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Spider Man creator working on Chinese superhero
Publication Date : 03-10-2012
Chinese audiences will soon receive their own Stan Lee-created Chinese superhero, with a US-Chinese co-production announced earlier this summer.
Slated for a 2014 release, "The Annihilator" will coincide with other China-centric moves by the iconic creator of Spider Man, in a market that jumped 30 per cent to US$1.2 billion in movie ticket sales last year.
In 2014, Lee's Pow! Entertainment company will also introduce a live-action superhero-themed musical in Macao and is in talks to develop a Chinese female superhero.
"I tried to think of a new, unique character," Lee says in an interview with China Daily. "And I said, 'Why don't we make him Chinese?' There hasn't been a Chinese superhero yet. We're friends with the Chinese and have so many Chinese friends over there. And this won't just be a Chinese movie. It will be a movie starring a Chinese superhero for the whole world."
Although details about the character's superpower will be a surprise, Lee says that the film, scripted by Dan Gilroy, will centre around a young Chinese man whose life becomes "more and more exciting and amazing as he gets older", he says.
The plot will take place both in China and the US, and will feature Chinese and Western actors.
"What I have discovered is that if you do the right kinds of characters and the right kind of story, they will be loved all over the world," Lee says. "People are basically not that different. They want to root for the hero, and they want him to be the kind of hero that they want him to be. It doesn't matter if you're American or Russian or Chinese or African. You want your hero to be honest, and trustworthy, and likable. And you want the villain to be somebody that you hate and hope will lose. I think that holds true everywhere. I'm hoping that we at Pow! Entertainment can in some way bring people together from all nations in enjoyment."
"The Annihilator" will be co-produced by Pow! Entertainment's film financing venture Magic Storm in partnership with the Chinese government backed film fund National Film Capital. Eric Mika, chief executive of Magic Storm Entertainment, says the film will have a budget of more than $100 million.
"We're determined to make this a true co-production in which NFC is a partner in the truest sense," says Gill Champion, president and CEO of Pow! Entertainment. "We want to ensure that whatever aspects of the film that have to do with China are handled properly, and we need their input.
"We aren't just looking for investment. We want them to share our vision, not only for this but for many future projects to come. We're relying on their input and knowledge to make this something not only we can be proud of, but something fans and consumers in China will also share an enthusiasm for."
Although China is the biggest export market for US films, State mandates only allow for 34 foreign films to be screened in Chinese cinemas each year. Co-productions have become popular as a method of bypassing that quota, while providing an insider's guide to a market that has so far proved difficult for Hollywood to crack.
Although "The Avengers" opened at $19 million earlier this year, the combined grosses of "Thor" and "Captain America" totalled only $14 million in China over their entire runs. Champion is confident that Chinese audiences will demonstrate an appetite for superhero movies, he says.
"The enthusiasm from fans in China for this genre has been overwhelming," he says. "We believe that "The Annihilator" will be the first in a franchise, and we are looking at a project with a Chinese female superhero as well because we know the enthusiasm from female consumers and fans is just as strong."
While American viewers have often grown up on comic books, Chinese audiences are more likely to have been exposed to the iconic Marvel characters through movies, Champion says. Digital comics have also played a role in China, he says.
"The movies have created a lot of new momentum around the genre," he says.
American audiences are also increasingly interested in Chinese culture, Lee says.
"I think people are always curious about other people and cultures, and China is such an important nation today," he says.
"Obviously everyone is interested in the progress that's being made and the changes that are occurring. The whole process of what's happening in the world between nations and how nations themselves are changing, and that balance of power. Everyone must be aware of China and be interested in understanding more. And I hope that our movie, in some small way, will help to bring about a little more understanding."
Pow! Entertainment's scheduled Macao production of Yin and Yang will also be a classic story about the forces of good and evil, Lee says. "It's a scary concept, because in this show if the forces of evil should win we would all be annihilated. So we better do our work right and hope that the good guys win. One unusual thing about it is that it's probably the first show of its kind where the audience itself will be a part of the show."
Yin and Yang will utilise new technology that has not previously been utilised in live-action shows, Champion says.
Lee addresses rumours that "Iron Man 3", which will also be a Chinese co-production, will feature an old Chinese comic book villain called "The Mandarin". The character has occasionally been described as a racist caricature.
"It's just a rumour at this point," Lee says. "He was an evil character, but we also had a lot of good Chinese superheroes and bad American characters. I have never in my whole career tried to stereotype any characters, and we are certainly not going to do that in anything we do in China or any other nation."
Lee has had a personal connection to China since a trip 10 years ago in which he spoke at the Great Hall of the People about art and cartooning, he says.
During his stay, he met a woman who was working as the humour editor for People's Daily. Inspired by the overwhelming number of bicycles in China, Lee created a character who rode a bicycle.
One gag featured the character riding among hundreds of other cyclists, reading a newspaper with his feet up on the handlebars as a small sail on the back of his bicycle propelled him forward. His comics were published in two full-spread features in People's Daily.
"I cannot tell you how proud I was of those two pages," he says.
Although Pow! Entertainment is working on various projects, both Lee and Champion express particular enthusiasm for "The Annihilator" franchise.
"To put it briefly, I am more excited about this project than any other project we are working on," Lee says.