Promotional material for Assassin's Creed Photo: Courtesy of Yingxing Tianxia
Michael Fassbender (left) attends a press conference in Beijing on Monday. Photo: Courtesy of Yingxing Tianxia
Assassin's Creed, the action adventure adapted from popular video game franchise of the same name, is pinning its last hopes on China, the world's second largest film market and one that especially favors Hollywood action blockbusters. In late 2016, the film seriously underperformed when it was released in North America and other countries and regions outside of China during the Christmas season. The film only pulled in $54.53 million in the US and $157.9 million internationally, far below what it needs to break even on its $125 million budget plus marketing costs.
With the film expected to release on Friday in the Chinese mainland, the producers behind Assassin's Creed held a press conference in Beijing on Monday. The film's lead actor and producer Michael Fassbender made an appearance to help increase hype among Chinese video game fans and filmgoers.
Despite the poor reviews overseas (3.9/10 on review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes), the anticipation among audiences in China for Assassin's Creed is high. The film currently has high anticipation ratings on several popular Chinese websites - 7.1/10 on Mtime, 7.3/10 on Maoyan and 7.5/10 on Sina Weibo.
"I have been looking forward to it for a long time," Elena, 27, told the Global Times, adding that even though she was aware of the negative reviews from overseas "as a fan of the Assassin's Creed games, I will watch it no matter what."
Support from fans is what many of today's video game and comic book inspired films count on. Even when a film is received poorly among general filmgoers, fans are often willing to pay for tickets just to see their favorite characters come to life on the big screen.
Warcraft (2016) is the perfect example. With an average rating of 4.2/10 on Rotten Tomatoes, the film made only $47.37 million in the US. Yet, overseas it brought in $386.31 million, of which the Chinese mainland, where the video game Warcraft is hugely popular, contributed $213.98 million - more than 55 percent of the total of overseas earnings.
The fan power of Chinese video game players astonished the world, and therein lies the hope for the Assassin's Creed film, which failed in its home market but whose video games also have a large fanbase in China.
Developed by Ubisoft since 2007, the Assassin's Creed video game series has now run for a decade. Although there is no official information on how many players in China the game series has attracted so far, according to a 2014 report on games.sina.com.cn, EEDAR, a video game industry research firm, reported that the number of Chinese video players amounted to 517 million in 2014, far more than the entire population of the US that year.
Michael Fassbender discusses 'morally ambiguous world' of 'Assassin's Creed'
At Monday's press conference Fassbender shared some stories behind the film, interacted with fans and tried some Chinese food. He later sat down for a Q&A with reporters on Tuesday.
Q: When making Assassin's Creed did you ever consider how to make it different from action films?
A: You always try to find original ways to do action. That's something you discuss with the stunt team and we have a really good stunt team under Ben Collins and my stunt double Damien Walters is an amazing gymnast and parkour expert, so we had the best people and you collaborate together and try to find original ways to approach action. It's hard because so many people are doing it so well but that's the challenge I guess.
Q: You've mentioned in other interviews that you tried to stay loyal to the video games while adding some new elements. Could you expand on that a little bit?
A: Basically Cal is a new character and pretty much 60 percent to 70 percent of the characters are new and we've picked a brand new regression with the Spanish Inquisition. We change the Animus, so it's not a passive position that Cal was in. It's a very active and dynamic role that he plays within the Animus because we wanted to have the connection between what Aguilar was doing physically and what Cal is doing. So those were the new elements really.
Q: There are many weapons in the film, which one did you prefer personally?
A: I like the blades and I like the bow and arrow which I use. I like the blades because it allows me to get close. It's like close quarter combat so that's a lot of fun, you learn a lot of cool fight moves. And also the bow and arrow. I've always liked the bow and arrow, I have been using it since I was a kid. My first one was made of bamboo and then I got fiberglass one when I was like 8 or so, so I enjoyed that.
Q: There have been many video game adaptations recently. What's special about Assassin's Creed?
A: I think what makes it unique is that there are no clear good and bad guys. It's quite sophisticated morally. It's a very morally ambiguous world. Usually with these kind of things, be they the dark or the light, or the good or bad, it is very clear to tell who is on which side. This is a bit more intricate.