Transformers are huge in China, and we are not talking about the device that transfers electricity from one circuit to another.
In the first five days since the movie Transformers: Revenge of the of the Fallen opened in China, the movie has pulled in $21.9 million in ticket sales, setting a record for an English-language film.
While some of the critics may not share the movie-goers’ enthusiasm – the Chicago Sun-Times described the film as a “witless sitcom”– Transformers seems to have struck a chord with millions of (predominantly male) Chinese.
The story follows the heroic Autobots as they fight against the villainous Decepticons to protect the planet. To add a human touch, there’s Megan Fox, the Hollywood It Girl of the moment, and perhaps another factor in the film’s male fan base.
There is certainly a nostalgia factor behind the Transformers phenomenon. The Japanese cartoon series – which sees ordinary cars ‘transform’ into robots – aired to the first generation of kids born under the one-child policy – a group of minors greatly disposed to watching TV.
“I watched the Transformers cartoon TV series when I was a little boy,” Jay Wu, a thirty-something white-collar worker, told Shanghai Daily. “Now I am taking my son to see the movie and I am glad we are both fans.”
The original cartoon was viewed as groundbreaking entertainment. In fact, the series was so popular that in 1989 the government expressed concern that it might promote violence among the nation’s youth.
This time around and it is product promotion that is earning more comment, with GM vehicles figuring prominently in the action sequences. The Chevrolet Camaro enjoys top billing but, unfortunately, is not yet available for sale in China. Still, the Chevy brand in general is getting a much-needed boost.
The Transformers franchise also seems to have stirred the (usual) patriotic sensitivities of a vocal minority, which has deemed the opening scene, a battle between the robots in Shanghai, to be insulting.
Why? Because Shanghai looks shabby and rundown. According to People’s Daily Online, netizens think that “the movie intentionally tries to uglify China”.
Even the state-run newspapers think this an overreaction. “The rational reaction,” says People’s Daily Online, “should be to face the unsatisfactory reality and try our best to reform and construct out cities. Forbidding others to talk about our deficiencies and pretending to be perfect while we are not is only fooling ourselves.”
Besides, you can’t argue with box office success. Hollywood is limited to releasing 20 movies per year in China, so it wants to make sure it picks the home-runs. And it’s clear that selecting Transformers as part of this year’s crop was a very profitable decision.
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