Going ape

King Kong’s Chinese producers are counting on it being huge in China


Jing Tian: has now starred in two China-Hollywood co-productions

Chinese involvement in King Kong film projects does not have happy precedents. Indeed the last time a Chinese tycoon invested in a King Kong reboot, it was a flop.

That was in 1977 when Run Run Shaw splashed out HK$6 million, then a record for a Hong Kong sci-fi flick, for The Mighty Peking Man. Japan’s Arikawa Sadamasa (who helped create the original Godzilla) was hired to direct the special effects; the script was based on Hollywood’s 1976 King Kong remake but the cast was entirely Chinese, except for a barely-clothed Swedish beauty (Evelyne Kraft). The giant ape from the Himalayas rampaged across Hong Kong before being killed atop Jardine House, then the British colony’s tallest building.

Despite the international collaboration, Peking Man recouped barely HK$1 million for Shaw at the box office. The movie mogul soon switched his attention away from the big screen to focus on Hong Kong’s emerging television industry (see WiC222).

Shaw’s setback 40 years ago has not deterred two of China’s richest men from trying again. Kong: Skull Island is bankrolled by Wang Jianlin’s Wanda (through Legendary Pictures) and Tencent Pictures, the movie unit of Pony Ma’s internet giant Tencent (Hollywood’s Warner Brothers is also involved).

Coming just 12 years after Peter Jackson remade King Kong, Skull Island grossed an unsensational $133 million at the box office in the US after its release this month. But it looks likely to be a bigger hit in China. The movie opened this weekend with $72 million in ticket sales, the second best opening of the year. And the film is still going strong, National Business Daily notes, as Wanda’s cinema unit has been allocating nearly 70% of its screens to Skull Island. (This won’t guarantee success.The Great Wall, another Sino-US collaboration by Legendary Pictures, took only $330 million in worldwide box office.)

Set at the end of the Vietnam War, Skull Island takes the audience back to King Kong’s habitat in the South Pacific. There are no man-woman-ape love triangles but a lot of giant monsters instead. Indeed, at 30 metres tall (and still growing), the oversized ape is the biggest ever featured in the King Kong franchise.

That seems to have turned Skull Island into a full-blown monster movie. “The humans came to Skull Island, fought the monsters, saw monsters fight, joined a monster to fight monsters. The end,” is how a critic summed up the plot for National Business Daily.

Hollywood blockbusters usually field at least one pretty Chinese face these days. In Skull Island Jing Tian stars as a Chinese biologist but ThePaper.cn reckons the starlet’s role looked “even more awkward than a 30-metre ape”.

“The 28 year-old has a dozen or so lines but only three of them are longer than five words. However, the camera from time to time freezes on her face for more than five seconds without her uttering a word,” it notes. “Her biggest on-screen contribution is opening a can of food for a colleague,” wrote the South China Morning Post dismissively.

Jing also starred in The Great Wall but her lead role in that flop movie means she has won The Most Disappointing Actress title two years in a row at the Golden Broom Awards, China’s answer to the Golden Raspberry. However, the 28 year-old might yet appear in more Hollywood blockbusters, such as the sequel to Pacific Rim next year.

Could there be a deeper message in Skull Island though? ThePaper.cn seems to think so. The government-backed website notes that this is the first time that the plot does not see King Kong captured and transported to the West.

“King Kong has finally altered his fate in Skull Island,” it says. “What’s from the East stays in the East; who comes from the West returns to the West. Both sides won’t intrude into each other. This could be seen as an ultimate anti-war message.”

Legendary Pictures may have more beast sequels lined up too. During Skull Island’s after-film credits, Jing pops up in a final scene as a secret agent, and shows the film’s male lead (Tom Hiddleston) confidential files on other monsters such as Godzilla, Mothra and Rodan.

That drops a broad hint that King Kong’s next challenge will be to beat up these giant monsters from the classic Japanese movies. Read into this scenario what political undertones you will…

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