Inclusion of Chinese stars Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen raises 'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story' hype in China

By Wei Xi Source:Global Times Published: 2016/12/21 19:13:39

Addition of Chinese actors increases ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ hype

Promotional material for <em><em>Rogue One</em>: A Star Wars Story</em> featuring Jiang Wen (left) and Donnie Yen Top: Donnie Yen (center) Photos: IC

Promotional material for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story featuring Jiang Wen (left) and Donnie Yen  Photo: IC

Promotional material for <em><em>Rogue One</em>: A Star Wars Story</em> featuring Jiang Wen (left) and Donnie Yen Top: Donnie Yen (center) Photos: IC

Donnie Yen (center) Photo: IC


While Star Wars: The Force Awakens received a lukewarm reception in the Chinese mainland last year, the newest entry into the franchise looks poised to turn things around.

With their film dominating the North American box office by raking in $155 million during its debut three-day weekend, the film's producers quickly launched a limited showing and a star-meet activity on Tuesday and Wednesday in Beijing, weeks before the film's official Chinese mainland release on January 6.

"There is a lot to expect from the performances of Jiang Wen and Donnie Yen... The action scene in which Yen fights against the stormtroopers with a staff was fantastic," netizen dianying wanjia posted on Sina Weibo, giving the latest Star Wars film, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, four and half stars out of five after the advanced screening of the film on Tuesday.

Market targeting

One of the barriers for last year's The Force Awakens was that it was the first Star Wars film to come to the mainland, which raised the barrier of entry for non-fans of the franchise.

The new film, however, seems to stand a better chance now that mainland audiences are more aware of the Star Wars brand. But the producers also have another two weapons in their arsenal: Jiang and Yen. The choice to include these two popular Chinese stars as supporting roles in the film may prove to be an effective market move by the producers.

Jiang is a well-known mainland actor and director whose works include In the Heat of the Sun (1994), Devils on the Doorstep (2000) and Let the Bullets Fly (2010). While he is not a very productive filmmaker, Jiang's roles and directorial works have been very well-received.

Hong Kong actor Yen, on the other hand, is one of the most popular action stars in China, and probably the second best-known Chinese action star after Jackie Chan globally. His recent roles include kung fu master Ip Man in the Ip Man franchise.

Earlier this year, The Force Awakens earned 826 million yuan ($118.90 million) at the mainland box office, ranking it at No.12 on the 2016 box-office chart at the moment. While not a small amount, these earnings accounted for only 6 percent of the film's $2.06 billion global revenue. Whereas, Warcraft's Chinese mainland box office made up nearly half of its global earnings that same year. A major reason behind The Force Awakens' weak performance in the Chinese market was that it didn't strike a chord among non-Star Wars fans.

Another try

Rogue One is not the first Hollywood blockbuster to bring in Chinese stars in order to increase its chances in China.

In 2014's X-Men: Days of Future Past, mainland actress Fan Bingbing was invited to play a mutant known as Blink. Yet with her appearing for only a few seconds, Fan's role disappointed Chinese audiences. Last June's Independence Day: Resurgence saw Chinese actress Yang Yin play a supporting role, and also featured a military base on the Moon built by the Chinese. However, Yang was criticized for giving a rigid performance, while the blatant produce placement of Chinese brands left many in China feeling awkward. 

Although many Chinese netizens suspected that Jiang and Yen's inclusion in Rogue One was yet another pure market-driven choice as well, the two stars have much bigger roles in the film than previous attempts to include Chinese actors. Meanwhile, the film currently holds a high score of 8.1/10 on Chinese film site Mtime and a 7.8/10 on Chinese media review site Douban. Positive feedback from audiences who have already seen the film outside the mainland has helped hype the movie among domestic moviegoers.  

The film has already released in Taiwan and Hong Kong. So far, reviews from local critics and audiences have been fairly positive. 

In its review, said that although the spinoff film didn't feature light sabers or the Force, the action scenes were far better than The Force Awakens.

"It has similar problems that Dawn of Justice had," the review said, explaining that character motivations and character building are weak.

However, in general the site was positive toward the film, especially praising scenes involving Yen.

"Recent years have seen many Chinese actors in Hollywood blockbusters, but in most cases they only show up to give one or two lines… the role Yen plays has many scenes and is impressive."

A netizen in Taipei going by the name Judy gave the film three out of five stars on Douban, saying that while she was disappointed in the story, she enjoyed the action scenes.

"Jiang and Yen do stand out," she wrote.

Newspaper headline: May China be with you

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