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It’s been nearly a week since the new trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story dropped in China, the world’s second-largest film market, and the reaction appears mixed.
With as many as four or five sequels and spinoffs in the works, Disney urgently needs to deepen enthusiasm for the Star Wars franchise in China. Since the original three films in the saga were never released theatrically in the country — and the much-derided prequels came out before the Chinese box office boom had kicked off in earnest — the adventures of Luke and Leia remain a galaxy far, far away to many moviegoers there. Force Awakens grossed a healthy $124.1 million in China, but that’s almost half the $240.1 million that Avengers: Age of Ultron earned there.
With Rogue One, Disney has taken a big step towards bringing China into the fold by casting two of the country’s biggest stars: Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen. Yen, widely regarded as today’s standard-bearer of the Hong Kong martial arts tradition, appears to play a blind, Force-attuned intergalactic Ronin of some kind. And Jiang, one of the country’s most respected actors, looks to have a part as a weapons expert decked out in dreads and heavy artillery (for more on the actors and their parts in Rogue One, see here).
“There are mixed sentiments regarding the two Chinese stars,” Alexander Leung of Hong Kong-based social media analysis film Lamplight Analytics tells Heat Vision. “Some are saying saying they don’t believe the characters are pivotal to the plot at all; others are praising Disney for increasing diversity in the Star Wars franchise.”
A mixed response is far better than the reaction many past Hollywood films have generated with their use of local Chinese talent. Social media users in the country are highly skeptical of token castings of major Chinese stars in minor roles in Western movies. The brief appearances of Wang Xueqi and Fan Bingbing in Iron Man 3, for example, were widely derided as blatant pandering for market gain. Chinese actress Angelababy appeared in a bigger part in Fox’s Independence Day: Resurgence earlier this summer, but many Chinese viewers still complained that her character was essentially dispensable. Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou’s central role in Lionsgate’s Now You See Me 2, by contrast, generated considerable excitement, as his persona and character were viewed as a natural and essential fit for the story (the film earned $97.1 million in China compared to $64.9 million in North America, and Lionsgate is now making a Chinese-language Now You See Me spinoff).
Chinese media outlet Sina Movies offered a positive take on the Rogue One trailer earlier this week, writing from its Weibo account, “Excited for Darth Vader! And Jiang Wen and Donnie Yen shot a lot of action scenes — looks good!”
“I really hope it’s not the same approach as Independence Day 2…,” posted a more skeptical user named Ding Yi.
“Jiang Wen is the first real Chinese actor to be cast by Hollywood, and Donnie Yen is the first true martial arts master to play a Jedi,” commented someone using the handle Lomadia.
“What is this, Ip Man 4 vs. Aliens?,” joked Tu Chang, referencing Yen’s hit kung fu franchise.
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