'Iron Man 3' Criticized for Scaling Back Chinese Actors' Screen Time

Wang Xueqi h Iron Man 2012

Wang Xueqi and Fan Bingbing are hardly visible in the international version of the Marvel film, with expanded roles appearing in Chinese theaters.

HONG KONG -- Of all the new characters slated to appear in Iron Man 3,the one played by Wang Xueqi is probably the most intriguing: Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter in an interview in Beijing earlier this month, the veteran Chinese actor said he agreed to come on board as Dr. Wu because he’s a “complex character” who would save Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) life.

For viewers living outside China who want to get a glimpse of Wang on screen, be warned: Take your seats in time or you’ll miss him -- because his appearance in the international cut of Iron Man 3 is limited to a ten-second sequence at the very beginning of the film.

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The film’s two producers, Marvel Pictures and DMG Entertainment, had earlier announced the release of a specific version dedicated to the Chinese market, with a pledge to include more China-set scenes. The statement also explained how sequences featuring actress Fan Bingbing will be exclusively seen by Chinese audiences -- another way of saying how the A-lister is basically cut out of the international version altogether.

As it turns out, Wang’s character would also be more properly fleshed out in the Chinese cut only. One would have expected more of the actor in the film, as he has featured prominently in the Chinese promotional campaigns for the project -- he actually embraced Downey on stage and then took part in a panel discussion of the film with the lead actor during a high-profile publicity event in Beijing earlier this month.

But what is left of Wang’s role in the international cut is just four shots at the beginning of the film, when Dr. Wu is introduced to Stark in a party in the Swiss capital of Bern in 1999. He is shown saying hello in Chinese to Stark, before the future superhero is dragged away to meet someone else. A fleeting glimpse of a masked Wang would appear in a present-day sequence towards the very end of the film, as he operates on Stark.

Wang’s much-reduced presence has become a source of dismay for some Chinese bloggers who have managed to see the film outside China before its release there on May 3. According to shiahsu516, Wang’s role seems “unnecessary” and said the Chinese trailer -- which feature Wang and Fan -- iss “misleading”; Mr Stones P, who reports of being based in England and praised the film, said Wang’s turn is “the walk-on of all walk-ons," adding his wonderment about whether “there will be distinct differences in the Chinese version.”

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Just as importantly, bloggers and media reports have also taken note of the absence of the sequences shot in Beijing in December -- such as the one in which Iron Man is seen taking off into the sky in front of Dr. Wu and a group of cheering schoolchildren at the city’s landmark Yongdingmen Gate. A scene featuring Dr. Wu trying to contact Stark on the phone, which was shown during a sneak footage media preview in Beijing three weeks ago, also didn’t make the international cut.

The “Chinese” elements, which made the outside-China version, are not exactly set in the country itself -- but around the Chinese television manufacturer TCL, which has struck a tie-in deal with the film’s producers. Apart from the sequences set at the TCL Chinese Theater -- additional shooting was done there in January -- there were also a glimpse of the company’s flat-panel television sets and mobile phones on screen.

Despite being a joint production involving the Beijing-based DMG, Iron Man 3 was released in China as an import rather than a “co-production," a status that provides the film’s foreign studio backers a larger cut of the box office. The decision to release a specific Chinese version followed the example of the also DMG-backed Looper, and Paramount has also announced a separate Chinese cut for the next installment of the Transformers franchise.

China’s film regulators have intervened more in this arena in the past year, a line heightened last August when the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television’s deputy chief Zhang Pimin publicly censured “fake” co-productions which did not contain sufficient enough Chinese content.