The forecasts of Shang-Chi and the legend of the ten rings facing China they are not good. To the antecedent of the failure of Mulan in the Asian giant, we must add that of Raya and the last dragon —Another project of highly sought after Asian appeal— and the bad reputation by Chloé Zhao, Oscar winner filmmaker of Chinese descent who will soon release Eternals with Marvel… and then there are the unique problems of the Destin Cretton movie. Coinciding with the delta variant of COVID-19, Disney has decided not to release Shang-chi with the hybrid model of theaters and Disney + with Premium Access, in a context in which several majors its releases are postponed again and China refuses to release the film in its cinemas.
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It matters little that Shang-chi has shown great care when it comes to choosing a mostly Asian cast – in this effort we find both the essential Michelle Yeoh and Tony Leung, an inseparable face of Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai – while at the same time forging a story where a The young man has to reconcile himself to his Chinese roots in order to become the hero he is destined to be: the great hindrance is the story of the character himself. The birth of Shang-Chi in 1973 is inseparable from the success of Bruce Lee, as well as the joyous orientalism that beats in the idea of the screenwriter and cartoonist Jim Starlin to make him the son of Fu Manchu: decades old literary and obscenely stereotypical creation .
Wanting to turn their backs on this shameful past, the scriptwriters decided to change this detail of the origin of Shang-Chi so that his father would become the Mandarin, a villain who already brought a tail in 2013 when in iron Man 3 was incarnated by Ben Kingsley… although the film made it clear that this was not the true Mandarin. It has been of little use: the character’s background is what it is, and the government has not liked the idea of a young Chinese man who has fled to the United States persecuted by the criminal organization led by his father. Kevin Feige, creative director of Marvel Studios, has been arguing for months that Shang-chi it is actually a love letter to Chinese culture. So far, without success.
In recent years, the nature of China as a superpower has been consolidated through the cinema, serving the crisis of the coronavirus as an accelerator for a long-anticipated situation. During the past 2020, thanks to an exhibition policy much more daring than that of Hollywood – which for months was limited to delaying premieres -, the domestic collection of the Asian country it managed to surpass that of the United States for the first time in its history, also placing four indigenous productions among the highest grossing of the year. The one who headed the ranking was The Eight Hundred, an epic drama whose makers had no intention of exporting. They didn’t need it.
The triumph of The Eight Hundred —And, into 2021, the one of Chinatown Detective 3– certifies the maturity of a production model that has sought self-sufficiency since its inception, focusing on Hollywood only from certain expressive molds that will help to consolidate a blockbuster own. This self-sufficiency, parallel to the economic development of the country, has plunged the Hollywood industry into restlessness, not moving it so much to compete as to please. With its direct commitment to the big screen, the tireless opening of multiplex cinemas and the audience that most loves the theater experience of the world, China is a fundamental market. One to be in.
It is possible to fix the beginning of this retreat in the 90s, when at the same time that films like Titanic or The fugitive greatly increased the collection thanks to their coffers, the government of the country was upset at the realization of Kundun, Seven Years in Tibet and The Red Labyrinth for his portrait of the occupation of Tibet. “It was a stupid mistake”, came to declare on the matter Michael Eisner, repentant CEO of the same Disney that had produced Kundun. By then it was clear that Chinese institutions should be on their side, a situation that aggravated in the 21st century.
Hollywood at the service of China
Until then, Hollywood had been quietly nurturing from both its box office and the export of talent (Zhang Yimou, John Woo), but this friendly relationship soon turned into dependency. And not from China to Hollywood, but on the contrary: while the Chinese influence reached so far as for the conglomerate Wanda Group to acquire the production company Legendary Entertainment and the AMC cinema chain, the American industry began to lavish in very significant gestures. From co-productions –The Great Wall, Transformers: Age of Extinction– to films designed exclusively with this market in mind. The example of remake from karate Kid with Jackie Chan is hilarious, because of how he substituted the karate of the title for a Chinese martial art, the Kung Fu.
All involved, naturally, in specific controversies that usually result either in the cancellation of Hollywood premieres for transgressing Chinese values, or in the reissue / censorship of said premieres for their exhibition. Not to mention the strict selection of foreign productions – only 30 to 40 are allowed per year – and the unpredictability that their audiences still rage: all of them are problems that have long kept Hollywood executives awake. In the case of The Walt Disney Company, moreover, it has been especially dramatic: the major most powerful in the industry, surprisingly, does not seem to know very well yet how to make a foothold in China.
With honorable exceptions such as the reception of Zootopia, and beyond the failure of the aftermath of Star wars, it is symptomatic what happened with the remake from Mulan, predecessor in many aspects of the move that Marvel is preparing – in possession of Disney since 2009 with Shang-chi. Mulan It was developed with a desperate interest in satisfying China, which caused it to undergo multiple changes from the original film, as well as a series of controversies that damaged the image of Disney because of how the studio seemed to support the systematic human rights violations in which incurred his partner.
Disney chose not to position itself when its actress Liu Yifei applauded the repressions in Hong Kong, nor did he give explanations for the collaboration during filming with Xinjiang authorities, where millions of citizens who profess Islam are repressed in reeducation camps. And what was the result of this? The aforementioned sinking of Mulan at the box office … widely surpassed by the aforementioned The Eight Hundred.
Marvel’s weak point
When in 2019 it was released Avengers: Endgame, the summit of the Marvel Cinematic Universe monopolized all the records of collection had and to have. All but one. The highest grossing film by theater during the first weekend it slipped through his fingers, with $ 76,601, widely exceeded by the $ 87,833 of The Farewell, an independent film by Lulu Wang. Obviously they were not competing on equal terms: while Endgame had reached 4,662 theaters across the United States, The Farewell screened in only four theaters, packed with an audience as loyal and enthusiastic as the one that cheered when Captain America raised Thor’s hammer.
Disney, the most powerful ‘major’ in the industry, does not seem to know very well yet how to succeed in China
The Farewell narrated the misadventures of a young woman of Asian descent who had to travel to China – a country she hardly knew – for a bizarre family reunion: her grandmother had been diagnosed with cancer, and her relatives had agreed to spend some time with her hiding the diagnosis from him. Based on an experience from Wang herself, The Farewell it addressed the culture shock and identity dilemmas of a generation whose roots had been blurred by focusing its gaze on what the United States could offer. The female lead was played by Awkwafina, who ironically is now making her Marvel debut with Shang-Chi and the legend of the ten rings. A movie with similar dilemmas.
Is Shang-Chi and the legend of the ten rings doomed to failure? Of course, none of the conditioning factors of the Chinese market should affect the box office in the West, except for the impact of the delta variant on attendance at cinemas, and the attractions that the Cretton film can host both among the population should not be underestimated. of Asian ties as well as between fans of martial arts movies and Marvel fans themselves. The approach to China can be preemptively branded as unsuccessful – one of many for Disney – while providing another opportunity to study a new class of blockbuster with — apparently and because Hollywood has no other choice — a lot of future ahead.
It is what guarantees that Shang-Chi, quite a different movie within canon marvelita, preserving reminiscences of previous / future installments or the humor that represents a fabulous Awkwafina, while combining them with dissonant elements. Some of them would be an impeccably choreographed action – which the montage and lighting spoil from time to time – or a grueling third act in the wake of the blockbusters that triumph in China, full of massive battles, monsters and the assumption of a hyperdigitalized aesthetics, without concern for the corporeal, which could in turn set a new standard for commercial cinema around the world.
However, the film starring Simu Liu contains within it the keys to blockbuster of the future, as well as the guidelines of a cultural battle that already seems to have erected a winner.