‘Iron Man 3’: First footage reveals new villain, no China

Oct. 23, 2012 | 4:43 p.m.
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A scene from “Iron Man 3.” (Marvel Studios)

BEIJING — The first trailer for “Iron Man 3” debuted Tuesday, giving fans a glimpse of Tony Stark’s new armor, snazzy shots of his seaside mansion under attack, and a first look at Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin. One thing it doesn’t have: any hint of China.

In April, Walt Disney Co., Marvel Studios and Beijing-based DMG Entertainment announced with no small amount of fanfare their intention to make “Iron Man 3” a Chinese co-production. They talked about incorporating a Chinese angle into the script and said they expected to begin location filming in China in late summer.

“Adding a local flavor, and working with our new local partner, will enhance the appeal and relevance of our characters in China’s fast-growing film marketplace,” Rob Steffens, general manager of operations and finance for Marvel, said in a statement unveiling the deal. DMG Chief Executive Dan Mintz said at the time that the Robert Downey Jr. film would be “the first multibillion-dollar franchise to be produced between Hollywood and China.”

PHOTOS: Scenes from ‘Iron Man 3’

But with 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.

But shooting in China does not guarantee a movie will qualify as an official “co-production.” That designation is significant, as it guarantees a release in the nation and means that a distributor can receive up to 40% of box-office revenue, compared to 25% maximum for films designated as imports. Past Marvel movies have been very successful in China — May’s “The Avengers” grossed $87.6 million there — so the difference potentially means tens of millions of dollars.

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.

ironman3 Iron Man 3’: First footage reveals new villain, no China“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.”

There are still numerous options that the producers of “Iron Man 3” could pursue before it opens in China, however.

For instance, “Iron Man 3” could apply for co-production status after shooting in China is finished, though that would be unusual.

“The rules are pretty clear that this is something that needs to be applied for and approved in advance” of shooting, said Robert Cain, a producer and veteran studio consultant on China who runs the blog Chinafilmbiz. “It doesn’t say anywhere in the rules that they can’t do it post facto, but I’d be very surprised.”

Another possibility, said the person close to the movie, is that China Film Co-Production may not need to give its approval to “Iron Man 3,” because DMG, a Chinese private company, is co-financing the picture.

Finally, Marvel and its partners could simply receive permission to film in China and not seek official co-production status.

Asked for comment, a Marvel spokeswoman said, “The suggestion that there has been an abandonment of the intention to film ‘Iron Man 3’ in China, or to pursue co-production status in China, is false.”

There is no iron-clad formula by which China grants official co-production status, though having Chinese actors, language and scenes are important factors, as is the amount of financial investment from the Chinese partner’s side. In recent months, authorities from China’s State Administration of Film, Radio and Television have increasingly voiced displeasure that some foreign filmmakers are including only token Chinese elements in their movies and seeking to win co-production status.

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Gwyneth Paltrow, left, and Robert Downey Jr. reprise their roles as Pepper Potts and Tony Stark in “Iron Man 3.” (Marvel Studios)

“SARFT has really in recent months been getting tougher in its rhetoric” on co-productions, Cain said. “It’s not that they’ve changed the rules, but that they’re saying they are going to enforce them.”

The issue has taken on extra political sensitivity as imported films have performed strongly at the Chinese box office this year, while Chinese films have flopped. In the first six months of 2012, foreign films accounted for 65% of box-office receipts. Since July, China has booked several similar U.S. movies in head-to-head releases in an attempt to limit their ticket sales. Still, through the end of September, imported films accounted for 59.5% of box-office revenue, according to Beijing-based research firm EntGroup.

China this year eased restrictions on the number of foreign movies it allows into the country and the amount of revenue that Hollywood studios can collect from box-office ticket sales there. On top of the 20 films previously allowed in each year under a revenue-sharing agreement, China agreed to permit an additional 14 so-called enhanced-format foreign films — those that are in 3-D or in Imax — into the country annually.

Zhang, of China Film Co-Production, said that she recently delivered a speech at Stanford University about U.S.-China film partnerships and co-productions, and the industry ties between the two countries.

“I think there are still many misunderstandings between the two sides,” she said. “Everyone knows there’s a huge market in China and everyone wants a share of this market, but you need to follow the rules when you enter a new market.”

— Julie Makinen

Times staff writers John Horn and Ben Fritz in Los Angeles and Tommy Yang in The Times’ Beijing bureau contributed to this report.


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22 Responses to ‘Iron Man 3’: First footage reveals new villain, no China

  1. Joe says:

    Why is Mandarin played by Ben Kingsley… -_- Another Asian well Chinese role being taken by a white person. How typical Hollywood…

    • Mike says:

      Ben Kingsley is NOT WHITE… He is Indian born in Europe. although I am disappointed at the casting because the Mandarin should have been played by Chinese.

      • Atomic Kommie Comics says:

        Ben Kingsley played the villainous Hood (a Pacific Islander) in Thunderbirds (2004), and Mohandas Gandhi (an Asian Indian, for which he won an Oscar) in Gandhi (1982).
        But why a non-Chinese character would call himself "Mandarin" makes no sense at all.
        It's like a German character calling himself "The Czar".
        Why they didn't consider someone like Chow Yun-Fat, who has both sci fi/fantasy fan and international audience cred is beyond me…

      • f54 says:

        Indians are most definitely not Asian.

        They are either Indo-Europeans (specifically Aryan) or Dravidian (south Indian)

    • Frank says:

      Ben Kingsley is Asian. Another white person who thinks all Asians look alike. How typical Joe…

    • spyderyun says:

      the reason that Ben Kingsley is playing Mandarin is cause the chinese actor who was going be Mandarin just had a baby so they couldn't find another asian actor.

      • Bob says:

        Andy Lau was never going to play Mandarin. Nor was any Mainland Chinese actor (or other Hong Kong actor, for that matter). The actual part he was supposed to play was a small supporting role.

    • anddrew says:

      this movie is going to be awesome

    • Satan says:

      Yeah because they never turn a white character into a non-white. Look at Nick Fury.

    • Nick says:

      the obvious reason why they chose a non-asian mandarin is that the original mandarin was a fu manchu style 'sinister oriental' stereotype. they're being politically correct, not racist.

    • Philip says:

      Finally, someone who also sees this as unacceptable! Not only did i hate 'Iron Man 3' for numerous reasons (including The Mandarin twist but also because of the watered-down sci-fi of Extremis and its problematic depiction of Iron Man) i didn't want to pay for it and almost didn't see it in the first place because they white-washed The Mandarin. I'm already not going to see 'The Lone Ranger' because it features a white guy playing a Native American named "Tonto" (whose character was most likely named such in the good ol' days of racism because it means stupid in Spanish)' but whose fictional ethnicity (unlike The Mandarin's) is apparently not a problem with the studio despite being outrageously stereotypical.

      Shane Black claimed that he made The Mandarin white because he wanted to avoid racial stereotyping, but the way to solve that is by removing diversity and making him white like every other supervillain? Instead, emphasize why the name is meaningful: he's cultist among foreigners who admires Ancient China and is distrustful of the nature of progress and the modern world instead wants to fix it by lording over everybody like the Mandarin Chinese emperors of old. Can you imagine 'The Matrix Reloaded' if The Merovingian was Indian? Or if a character called "The American" spoke in a British accent? It wouldn't make any sense. That they changed the ethnicity of a character from a racial minority in the country the movie is made in to that of a racial majority just adds insult to injury.

      This kind of outdated thinking needs to updated to our modern, global world.

  2. InsideTheBeltway says:

    I commend Disney, Marvel, and DMG for pushing the envelope in an attempt to open the China market. The US has very few exports that the Chinese consumer desires. Movies are in that select group. When looking at the films, outside of DMG's LOOPER, that have recently gotten in to the country – Expatriate, Cold Light of Day, Taken II (EuropaCorp), Sammy's Adventure, some Working Title flick, BAIT 3D, etc – it's obvious the Chinese don't want US product tainting their market. That's not cool, and it needs to be changed. These three companies are trying something different and something collaborative with China, and it may just work. Very smart. I hope for all of us that they are successful. Good luck to them and congrats on being innovative – and, quite frankly, we should do everything here to support them in this effort……..

    • John says:

      Ain't gonna happen, any foreign movie production taken place in China still needs to have its "full" script submitted to the respective city&state due to Communist censorship, regardless of the production being joint venture with Chinese State entity or private Chinese production company. In Iron Man 3's case the parameters are even more complicated since the Chinese government is taking a keen interest in knowing "all" about the production, especially the script, in detail undisclosed.

      DMG won't risk "their head" to proceed with Iron Man 3 production in China without full disclosure of the production, including the full script – there was no way Warner Bros or Shane Black would give away the script to Chinese officials only to see the full script get leaked out on internet right away.

      This Iron Man 3/China co-production is heading to an ugly finish.

  3. hayley says:

    how exciting

  4. Mighty Mo says:

    What a load of crap. The Chinese are dictating that we should play by the rules when entering a market. Hog wash, they run rough shot over our markets and DUMP products from tires to crappy drywall. Look, the Chinese have artificially closed their market, they've thrown millions on their "heroic" epics to what…shit.

  5. Andrew says:

    Worked on this film last May in NC..The director, Shane Black, has done an incredible job and the trailer i saw was very exciting. This 'baby' should be a blockbuster and a lot of fun to watch. Can't wait to see it…" General Pritchard'….

  6. michael says:

    Why isn't the 25%/40% distributor clause cause for a World Trade Organization complaint?
    Slap China with an equivalent tariff if that's the way they want to play.

  7. Jackson says:

    This movie is going to be sick!
    but i really hope they make an ant-man / wasp movie that is what i would want to see most of all. i think that it's really good that they are doing a simular thing for the avengers 2 that they did for the avengers where there are numerous movie that lead up to THE BIG AVENGERS BLOCK BUSTER!!!!!! once again i really hope ant-man and wasp have their own movie or are at least in the avengers 2.
    Thnx 4 reading

  8. Scobie says:

    Why does a Chinese actor have to be the mandarin. That sounds racist. Actors, and especially those with Kingsley's talent can play many roles whatever the race, culture or language. Saying that a Chinese or Asian actor should play the mandarin and a caucasian or other non asian should not is like saying that an african american actor should not have played the role of Heimdal in Marvels Thor. If you use that kind of ethnic BullS then Heimdal being from viking, norse germanic cultureshould have been a Scandinavian. You might aswell say Jude law being british should have played Sherlock Holmes instead of Robert Downey Jr or thatDaniel Day Lewis as Abraham Lincoln is not appropriate.. Lincoln was an American not Irish. Can't believe racial, cultural or linguistic background is still an issue in movies. A great actor is a great actor, regardless of the colour of their skin or shape of their eyes.

  9. mpn1980 says:

    They are called actors for a reason….get over it people jeez

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