China Swoons With ‘Iron Man’ Fever

Follow me on Twitter @robcain or Sina Weibo @robcain, or connect with me on LinkedIn.Wang Xueqi and IM3

By Robert Cain for China Film Biz

May 1, 2013

I didn’t dare say it until now as I’ve been holding my breath for my friends who handled the Chinese production and release of Iron Man 3, but “WOW!” Their picture has just set new PRC revenue and attendance records for midnight screenings with over $2 million, and initial reports indicate it has easily surpassed Transformers 3’s full opening day record of $15 million, with a nearly $20 million haul in its first-day plus midnight receipts.

And after so many disappointing PRC releases of Hollywood films in the first quarter, IM3 now appears likely to become the first U.S. film in 12 months, since Titanic 3D last April, to crack $100 million at Chinese multiplexes.

I’ve gone on record several times here with the opinion that So Young might beat Iron Man 3 in total China box office revenue. But now it’s a real horse race, and I may wind up eating my words.

Barely a year ago it was conventional wisdom that super hero films don’t play in China, because audiences didn’t grow up with the characters and weren’t familiar with their stories. And until recently this was true; the last Iron Man movie grossed only a fraction of what Avatar, Inception, and several Chinese language hits did back in 2010.

But Disney and Marvel have worked hard to edify the Chinese audience with films like Captain America, Thor, and especially The Avengers, and together with the invaluable efforts of their Chinese partner DMG they made Iron Man 3’s release into a major cultural event. Despite increasing their initial midnight screen count from 1,500 to over 2,300, there was scarcely a ticket to be had in most theaters, and commentary about the film has lit up China’s social media networks.China B.O. Perf of U.S. Films

The China-U.S. collaboration on Iron Man 3 faced numerous challenges and risks, and its success was far from a sure thing, but today’s box office results have vindicated the Disney/Marvel/DMG strategy. Congratulations to all involved for boldly and successfully pioneering new ground in the China-Hollywood relationship.

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at and at

In Chinese Entertainment Gay is the New Straight

Follow me on Twitter @robcain or Sina Weibo @robcain, or connect with me on LinkedIn.Red Cliff scene

By Robert Cain for China FIlm Biz

December 19, 2012

Here’s one recipe for making a film or TV show a hit in China: cast at least two handsome male leads and put them in homoerotic situations that young females can fantasize about. Leave everything to the girls’ imaginations, but make it easy for them to picture the virile males making out and doing other sexy things to one another. If the men are attractive enough and the situations hot enough, young Chinese women will go bananas and you’ll have a major money maker on your hands.

For reasons that are beyond my limited understanding, the libidos of Chinese girls and women born after the mid-1980s are highly susceptible to homoerotic images in media. Foreign TV shows like the UK’s “Sherlock” and America’s “Big Bang Theory” are enormously popular there at least partly because they comedically hint and tease around the possibility of their male leads’ homosexuality. The Holmes character in “Sherlock” is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, one of the prettiest male faces on television, and he constantly finds himself in situations that suggest a possible gay relationship with his sidekick Watson, played by Martin Freeman.Sherlock and Holmes

For instance, in “Sherlock’s” first episode when Holmes and Watson move in together, their landlady apparently believes they are a couple and says: “There’s another bedroom upstairs … that is if you’ll be needing one.”

Later on, the pair share a meal in London’s gay Soho district, where the restaurant owner says: “Sherlock, you can have anything on the menu for you and your date. I’ll get a candle for the table. It’s more romantic.”

“Big Bang Theory,” the most popular American TV series in China, frequently toys with the idea that the characters Raj and Howard may have erotic feelings for one another. Another character, Leonard’s mother, observes that Raj and Howard are in an “ersatz homosexual marriage that satisfies [their] need for intimacy.” And she once asked them directly, “Have you finally summoned the courage to express your latent homosexual feelings for one another?”Howard and Raj

Raj offers plenty of fodder for speculation about his sexual orientation, saying things like, “It’s like accidentally walking into a gay bar and then having no one hit on you. It happened to, um, a friend of mine.” Or revealing that he had a dream in which he and Howard had side-by-side mansions, “but there was a secret tunnel connecting [Howard’s] front yard to [Raj’s] back yard.”

Domestic and imported feature films also offer many opportunities for young Chinese women to get aroused. John Woo’s Red Cliff has a famous scene at the end where handsome Tony Leung and Takeshi Kaneshiro–widely considered one of Asia’s hottest actors–approach each other against a romantic backdrop, wind blowing through the barley field. The pair stand nose to nose for several minutes speaking to each other, perhaps barely resisting a kiss, as Leung’s character says “No matter what may happen, this experience is engraved in my heart.” To which Kaneshiro’s character replies, “I too shall not forget.”

The recent Sherlock Holmes films, also popular in China, star two of the prettiest boys in cinema, Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law. Those films are also notable for their homoerotic tension, and Downey has suggested that Holmes could be a “butch homosexual”, adding that the films are about “two men who happen to be room-mates, wrestle a lot and share a bed.”

When Marvel’s The Avengers released in China to huge box office returns earlier this year, the most heated online discussions were not amongst nerdy fanboys, but among girls speculating that the Loki character might be gay, and that he could be in a romantic relationship with Thor or Iron Man. Stephen Soderbergh’s Magic Mike was likewise the source of much internet chatter in the PRC.El Sexo de Los Angeles

The biggest lust-inducing film for Chinese girls is unquestionably the Spanish import El Sexo de Los Angeles, which has reportedly been viewed over 400 million times in China via the internet. That film centers on a male-female-male relationship that is described by IMDB as a “steamy love triangle”:

“Struggling martial artist and dancer Bruno loves his girlfriend Carla, but when he meets fellow [male] dancer Rai, serious sparks begin to fly, opening the couple up to new possibilities. A new generation navigates sexual fluidity, torn affections, and open relationships in this steamy love triangle. But once Bruno’s clandestine encounters with Rai are revealed, a confused and hurt Carla kicks him out. But she simply doesn’t want to give up on her love. Eventually she agrees that Bruno can date them both.”

Female microbloggers on China’s Sina Weibo have described the film thusly:

“Two men and a woman love each other, a three-way love, ever so harmonious living together. Oh my Buddha!”

“Unique, thought-provoking. Two handsome, suave, sexy charming men, wild and unconstrained, humorous, considerate and gently daring to love, so strong yet so fragile.”

“Are you a homosexual or BISEXUAL? Does it matter? It’s sexual.”

400 million views. For a low-budget Spanish language film. Perhaps now would be a good time for all of us to set aside our big budget, testosterone-driven action extravaganzas in favor of films that explore the softer, more intimate side of male-male relationships.

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at and at

Superhero Movies’ Powers Are Strong—But Not Yet Super—in China

by Robert Cain for China Film Biz

May 9, 2012

China joined the rest of the world last weekend in the Avengers phenomenon, pouring $19 million into the ocean of cash that the film has collected around the world.  That’s a big opening weekend for the movie, third only behind its premier weekends in the U.S. ($200 million) and the U.K. ($25.4 million). In its first two days Avengers’ China run exceeded the entire runs of prior Marvel superhero movies Thor and Captain America, which each earned a total of $14 million in China.

As I pointed out back in December, Thor and Captain America under-indexed in China because the country has no tradition of superhero stories, and apparently not as much interest in these types of films as there is in other markets. “Green Hornet” fared better with $21 million, mainly because it featured a popular Chinese actor, Jay Chou, as the co-star.

So does the Avengers opening signal the start of a new era for superhero movies in China? Should the team at Marvel be popping champagne corks and swinging from the rafters (or whatever superhero movie execs do) to celebrate their ascendance to China’s box office throne?

Not yet. Not hardly.

While a $19 million opening is very good for China, it’s not super-sized; two other Hollywood films—Titanic 3D and Mission Impossible 4—have opened to bigger numbers so far this year.

And compared to its spectacular reception in the rest of the world, Avengers’ start in China can only be termed as “very good,” but not “great.”

In fact, when measured on a relative indexing basis against those other movies, Avengers will likely wind up as an under-performer in China.

Let’s take a look at the numbers. Last year, American films overall earned 5 percent of their total global box office revenue in China. Marvel’s superhero movies under-indexed there, with Captain America earning 3.8 percent of its global box office figure in China, and Thor earning 3.2 percent. Green Hornet was the only superhero movie to over-index, with 9.2 percent of its global take coming from Chinese ticket sales.

It appears a safe bet that Avengers will wind up with at least $50 million in box office receipts in China, which would qualify it as a hit movie there. But as we saw in a recent ChinaFilmBiz analysis, this year Hollywood movies have been earning more than 10 percent of their global revenue in China. Assuming Avengers goes over $1.5 billion globally, and that it takes in $50 or $60 million in China, its China share of the worldwide total would barely exceed 3 percent, a rather disappointing performance.

Were Avengers to index at the average level achieved by other films Hollywood in China this year, it would sell $150 million or more in tickets in China. That’s not going to happen.

But Marvel clearly has China on its mind, with its plans to co-produce Iron Man 3 together with Chinese production company DMG. No doubt they’ll cast a  Chinese lead or two, perhaps even Jay Chou. Others looking to capitalize in China on the superhero genre would do well to consider doing the same, or perhaps even creating new Chinese superhero characters with global appeal.

Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at and at