After months of rumors, we finally heard (and saw) officially over the weekend that Iron Man 3's villain will be the Mandarin. That's good news for fans of the classic Tony Stark nemesis, and fans of Academy Award winner Ben Kingsley, who'll be playing the 10-ringed supervillain. But it might be bad news for Chinese fans.
See, the Chinese government only allows 34 foreign films to screen in the country every year, and the lucky few that make the cut have to pass muster with a strict group of censors who aren't fond at all of negative portrayals of China or Chinese people. They allowed Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End to screen in the country only after cutting out Chow Yun-fat's Chinese pirate character entirely. With that in mind, how will they react to a Chinese supervillain (played, by the way, by a non-Chinese actor) with magical rings and a penchant for trying to kill genius billionaire playboy philanthropists?
But even as they cast Kingsley to play the Mandarin, the flick's producers reached out to China in ways many American filmmakers never have, launching a co-financing deal with Chinese company DMG Entertainment and opting to set some of the flick in China (though director Shane Black noted over the weekend that only exterior setting shots will be filmed there, without the cast). Did DMG know about the Mandarin storyline when the deal was made? If they did, and they still went through with it, is that a good sign of how the flick will fare with Chinese censors?
Either way, China's not a market Iron Man 3 wants to lose. It's now a $2 billion-a-year market, and more than 60 percent of the box-office take in 2012 so far came from non-Chinese flicks (they really love James Cameron, if that gives you an idea). One industry expert claimed a film that makes it into China can expect an addition of $50 million to its total box office. Even for an almost-guaranteed mega-blockbuster like Iron Man 3, that's money worth going after.
So how will Marvel Studios deal with this dilemma? It's possible they won't, just tell their story and hope for the best. But there are stories of other films (the recent release Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is one example) that have specifically added positive portrayals of Chinese characters to appeal to the market. We won't know for sure until the film is released, but now that we know who the villain is, we also know the Chinese market is something Iron Man 3's distributors have to grapple with.
(Via New York Times)