Last year, Rian Johnson's time-travel epic Looper had two versions — the U.S. cut, with a brief montage of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's time in China, and the Chinese cut, with a much longer Shanghai sequence. Now, Iron Man 3 takes this trend much, much further, as we move towards a future where China is increasingly important to movie studios.
As we reported a year ago, Iron Man 3 is technically a U.S.-China co-production. At one point, Andy Lau was going to co-star, but then he dropped out of the film early in production. But in the final cut, Chinese movie star Wang Xueqi (who's appeared in films by Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou) plays Dr. Wu. We were told a while ago that Dr. Wu has a complex character, who plays a major role in the storyline and "helps to save Tony Stark's life." But in the U.S. cut of the film, Dr. Wu has a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo in the opening sequence. Meanwhile, Fan Bingbing, who's billed as being in the film, isn't in the U.S. cut at all.
Chinese bloggers who've seen the U.S. cut of the film are upset at Wang Xueqing's "walk on" role, according to the Guardian. The Chinese trailer for the film includes sequences where Dr. Wu calls Tony Stark on the phone, and Iron Man flies away from China's famous Yongdingmen Gate in front of Dr. Wu and a group of cheering schoolchildren. The Chinese cut, which also opens on Friday, will presumably include a lot of these sequences, filmed in China.
Talking to the L.A. Times, Marvel's Kevin Feige says the Chinese version of the film has a "minor extra storyline," in which Dr. Wu and his associate, played by Fan, help Iron Man.
But Shane Black didn't direct these extra scenes, nor did he or Robert Downey Jr. go to China, Black told the L.A. Times:
I was told they wanted additional content for China. It was sort of an experiment, and I was very interested by it. They generated some scenes that deal with this actor, to develop his character. I looked at the scenes to sort of approve them.
In the same article, Feige is quoted as saying it's sort of the same thing as when the U.S. version of Godzilla included new sequences featuring Raymond Burr.
In any case, almost everybody (including people like James Cameron) seems to agree that China is a big part of the future of movies, given the huge potential audience and the massive revenues films like Avatar have made there. We're going to see a lot more of these U.S.-China co-productions, as a condition of gaining privileged access to Chinese theaters — and right about now is when the shape of them is being decided. Are they going to be a matter of extra content made by Chinese crews for Chinese audiences, as in the case of Iron Man 3? Or are the Chinese going to push back, and demand that Hollywood studios actually bring their stars to China and make China an integral part of a movie's storyline, in order to qualify for a co-production? The template for the next couple of decades will probably be set in the next couple of years.