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HONG KONG — As the houselights dimmed in cinemas across mainland China at around midnight on Tuesday, audiences attending the first wave of public screenings of Iron Man 3 fell silent with apprehension as a question appeared on screen: “What does Iron Man rely on to revitalize his energy?”
After a three-second blackout, three big Chinese characters appeared onscreen: “Gu Li Duo.”
The Marvel fanboys shouldn’t bother to rummage through their libraries to solve this riddle, because Gu Li Duo isn’t a a mystical power source in the original comic series — it’s a milk drink on sale for less than $1 a carton in convenience stores across mainland China.
Following the screening Chinese bloggers appeared as keen to discuss how exactly the Chinese-made concoction has made its way into what now seems to be the biggest blockbuster to hit Chinese cineplexes in 2013.
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Unconfirmed numbers circulating on Chinese blogs are pointing to a record-breaking opening day for Iron Man 3: The film, which officially opens Wednesday, was estimated to have taken $2 million (13 million yuan) in midnight screenings on Tuesday night — a figure which would break Transformers: Dark of the Moon’s 12 million yuan record from 2010. With Wednesday a public holiday, Iron Man 3 is largely expected to eclipse Dark of the Moon’s first-day earnings record, too.
Online reactions to the film have been largely positive, but bloggers appear united in their consternation of the deliberate product placement that sees new a character named Dr. Wu (played by mainland Chinese actor Wang Xueqi) consume a carton of Gu Li Duo.
Not that audiences outside mainland China will get a glimpse of this, though: This scene is part of the film’s China release, a version which is four minutes longer than the normal cut seen everywhere else in the world.
All of these additional sequences revolve around Chinese characters. There’s Dr. Wu having a telephone conversation — from his office in Beijing, in Chinese — with the television behind him showing a news bulletin of Iron Man cheered by schoolchildren in one of the Chinese capital’s landmarks. And towards the end of the film, Dr. Wu is shown operating on Stark – and then having a short conversation with his unnamed assistant (played by Fan Bingbing) about the task.
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Chinese bloggers had a mixed reaction to these Chinese components, which they believe are superfluous to the narrative. Referring to Stark being treated by a Chinese doctor in a mix of surgery and acupuncture, blogger Lilijia’s Xiao A-wan said — perhaps mockingly — that the film “has proved that Chinese medicine is still the best!”
Meanwhile, blogger Beijing Ke’er wrote: “The appearance of Yili [the manufacturers of the Gu Li Duo drink] is really shocking. And I don’t know what that Zoomlion [a brand name which appears in a China-only scene] was – and after an online search I realized it’s a heavy industry enterprise in China … the advertisements are the shining lights of the film!”
This line of criticism followed the comments made by Chinese viewers who had seen the international cut of the film outside China last week, with many complaining about their country being represented on film by a ten-second presence of Wang, and the appearance of TV sets and mobile phones made by Chinese manufacturers TCL.
Jointly produced by the Disney-owned Marvel Pictures and the Beijing-based DMG Entertainment, Iron Man 3 is not classified as a Sino-US co-production — a status which would have given the film’s foreign investors a larger share of the box office (25 percent) than an import.
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With Chinese audiences embracing Iron Man 3 quite warmly — the film is poised to give the domestic rite-of-passage drama So Young, which has already taken over 200 million yuan ($32 million) since its April 26 release, very keen competition for ticket sales — it remains to be seen how Hollywood studios will handle the dual version treatment, with Transformers 4 the next in line to do so. At least robots don’t drink.
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