26 October 2016
Already a superstar in China, Li Bingbing hopes to win more fans abroad with the latest Marvel superhero flick. Photo: internet
Already a superstar in China, Li Bingbing hopes to win more fans abroad with the latest Marvel superhero flick. Photo: internet

Bam! Kapow! Meet the world’s first Chinese female superhero

The thought of Chinese actress Li Bingbing in a sexy outfit, battling villains and saving the world has probably never crossed your mind. (Okay, maybe Li in the outfit.)

But get used to it, because Marvel Comics, looking to pack even more punch into China’s massive film market, is creating the world’s first English-language film starring a Chinese superheroine.

Fundamental Films, a Shanghai-based film studio, announced it will partner with Stan Lee, the former head of Marvel Comics, to co-produce The Realm of the Tiger (虎影俠), a superhero film featuring Li as its yet-to-be-named main character.

The plot of the film is being kept under wraps but is based on an original idea from Lee, the mind behind some of the world’s most famous comic-book characters, including Spider-Man, the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor and the X-Men, the Hollywood Reporter said.

“What a kick it has been to create our first Chinese female superhero, and an empowering one at that,” said Lee.

“It has been such a fun experience bringing to life an international woman character, and the ability to do so has been different from anything we’ve ever done!

“I am thoroughly enjoying every minute of it.”

Fundamental Films said it would invest more than half of the movie’s total budget of “tens of millions of dollars” and will be involved in developing, producing and distributing the film, which is targeted at Chinese and global audiences, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“We believe making female superhero films and other female-led action and sci-fi films will become a global trend in the future,” Cheng Jiaqi, president of Fundamental Films, told the newspaper.

“A female superhero will help this Chinese story stand out.”

The film joins upwards of 35 superhero movies to be released over the next five years by Disney, Warner Bros. (coming soon: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), Fox (purveyors of the X-Men and Fantastic Four series) and Sony Pictures (Spider-Man).

But while other Hollywoods studios have started to include Chinese elements in films — cameos by Chinese pop stars, Chinese product placements, Chinese landmarks — to lure local audiences and get censors to cut them some slack, Disney, which bought Marvel in 2008 for US$4 billion, stands to out-blockbuster the superhero blockbusters with The Realm of the Tiger.

A made-for-China picture with a global story like this one is a shoo-in to take a healthy box office run at smash hit The Avengers, a Marvel movie and the fourth-highest grossing film in history.

Chinese ticket sales are increasing at a breakneck pace, China Film Insider reports, growing 27 percent to US$3.6 billion in 2013 from US$2.8 billion in 2012, and climbing a further 36 percent to US$4.8 billion last year.

China’s film market shows no signs of slowing down: in the first eight months of this year, ticket sales surpassed the total from 2014 and could reach as much as US$6.5 billion by year’s end.

Though the US film industry earned US$10.5 billion from foreign and American markets last year, far outpacing the rest of the world in box office totals, a saturated US domestic market has resulted in stagnant growth over the last decade.

China’s box office is quickly closing the gap.

If global film market growth rates remain consistent over the next few years, many experts expect China to surpass the United States as the largest film market in the world as early as 2018.

That’s not bad for a country that effectively killed its own movie market by almost exclusively releasing propaganda films sanctioned by the Chinese Communist Party from 1979 to the early 1990s.

Chinese and global moviegoers last saw Li in the latest installment of Paramount’s Transformers last year.

Besides starring in The Realm of the Tiger, she will serve as the movie’s executive producer.

She also participated in the creative process, working with screenwriter Alex Litvak (Predators) and the production team over the past year.

Marvel movies have done extremely well overseas, and China is one of the biggest markets for Hollywood today, the Huffington Post said.

This year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron topped US$200 million in China, and Ant-Man surpassed Guardians of the Galaxy with a US$42.4 million opening and US$101.3 million in box office to date. 

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A strategist and marketing consultant on China business

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