China: Biopic of "Superhero" Deng Xiaoping to Open on Same Day as 'Avengers: Age of Ultron'

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Deng Xiaoping

The film includes footage of a KKK member's assassination attempt on the statesman widely seen as the architect of economic reforms in China.

A biopic about late Chinese statesman Deng Xiaoping, the leader credited with starting reforms that transformed the country, and a U.S. visit by him will hit Chinese theaters next week.

With Chinese being always aware of the importance of symbolism, Mr. Deng Goes to Washington opens on May 15, the same day as Avengers: Age of Ultron, and producers say it's because Deng, who kick-started economic reforms in China, is a superhero in China.

"While Avengers: Age of Ultron is about the story of America's superheroes, we believe that Deng is the Chinese version of a superhero," Wang Bo, visual art director for the movie, told the Global Times newspaper.

Among other things, the biopic includes footage of an assassination attempt on the diminuitive statesman by a Ku Klux Klan member.

It's unusual for a Chinese biopic to focus on a single leader, although there have been occasional pieces about other Communist leaders of late. Although less than five feet tall, Deng was a giant who dominated Chinese politics after the Cultural Revolution, a period of ideological frenzy unleashed by the founding father of the People’s Republic, chairman Mao Zedong.

The documentary tells the story of Deng's nine-day visit to the U.S. in 1979, his first visit to the country, one month after China established diplomatic relations with the U.S. for the first time following the founding of People's Republic of China in 1949.

It includes the footage of an attempted attack by a Ku Klux Klansman, Louis Beam, in Houston, as well as scenes of 30,000 supporters of the Kuomintang, who lost the Chinese civil war and fled to Taiwan in 1949, rallying against Deng's visit.

During his visit, Deng went to Washington DC, Atlanta, Houston and Seattle, and there are famous photographs of him wearing a white Stetson during his Houston visit.

Directed by Fu Hongxing, who previously made a biopic about another Communist icon, Zhou Enlai, Mr. Deng Goes to Washington includes interviews with then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski. Deng launched his market reforms in the late 1970s, opening up to foreign trade and investment.

Producer Lu Muzi told the Global Times that 90 percent of the footage was bought from major U.S. networks, such as ABC, NBC and CBS. The National Archives and Records Administration and the Carter Center also provided material.

"The nine days changed the world and way of living of all the Chinese people. Many young people today may not be aware of Deng and that period of history. This is why we made the movie to raise awareness on our country's political history," Lu said.

Last year, state broadcaster CCTV broadcast a 48-part documentary about Deng. Chinese propaganda movies such as Founding of a Great Republic have become a lot slicker in recent years. And Transformers: Age of Extinction, which was just overtaken by Furious 7 as China's most popular movie ever, contained positive messages about the Beijing government.

Deng, who served as president from 1978 to 1989, was famously quoted as saying "to get rich is glorious," and his decision to open up the economy laid the groundwork for more than three decades of astonishing economic growth. But Deng was also instrumental in the suppression of pro-democracy protesters in June 1989.

The government of President Xi Jinping has been keen to boost the legitimacy of his government’s anti-corruption campaign by presenting it as being part of Deng’s legacy.