Space invaders

Independence Day sequel is the latest Made for China flick from Hollywood

Angelababy w

Sky’s the limit for Angelababy, who is cast in the sequel as a fighter pilot

Few people know disaster films like Roland Emmerich. The director, who is known for blockbuster epics like Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow, has launched more assaults on Planet Earth than anyone else. Bloomberg calls him “Hollywood’s destructor-auteur”.

But what Emmerich also understands is the China market. Even though he’s blown up the White House at least three times and destroyed New York in virtually all of his features, he has left the Great Wall of China unscathed. His previous feature 2012 even included a plot line in which a set of Chinese-built arks saved humanity from extinction. The disaster film, which starred John Cusack and Amanda Peet, went on to become the highest-grossing movie in China in 2009 with $68.7 million in ticket sales (see WiC42).

So needless to say, the expectations were high for Emmerich’s latest blockbuster, Independence Day: Resurgence, a sequel to the hugely successful 1996 movie Independence Day. And despite a landslide of negative reviews in the Western media – Vox calls it “the laziest, most indifferent movie” and the New York Times simply says it is “abysmal” – Chinese audiences were less critical. The film collected Rmb240 million ($36 million) at the Chinese box office in its first three days. (It had the second biggest opening in China last week, behind Now You See Me 2.)

“The special effects were just mind-blowing. The story is also very fast-paced. The only flaw is that the editing is too choppy,” one netizen gushed.

“There’s not one thing that’s not to love about the film. I certainly hope I don’t have to wait another 20 years before the third instalment comes out,” another enthralled fan wrote.

Fox, the studio behind the franchise, has taken some obvious steps to enhance the film’s appeal to Chinese audiences. For instance, while the world counted on the US military and an American scientist (Jeff Goldblum) to keep the aliens at bay in the first flick, Resurgence has the US and China working together as part of Earth Space Defence, a multinational programme under the United Nations that is tasked with saving the world from extraterrestrial invaders. The moon base constructed to monitor outer space activities is also manned by the Chinese.

Of course, there also needs to be at least one token Chinese character for the film to work. This time round, popular actress Angelababy plays a Chinese jet fighter pilot. Some movie critics have described her role as superfluous, but Guangzhou Daily says she is still an important character. “When it comes to the number of lines and the amount of screen time, Angelababy is undoubtedly the second leading lady [in the film],” the newspaper declares.

Hong Kong’s Apple Daily is not so sure. The newspaper says the actress is on screen for no more than five minutes in total, during which she fires at many alien planes and speaks a total of 23 lines. Most of her dialogue is restricted to very short phrases too, such as “hey”, “copy”, “good luck” and “do it”.

Nevertheless, Apple Daily reckons the starlet has considerably more to say than fellow actress Fan Bingbing, who got only one line in the X-Men instalment, Days of Future Past (in case you are wondering, Fan only had to utter “time’s up” during her 15-minute showing as Blink).

“Angelababy has a lot more scenes than I expected. Her character also doesn’t feel like an afterthought – every time she is on the screen there is a purpose. I would say her role is even more crucial than Li Bingbing’s in Transformers 4,” one netizen wrote on Douban, the TV and film review site.

In addition to Angelababy, Chinese audiences discovered there was some major product placement targeted at them. To keep their bones strong, for instance, all the jet fighters get their calcium by drinking milk made by homegrown brand Mengniu. They also send text messages back home via QQ, the Tencent instant messaging service.

Meanwhile Chinese and global audiences will perhaps agree there was something prescient about the film. Released on June 23 – the date of the Brexit vote – it features a scene in which London is destroyed (albeit by aliens rather than Nigel Farage and Vote Leave campaigners).

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