Next up, Captain China?

In its search for the mother lode, Hollywood plans Chinese superhero flick

Scarlett Johansson and Chris Evans arrive at the UK premiere of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" at Shepherds Bush in London

Johansson and Evans are back together again in new Captain America

There is no denying that Captain America: Civil War is a movie that arouses strong feelings – especially regarding whether you like it or not. With her own review headlined “Less than Marvellous” it was obvious which side The Spectator’s film critic Deborah Ross took. “Captain America: Civil War is the 897th instalment – or something like it – in the Marvel comic franchise… I swear this is the last Marvel film I will see as I never get anything out of them and whatever I say only sets the fans against me, which is not what you want at my age,” she wrote.

The review went on to call the film “pointless” and said of the action scenes that “there was more excitement to be had in pairing socks”.

Over in China Ross doesn’t have much sway, it seems. Civil War has gone on to collect over Rmb1 billion ($160 million) at the box office since its debut early this month and the film is now the second highest grossing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe behind only Avengers: Age of Ultron.

One reason for the film’s popularity is the star-studded cast. Directed by brothers Joe and Anthony Russo, it features Robert Downey Jr again as Iron Man along with Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson starring as Captain America and Black Widow, respectively. It also showcases newcomer Chadwick Boseman, who plays Black Panther.

Many local reviews were positive, with Beijing Daily praising Civil War for avoiding clichés, such as the destruction of famous landmarks in the name of creating a spectacle.

“Almost all previous superhero films have to have an epic battle that destroys a major city – the first Avengers totally ruins New York City and Man of Steel, too, tears down a big city – Civil War takes a more realistic approach in terms of style and still manages to entertain, ” the newspaper wrote.

On Douban, China’s leading film and TV review site, the superhero franchise scored a rating of 8 out of 10 stars. “I must admit it is a lot more entertaining than I had originally thought. The action sequence is so hot: the car chase scene and the showdown in the airport is so fun to watch. All in all, it is 100 times better than Batman v Superman,” one reviewer gushed.

Given how well it has performed, perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a Chinese version of Hollywood’s favourite action genre is already in the works. Last week, the Russo brothers announced that they have signed on with FangJin Media, a local production firm, to create a Chinese superhero trilogy.

After the news broke about the collaboration, netizens were quick to joke that a Captain China must be in the works. And as it turns out, a comic called Captain China was released in 2012. Published by the small American publisher Excel Comics, Captain China is an “enhanced soldier” who sleeps for 50 years and wakes up to find himself in the modern age. The biggest difference from the American superhero is that instead of carrying a star-spangled shield, Captain China wears a costume made up of China’s national flag. His choice of weapon is a Mauser pistol (a popular handgun from the Cold War era), says Quartz.

Although the Russo brothers are not basing the new superhero on the comic, images of Captain China quickly went viral. Most netizens were not so keen on the superhero. Some said he should be renamed Captain Shanzhai (a term meaning counterfeit). Others picked up on his overall appearance. “He looks pathetic. Is his Mauser pistol going to shoot laser beams?” one wrote sarcastically.

And besides, China already has a candidate for the same role. “I thought we already have a Captain China? He’s called the Monkey King,” one netizen quipped.

But back to the Russo brothers’ project. The story arc for the trilogy is being kept under wraps, but FangJin says the first film, The Hero’s Awakening, will go into production at the end of 2016 to be released in cinemas in early 2018. The American filmmakers and their team will be in charge of everything from casting to the screenplay and special effects. The other two films in the series, Nirvana and The Hero’s Sacrifice, are expected to hit the big screen in 2019 and 2020 respectively.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Joe Russo has already explained the supernatural powers of the new Chinese hero: “He can control things with his mind. And it’s an origin story, it’s a little bit of a through-the-looking-glass concept; he’s a normal person with a normal life and one day he happens upon the fact that he has these abilities and it opens up a whole world to him that he didn’t know existed.”

(WiC admits it’s hard to be original in this genre, but Russo’s summary does sound a lot like The Matrix.)

Separately, NetEase, a portal, quotes a studio insider as claiming that the film will reflect the current “political climate, popular culture and complicated social structure” of China. But don’t worry, the producers are also promising lots of “Hollywood-style action”.

Who might play the new hero remains a mystery too, although the trilogy should be a boon for the local acting community: the cast is rumoured to be entirely Chinese.

© ChinTell Ltd. All rights reserved.

Sponsored by HSBC.

The Week in China website and the weekly magazine publications are owned and maintained by ChinTell Limited, Hong Kong. Neither HSBC nor any member of the HSBC group of companies ("HSBC") endorses the contents and/or is involved in selecting, creating or editing the contents of the Week in China website or the Week in China magazine. The views expressed in these publications are solely the views of ChinTell Limited and do not necessarily reflect the views or investment ideas of HSBC. No responsibility will therefore be assumed by HSBC for the contents of these publications or for the errors or omissions therein.