Star Wars spinoff gets Chi­nese stars

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSS AMERICAS - By AMY HE in New York amyhe@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

The last Star Wars film re­leased in Jan­uary 2016, The Force Awak­ens, earned a healthy $125 mil­lion at the box of­fice in China, but it paled in com­par­i­son to the record-smash­ing $936 mil­lion it made in the US.

In an at­tempt to at­tract the Chi­nese au­di­ence to the Star Wars uni­verse, Dis­ney and Lucasfilms on Jan 2 will re­lease in China a Star Wars spinoff — Rogue One: A Star Wars Story — that will fea­ture two of China’s big stars: Don­nie Yen and Jiang Wen. Yen is one of the big­gest ac­tion stars in Chi­nese cin­ema and Jiang has starred, writ­ten and directed ac­tion ve­hi­cles in the last sev­eral years.

In ad­di­tion to Yen and Wen, the cast in­cludes Felic­ity Jones as the lead hero, Diego Luna, Ben Men­del­sohn, Riz Ahmed and For­est Whi­taker.

The dif­fer­ence in box of­fice re­ceipts in the US and China for The Force Awak­ens has been at­trib­uted to the lack of cul­tural sym­bol­ism that the Star Wars fran­chise has in China. Dis­ney pro­moted the movie heav­ily up to its re­lease, in­clud­ing celebrity en­dorse­ments and var­i­ous events across the coun­try.

What also hurt the movie was that it wasn’t able to se­cure a day-in-date re­lease, com­ing sev­eral weeks af­ter the North Amer­i­can re­lease, dur­ing which pi­rated copies could be dis­trib­uted.

Will us­ing the Chi­nese stars in­crease the box of­fice take in China?

Jonathan Papish, a film an­a­lyst who tracks the Chi­nese box of­fice for China Film In­sider, said that Chi­nese view­ers have be­come sen­si­tive to Hol­ly­wood “throw­ing in fluff parts for Chi­nese per­form­ers or hokey Chi­nese prod­uct place­ments” and can “smell the pan­der­ing from a mile away” since it has been hap­pen­ing for years.

Other block­busters like X-Men: Days of Fu­ture Past and In­de­pen­dence Day: Resur­gence fea­tured Chi­nese ac­tresses in small roles. But he said he’s hope­ful about Yen and Jiang’s in­volve­ment in Rogue One: “Many peo­ple who saw The Force Awak­ens com­plained about the stale light saber bat­tles, that they’d been see­ing bet­ter fight se­quences in Chi­nese main­land and Hong Kong cin­ema [and] tele­vi­sion for years,” he said.

“In Rogue One, Don­nie Yen — and to a lesser de­gree Jiang Wen — has been given an in­te­gral role that uti­lizes his world class mar­tial arts skills. This is a nat­u­ral fit that or­gan­i­cally makes sense in the Star Wars uni­verse — far from stick­ing An­ge­lababy in a fighter cock­pit a la In­de­pen­dence Day,” said Papish.

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