Stan Lee has helped to create some of the world’s best-known superheroes: Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk and Thor among them. But does the 89 year-old comic mogul have enough tricks up his sleeve to create a new superhero for China? Chinese comic fans are about to find out after Lee unveiled the Annihilator, a brand new hero created for the China audience.
Although movie bosses don’t want to reveal too much before the film is launched in two years time, the basic story line has been sketched out. A young man is forced to leave his hometown in China amid dramatic circumstances. After a time in the US, he returns home in the guise of the Annihilator, ready to save the world and explore his roots (“a young Chinese man is given a second chance as an international superhero, who returns home to mete out justice,” is the official description).
Presumably the Annihilator will be keen to get his shoes and socks off, and show off his martial arts, too.
“This is the perfect Chinese hero,” Lee told the LA Times. “China is a nation that is involved with movies and the industry is growing so it’s as though all the pieces are coming together beautifully.”
It isn’t the first time that Lee has created Chinese characters. After all, he came up with one of the most notorious Chinese portrayals in the history of comics: Mandarin, who first appeared in 1964 as the creation of Lee and artist Don Heck. With his hooded-eye sneer and Fu Manchu moustache, Mandarin embraced the stereotype of a Chinese villain.
Clearly, the Annihilator is going to have more positive characteristics, even if his name hints at a temperament more in tune with Ming the Merciless than a milder-mannered Superman or Wonder Woman. At first glance, he also looks more like the X-Men hero Wolverine, although without the rare metal skeleton and retractable claws.
“This is going to be a typical superhero story and movie, just like Spider-Man and Iron Man, but instead of featuring an American it’s going to be a Chinese hero,” says Lee, adding that the film will also cast a Chinese actor.
The Annihilator producer Eric Mika says the film will be shot in China in English with a budget of more than $100 million. It will also be a co-production with China’s National Film Capital, the state-run fund management company.
Superheroes are nothing new in China. Long before Superman first took flight, the cloud-walking Monkey King was top dog (his exploits date back to the sixteenth century novel Journey to the West).
Then again the genre hasn’t proven as bankable in China as it has done in the US. Thor and Captain America took just $14 million each in China. The aggressively marketed (and hero-crammed) blockbuster The Avengers did better, taking $18 million in its opening weekend. But for perspective, Titanic 3D took $67 million in its first six days in China. Evidently love stories still trump superheroics.
One possible reason for the underperformance is that not many Chinese moviegoers grow up reading comics. There may be a cultural angle too. “Some filmmakers have tried to reinvent the Money King or make new superheroes, but they haven’t succeeded,” Raymond Zhou, a film critic, told the LA Times. “It’s mostly the culture [here] that does not encourage imagination.”
Perhaps the censors also play a role. That’s because supernatural film themes (a category that includes superhuman powers) were previously banned in China. It wasn’t until recently that the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television relaxed its rules, permitting such content.
Meanwhile, critics are sceptical that The Annihilator will succeed. “This latest project of Stan Lee smacks of poor judgement,” wrote Stan Abrams, author of the China Hearsay blog. “How would Stan Lee know what a perfect Chinese anything is?”
And even though the protagonist is to be ethnically Chinese, the film will be made in English (with the likelihood of some Mandarin-language scenes). Some say that will also reduce its appeal for domestic audiences.
If Lee’s recent track record is anything to go by, the critics may have a case. It wasn’t too long ago that Lee created the The Governator. The plan was for Lee and Arnold Schwarzenegger to build an animated series around the actor-politician as a super-powered adventurer. But The Governator never got off the ground.
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