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Variety’s Asian Star of the Year Li Bingbing Is Ready for Her Close Up

Thesp takes up residence outside China

If you Google Chinese actress Li Bingbing, the top stories will no doubt focus on a particular dress she wore in 2012 — the same Gucci dress that Katy Perry wore to the Grammys this year.

Which begs the question — besides who wore it best — who is Li Bingbing?

A superstar in China, Variety’s 2013 Asian Star of the Year recently crossed over to international English-language fare with “Resident Evil: Retribution.”

It was a natural fit for Li, one of the most in-demand actresses in China, whose inaugural English-lingo film, Fox Searchlight’s “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,” was released in 2011. She’s been building her profile in the U.S. and on the world stage since her first big international breakout, “Forbidden Kingdom,” with Jackie Chan and Jet Li, walking the red carpet at Cannes, Venice and the Oscars.

With her U.S. agency, UTA, Li is pursuing American and international projects, with Li saying, “We have some under discussion.”

She has the range. Her credits include her 1999 film debut in “Seventeen Years,” which Kino Lorber distributed on DVD in the U.S. and for which she won the Asian actress award at the Singapore Intl. Film Festival, to “The Knot,” for which she won many awards, and “The Message,” in which she turned in a perf that nabbed honors. In the early 2000s, her roles in hit TV series cemented her stardom.

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Thesps like Li are becoming more and more important as Hollywood pushes forward with deeper ties to the Chiense film business. The country’s box office hit $3 billion in 2012, and Hollywood studios are working hard to cater to Chinese auds.

Recruiting Chinese thesps not only helps a film’s perf in that country, the new faces can drive business in the U.S. as well as American auds hunger for the new and fresh.

Li did just that in “Resident Evil.”

Disney just announced that it will will produce two versions of “Iron Man 3,” with one designed specifically for Chinese audiences.

The issue of co-production status in China is something that has potential to trip up Hollywood studios as an official Chinese co-production enjoys distribution that does not count against the import quota, and the studio gets a bigger percentage of the box office.

Although “Iron Man 3” 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, Disney is not going to pursue that designation.

Lately, the government has been cracking down on what Chinese bizzers see as attempts to take advantage of the benefits of co-production status by paying lip service to the requirements.

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.

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 Chinese thesp Fan Bingbing, who was recently added to Fox’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” and bonus footage developed specifically for Chinese viewers.

Censorhip rules still plague Hollywood pics in China. Last year, 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. That film went on to gross some $59 million in China.

But Iron Man 3 presents one of the rare cases where additional footage was actually added to appease local Chinese tastes.

Marvel described the move as a “springboard for future collaboration with China’s talented stars and its growing film and television industry.” 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.

“Everybody is acknowledging China. The market in China is huge. There are a lot more co-productions in the U.S. and China, there are a lot more Hong Kong movies that are being filmed there,” says Celina Jade, a Hong Kong-born American thesp, who plays Shado in CW’s series “Arrow,” at Hong Kong FilMart in March.

The growing importance of China is reflected in her own show, where Shado is speaks Mandarin. “Even U.S. TV series are acknowledging the importance of the China market. My character was, originally, in the DC comics, a Japanese character, and was re-written to be Chinese,” says Jade.

Indeed, Li says that “it’s natural that a talent crossover is emerging and I believe it will grow. The world needs to see all aspects of and for China, the understanding of the foreign market is essential. These bring the opportunities and the challenges to both American and Chinese actors. For me, the U.S.-Chinese artists’ crossover means the fusion of two different cultures. This is absolutely exciting.”

— Marc Graser and Clifford Coonan contributed to this report.

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