How Hollywood releases its films in China has always been a murky and ever-changing process. Now “Iron Man 3” creates the latest wrinkle in what it takes to do business in the world’s second-largest moviegoing market.
Disney revealed Friday that it will produce two versions of Marvel Studios’ superhero actioner with one designed specifically for Chinese audiences.
At the same time, it has nixed plans to apply for official Chinese co-production status in the country, despite the fact that the film was produced with DMG Entertainment, a Beijing-based production shingle, and scenes of the film were also shot in the city that included star Robert Downey Jr., in December.
Move comes after there has been a crackdown on what Chinese bizzers see as attempts to take advantage of the benefits of co-production status by paying lip service to the requirements. There were just five films that received co-production status in 2011, according to regulatory body the China Film Group. None of those films came from U.S. companies.
The co-production status would have treated “Iron Man 3” as a domestically produced film and enabled Disney and Marvel to circumvent the government’s import quota limiting the number of foreign releases that are shown in mainland theaters. That would also have given Disney a larger piece of the box office.
But the Mouse House is still getting preferential treatment by producing a version of “Iron Man 3” specifically for Chinese moviegoers that features notable locations and a fair amount of footage that would appeal to local tastes.
“While Marvel and DMG have decided not to apply for co-production status in China, the film includes significant Chinese elements,” Marvel said in a statement.
Chinese thesp Wang Xueqi will appear in both the Chinese version of “Iron Man 3” and its international release, along with the footage shot in Beijing. Wang is playing the relatively minor role of Dr. Wu. But Chinese audiences will also see the addition of China’s top actress, Fan Bingbing, who was recently added to Fox’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” and bonus footage developed specifically for Chinese viewers. Further details, like how many minutes of extra footage will be included, were not available.
DMG oversaw all of those sequences, and will continue to help market and distribute “Iron Man 3” in China.
Studios have been careful to meet a long list of Chinese censorship rules when unspooling their pics there. Last year, James Bond pic “Skyfall” had to cut a scene of a Chinese security guard being killed by an assassin when the government objected to law enforcement being portrayed as incompetent. References to the film’s villain being tortured by Chinese authorities were also removed. Other films like “Men in Black 3,” “Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World’s End” and “Mission: Impossible 3” were also edited.
But “Iron Man 3” presents one of the rare cases where additional footage was actually added to appease local Chinese tastes.
DMG also similarly found ways around Chinese distribution rules with “Looper,” which it produced. Film caused a stir when it played in China despite reports that regulators had denied it co-production status. But “Looper” got through largely because DMG is a Chinese company, with 900 employees in China and headquarters in Beijing. That means that the film could be considered domestically Chinese, which can provide the same benefits as a co-production.
Marvel described the move as a “springboard for future collaboration with China’s talented stars and its growing film and television industry,” and called its experience on making “Iron Man 3″ there as “very positive.” Disney is paying close attention to its relationship with Chinese officials as it builds its next theme park and resort in Shanghai and looks to expand its overall business there.
Marvel diplomatically ended its statement with, “The ‘Iron Man’ cast and filmmakers look forward to bringing ‘Iron Man’ back to China.”