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What, if anything, will Marvel's Iron Man 3 be able to shoot in China?
The third movie in the successful Iron Man superhero series was given a partially Chinese theme and structured as a Chinese-US co-venture in order that it could maximise its commercial chances in the world's fastest-growing film market.
But at last weekend's Comic-Con convention in San Diego, US, it emerged that the film's China shoot will be tokenistic at best.
The film's director Shane BLACK addressed fans and media at Comic-Con and said that neither he nor the cast expect to travel to China. He revealed that a crew will be sent to China to film some plate shots, which can later be dropped into green screen sequences shot in the US.
"I assume that when the plates crew goes over to China to film the plates while I'm standing by my swimming pool, that it will go really well," he said at the event. "I'll probably go to China for the premiere," said Black in another Comic-Con interview.
That's far from the position proposed in April when Marvel, Walt Disney Company China and China's DMG Entertainment ＤＭＧannounced that the $250 million film would be a China-US co-production and that DMG would co-invest, co-produce and co-distribute.
And it has become clear that Iron Man 3 has still not yet received the approvals it needs to be considered as a China co-production, a status needed to get around China's import quotas and earn a maximum share of the box office revenues.
In a statement, Marvel told Film Business Asia: "Subject to approval by the Chinese government, the Iron Man 3 production hopes to film scenes in China with cast and crew this fall, as well as hold a movie premiere in China with cast members in attendance."
Despite a week of phone calls and emails to offices in the US, China and Hong Kong, Disney has not replied to Film Business Asia's requests for information. Dan MINTZ, head of DMG and executive producer of the film, has also not replied to contact, but his office said: "The reports out there are not true; he is now shooting in the US."
Chinese regulations typically require that a co-production film shoots a significant proportion in the country and includes significant Chinese casting. While Iron Man 3 appears to have retained a partially Chinese theme and to have cast Hong Kong's Andy LAU these may not be sufficient to qualify.
Regulations also normally require Chinese government approval of the finished script before shooting begins – as well as approvals for the completed movie. However, films can retroactively become official co-productions at later stages.
And it may be script issues that are this superhero's most telling frailty.
Industry sources suggest that while American-made superhero films are regularly shown on Chinese screens, superhero themed movies cannot easily be produced in China. By their nature, Hollywood superhero films tend to imply failings on the part of civic authorities and suggest individuals with powers greater than national authorities.
Marvel has previously revealed that the story in Iron Man 3 features an evil Chinese-British character called Mandarin, who has a history of conflict with hero Tony Stark. According to the official Marvel biography, "through his science [Mandarin] rapidly became a power that not even the Chinese Army could successfully challenge."
While Marvel has admitted to seeking out the China audience — Marvel Studios executive, Rob Steffens, told The New York Times that China settings "will enhance the appeal and relevance of our characters in China's fast-growing film marketplace" — unless Marvel and Disney have made the kind of narrative compromises made by Red Dawn or 2012, the hero and anti-heroes appear to be obvious co-production stumbling blocks.
If it fails to make the grade as a co-production, all is not necessarily lost for Iron Man 3. Due for release in the US next summer, the film may still be imported into China under the recently-enlarged revenue sharing quota system.
Chinese authorities may however require cuts that remove problematic Chinese elements, as happened with the recent Men In Black 3, where a Chinese restaurant scene was edited out, and the earlier Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. (2007), where CHOW Yun-fat's pirate captain was removed from the film.
"The co-production of Iron Man 3 in China is testimony to the importance of this audience to Disney and the local industry capability to deliver a blockbuster title," said Stanley CHEUNG, Walt Disney's MD in Greater China, back in April.
Source: Film Business Asia
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