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China Superhero to Boost Film Industry

Kathrin Hille in Beijing
Wednesday, 20 Jun 2012 | 2:00 AM ET
09 Jun 2007: Rome, ITALY: A man dressed as Superman protests in front of policemen during a demonstration against US President George W. Bush planned by pacifist movements, anti-globalisation and far-left parties in Rome, 09 June 2007. US President George W. Bush is greeted by two separate demonstrations in Rome as the far left of Italy's ruling centre-left coalition seeks to distance itself from more hardline anti-US campaigners.
Filippo Monteforte | AFP | Getty Images
09 Jun 2007: Rome, ITALY: A man dressed as Superman protests in front of policemen during a demonstration against US President George W. Bush planned by pacifist movements, anti-globalisation and far-left parties in Rome, 09 June 2007. US President George W. Bush is greeted by two separate demonstrations in Rome as the far left of Italy's ruling centre-left coalition seeks to distance itself from more hardline anti-US campaigners.

Hang up your cape, Superman. Here comes the Annihilator – all the way from China.

Perhaps seeking to promote the country as one of the good guys, China is financing a Hollywood movie featuring a Chinese superhero who saves the world. The character has been invented by Stan Lee, the 89-year-old creator of figures such as Hulk and Ironman.

The Annihilator, the protagonist of the 3D movie scheduled to open in 2014, “trains in Qigong in China and then comes to America, where he becomes a superman by coincidence,” Wang Guowei, president of National Film Capital, the state-backed film fund, told the FT.

“Then he returns to rescue the world – including China – from a crisis. By including the idea of China rescuing the world, it competes with the ‘China threat’ theory.”

China’s ruling Communist party has long lamented that its “soft” power falls far short of that of the U.S.. Efforts to improve matters, however, have been hampered by an overeager propaganda agenda.

Mr Wang said this would change. “Our country puts too much emphasis on ‘going out’” – projecting itself abroad. “The harder you strive to do that, the less you will succeed,” he added, noting that Chinese film exports were “almost zero”.

It was a myth that Chinese ideology was always different from other peoples’ thinking, Mr Wang said; 98 percent of Chinese values were in line with global values.

The Annihilator demonstrates China’s fast-growing influence in the global film industry thanks to its booming market. The project tops a list of 10 international films National Film Capital said at the Shanghai Film festival it would co-finance, with a total investment of $230 million.

Most of The Annihilator’s $100 million budget will come from China, though much of the artistic input is from the U.S., with a script written by Dan Gilroy, author of The Bourne Legacy, and being developed by Hollywood-based Magic Storm Entertainment.

Chinese box-office sales jumped 30 percent last year to $1.2 billion, compared with flat or shrinking sales in other major markets including the U.S.. In the first quarter this year, China surpassed Japan as the world’s second-largest movie market by ticket sales, making it the largest foreign market for Hollywood.

While more than 70 percent of Chinese film ticket sales came from Hollywood productions, the country retains tight limits on such showings. That means that co-productions, which are exempt from the quota for foreign films, are Hollywood’s best bet for a bigger piece of the pie – an expectation reflected in a wave of China-U.S. co-production and film investment announcements over the past year.

National Film Capital, founded by a number of state-backed institutions, is chaired by Yang Buting, a former head of China Film Group, the country’s state-owned studio and distributor. After lying dormant for years following its 2008 creation, it got active in February with the creation of a new fund for Hollywood investments.

Additional reporting by Zhao Tianqi

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