'Captain America' Filmmakers to Produce Chinese Superhero Franchise

Joe and Anthony Russo - Getty - H 2016
Getty Images

Joe and Anthony Russo - Getty - H 2016

Following the massive debut of 'Captain America: Civil War,' which opened to $95.8 million in China, Joe and Anthony Russo will produce a local-language franchise targeting the Chinese audience.

Joe and Anthony Russo, the sibling director duo behind Marvel's hugely successful Captain America franchise, have partnered with a Beijing-based production company to develop and produce a new Chinese superhero franchise. Excited Chinese movie buffs have already nicknamed the project "Captain China."

In March, the Russos set up Anthem & Song, a boutique studio that they are using to produce Chinese-language films for China's booming theatrical market, which is expected to become the world's largest box-office market next year.

Anthem & Song has partnered with Chinese film company Beijing FangJin Visual Media Culture Communication Company to co-produce the new superhero project, tentatively titled A Hero's Awakening in English.

"It is fair to say that the Russos are regarded as heroes in the global film business," FangJin CEO Li Xing tells The Hollywood Reporter from Beijing. "In the future, everyone will be focused on the China market. By working with the Russos, we want to use the best visual storytelling to make localized films that fit the Chinese market."

Marvel and Disney's Captain America: Civil War, directed by the Russo brothers, made a massive debut in China last weekend, grossing $95.8 million, the second-biggest three-day start ever for a Hollywood import in the country. In an extensive interview with THR in Beijing last month, Joe Russo explained the creative appeal of working within the Chinese industry. "We're interested in Chinese voices, and dimensionalizing world cinema," he said. 

The Russos have recruited Anthony Leonardi III, who has worked as a concept artist on Game of Thrones, Disney's The Jungle Book and Legendary Entertainment's Kong: Skull Island, to serve as co-director for Hero's Awakening. Chinese filmmaker Mushui Feng (Demon Warrior) will co-direct the film alongside Leonardi.

The story and concept for the pic is being kept under wraps, but Li said the lead character will be a Chinese hero and the cast will be entirely Chinese. The first film will kick off a planned franchise of three movies. 

So far, FangJin plans to wholly finance Hero's Awakening, but it might bring in additional Chinese investors. A budget has not yet been decided, as the script is still in the works, Li said.

Established in 2005, FangJin Media has invested in, produced and distributed just shy of 20 films. The company's next release will be The Conformist, starring Huang Bo, in 2017. 

The timing of the Russos' foray into Chinese-language filmmaking could hardly be better. China's box office grew an astounding 48 percent last year to hit $6.8 billion. The relentless growth has meant Hollywood films, on average, continue to earn more than ever in China, but in the first quarter of 2016, local Chinese films commanded some 75 percent market share, compared to a roughly 50-50 split with Hollywood in years past.

The studios are keen to join the party. In March, Warner Bros. announced a 12-film slate of Chinese-language pics to be produced by its Beijing joint venture, Flagship Entertainment. And DreamWorks Animation's Shanghai-based joint venture Oriental DreamWorks is planning a slate of Chinese-language projects for the surging local market.