The latest example of a major Hollywood studio teaming up with a Chinese partner to tap China's booming box office while side-stepping the country's film import quotas, today Disney and DMG Entertainment of Beijing announced plans to co-finance and distribute the third installment of the "Iron Man" franchise. Slated to begin filming next month in the US and in China by late summer, "Iron Man 3" is scheduled for release in May 2013. According to the Los Angeles Times, DMG and Disney have not yet revealed the project's budget nor how much DMG plans to invest in the production. Neither side commented this week on what plot elements in the film will be set or shot in China.
As the LA Times adds, actors Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle are set to return to "Iron Man 3," a series that has, to date, grossed more than US$1 billion globally and, between the first and second installments, $43 million in China. Founded in 1993, DMG -- which will manage the Chinese production segments of "Iron Man 3" and hold China distribution rights -- is a private Beijing-based ad firm-turned-film production company "and aspiring distributor." Previous projects for which DMG is best known in China include work for the NBA and Volkswagen. As Jing Daily wrote last August, prior to "Iron Man 3," DMG's most recent partnership with Hollywood was the Bruce Willis vehicle "Looper," which DMG funded under the condition that the film’s location was moved from France to China, and that a role was included for the Chinese actor Xu Qing.
In a recent interview with the LA Times, DMG chief executive Dan Mintz said that, with "Iron Man 3," DMG was going to “talk to the whole world but try to infuse Chinese elements.” Whether DMG's co-funding of "Iron Man 3" also remains contingent on the inclusion of Chinese actors or alterations to the script will be interesting to see, as more details emerge in the months ahead. Though these Chinese film partnerships look good to Hollywood studios hungrily eyeing the fast-growing China market, media observers often worry the necessity to tailor the final product for "global audiences" will inevitably lead to cinematic mediocrity. As we wrote last summer:
For its upcoming remake of the 1980s Cold War classic “Red Dawn,” MGM digitally altered the Chinese antagonists out of the film, replacing them with North Koreans, and red-dubbed the dialogue in order to placate Chinese audiences.
These recent China partnerships bring up interesting questions about the future of international film: Will they, as ostensibly cooperative partnerships, actually create films capable of appealing to both Western and Chinese audiences? Or will these productions essentially remain Hollywood-style films, rendered completely inoffensive to avoid the red stamp of censors and designed with the lowest-common denominator filmgoer (whether in China or the US) in mind?