BEIJING – After a splashy start in Seoul, the Iron Man 3 juggernaut rolled into the Chinese capital on Saturday, with star Robert Downey Jr. boosting his Chinese credentials by stating his love of the country’s culture through a belief in traditional Chinese medicine and martial arts.
“I’m interested in all things Chinese and I live a very Chinese life in America,” said the actor during an on-stage panel discussion with his co-star Wang Xueqi and Wu Bing, president of the film’s Chinese co-producer DMG Entertainment, at the press launch of the film at the Grand Hyatt Hotel Saturday morning.
“I made it my business to pay attention to what’s happening here culturally,” he continued, adding how he visits two traditional Chinese medical practitioners when at home. Later, in a press briefing, he said the key to maintaining his energy stems from his practice of Wing Chun martial arts.
During the press event, Downey also drew applause from the gathered press for calling out to his fans in the capital city’s Chinese dialect, and also by publicly consuming candy-flossed fruit, a popular local confectionery.
It’s no surprise the film’s producers are pulling out all the stops to have Downey play to the Chinese gallery. While it’s just the second stop of the Iron Man 3 international promotional tour, Beijing is probably the most significant appointment on the itinerary, with China having been explicitly targeted as one of the biggest markets for the film.
A joint production between Marvel Pictures and Beijing-based DMG, the film was partly shot in the city and features a Chinese A-lister in Wang, who plays Dr. Wu. The producers recently announced announced that there will be a special cut for the Chinese market, with more scenes set in the country and a feature appearance by Fan Bingbing.
Downey said during the event that he sees the film as “a multicultural story between the U.S. and China,” as embodied in the fact that Dr. Wu “is the reason why Tony Stark is still alive at the end of Iron Man 3.”
In a later briefing, DMG CEO Dan Mintz said the Chinese version of the film will contain everything in the international cut. “There’s only more and not less,” he said, while declining to comment more on the rationale and the differences between the two cuts.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Wang said his role – which he described as “the man who saved Tony Stark” – is symbolic of both a growing desire for American and Chinese audiences to understand each other, and also China’s emergence as a global power.
“The significance lies in how the role could be developed,” he said. “The producers decided to inject the film with Chinese elements because China is slowly becoming a very powerful country – and we have a very big market as well. And Chinese audiences are still very passionate about Hollywood films.”
Meanwhile, the sneak-peek footage shown to the press prior to the event has revealed a scene in which Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts actually becomes Iron Man and saves Tony Stark in the process.
In a sequence showing an attack on the Stark residence by Ben Kingsley’s villain, The Mandarin, the Stark residence is seen collapsing and the Iron Man armor inhabited by Potts; she then rushes to Stark’s rescue, saving him from a falling piece of debris. “I’ve got you,” Potts says as she leans over a vulnerable Stark, who responds in kind: “No, I got you first.”
In another act aimed at whipping up the local press’ enthusiasm for the film, the 20-minute screening session began with a scene showing Dr. Wu calling Stark on the phone from his Beijing office as a television news bulletin shows him and a crowd of local schoolchildren cheering Iron Man as he launches into the air.
The press conference and interview sessions served as the overture to a bigger red-carpet event staged at the Taimiao, an ancestral temple within the Forbidden City complex which now houses the Working People’s Cultural Palace.
Billed in Chinese as “China Night” – the English official title being “A Night at the Forbidden City” – the party is designed as partly a celebration of the film and also as a belated birthday bash for Downey, who turned 48 on Thursday. To mark the latter, the actor was given a birthday card signed by more than 5,300 well-wishers.
When asked before heading into the gala event about what kind of film he would make in China if he is to produce beyond an action film in the country, Downey said: “I think Chinese culture just responds to good cinema, the same we give Academy Awards to Chinese films in the past. It really depends on the subject matter and the timing and what the audiences want I guess.”
He said he deemed his trip to China – his first – an essential way of understanding the country. “Just like when I was watching on a show today, that people get an idea of each other from the news, which is not necessarily the best way. It is better to go and immerse yourself in that culture and make up your own mind,” he said.