Iron Man 3 and Sino-foreign Film Co-productions: An Update

October 24, 2012

A few weeks ago I wrote about how some foreign film studios were being rather dodgy with the Co-production Law:

Some clever foreign studio executives apparently thought that co-productions were not living up to their potential. They liked the idea of getting around the import quota, but they were also stuck with making movies that were really only suitable for the China market. Although box office numbers here have been growing quickly, the U.S. market is still number one.

The solution? Co-productions in name only, just the bare minimum in terms of Chinese actors, domestic production and China-related story lines.

The question was whether, or for how long, the government was going to allow projects like these to come into China as co-productions without actually living up to the spirit of the law. At the time, it sounded like Iron Man 3 was pushing the envelope, with even the film’s director suggesting that the China end of the production might be limited to some background shots over here into which the main stars could be digitally inserted later. Weak.

So now a trailer for Iron Man 3 has come out, and it is bereft of Chinese elements. You never know what the final version is going to look like, but if I was working at SARFT (the government regulator), I would not be pleased.

Julie Makinen has an update in the LA Times:

[W]ith the May 3, 2013 release date fast approaching, and stateside filming — primarily in North Carolina — expected to wrap soon, filming in China has yet to begin.

A person familiar with the film’s production said that “Iron Man 3” fully intends to film in Beijing before the end of the year. Production has been delayed in part because of a sprained ankle suffered by star Downey.

Uh huh. Sure. It wasn’t so long ago that we were told that the big stars of the film wouldn’t be coming here at all. Something smells funny. Julie also came up with this telling quote:

In a phone interview last week, Zhang Xun, president of China Film Co-Production Corp., which is part of the state-run China Film Group and oversees all official co-productions in the country, said it was looking doubtful that “Iron Man 3” would qualify and that no script had been submitted for approval.

“They have not applied for any co-production” status for “Iron Man 3,” she said. “If they have already finished filming in the U.S., it might be hard for such a movie to meet the requirement for a co-production. Because you cannot make a film with a few cast members from China and a few scenes in China and expect that to be a co-production.”

Right. In other words, stop screwing around and decide whether you want this to be a real co-production or not. As each day goes by, it gets less and less likely. To be fair, time has not run out yet, but this is getting silly.

To make matters worse, Iron Man 3 still has a “Mandarin problem.” I’ve written about the possible inclusion of old-time Iron Man foe a couple times, saying first that since the Mandarin was a Chinese villain, you’d have to be nuts to try and get that past SARFT. But then after rumors surfaced that indeed the Mandarin would be part of the film after all, I sort of ate my words.

Well, it seems as though these guys are trying to have it both ways. The Mandarin, played by Ben Kingsley, will indeed be the/a villain in the picture, but at the same time they are trying to pretend he isn’t Chinese.

The trailer’s footage revealed Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin and splashy special effects such as a cliff-side mansion falling into an ocean.

But though the movie was expected to begin shooting in China this summer, oddly absent from the trailer were any Chinese scenes or characters.  (While the Mandarin is of Chinese ancestry in his original comic-book incarnation, Marvel President Kevin Feige has said the movie villain’s “specific ethnicity” is intentionally blurred.)

Dude, Kevin, stop bullshitting us. Yes, Kingsley in the Mandarin outfit doesn’t look Chinese. And if his name was “Bob the Bastard,” I’d even go along with the fiction. But it isn’t. This is an established character, and the name you’re using is frickin’ “Mandarin.” Kinda suggests a China connection, doesn’t it? Additionally, it looks like the guy is sporting a queue.

Maybe SARFT isn’t familiar with the English word “Mandarin”? Or perhaps “Mandarin + queue” will suggest a throwback to the bad old Qing days?

This movie is making me crazy. I’ve half a mind to let my hair grow back just to check and see whether it’s turned grey. Then I can put it into a queue.