, which last year surpassed Japan’s as the world’s second-largest, with ticket sales surging 30% to $2.7 billion. China allows only 34 foreign films into the country a year, including 14 that are in the enhanced formats of 3-D or in Imax.

Some American films, including hits such as “The Da Vinci Code,” have been abruptly pulled from Chinese theaters with no explanation given, though analysts believe that such actions reflect China’s desire to keep box-office receipts and grow its domestic film industry.

It was unclear why “Iron Man 3” opened Wednesday, the final day of a three-day-long holiday.

Increasingly, U.S. filmmakers have partnered with Chinese producers to help with financing and approvals, even as Hollywood has yielded to Chinese officials’ demands to cut or alter scenes that might cast China in a negative light.

Ma Xinping, a flight attendant who watched “Iron Man 3” on Wednesday night, said he understood why Hollywood went to extra trouble to please Chinese audiences, but the 22-year-old didn’t think it was worth it.

“It was just so-so,” he said about the film and the special scenes meant to cater to Chinese audiences.


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