For perspective, in China right now, it’s as if the MCU ended with “Avengers: Endgame” and “Spider-Man: Far from Home.” I happened to see “Iron Man 3” in Shanghai in 2013, and it was interesting to watch a slightly different cut of the film unfold onscreen, with added scenes playing up the subplot of the Chinese Dr. Wu (Wang Xueqi) and his assistant, played by Fan Bingbing.
Marvel is by no means the only Hollywood studio that has tried to cater to China, the world’s biggest box office market, with its blockbusters. This latest controversy with Liu and Zhao only hammers home how precarious the situation has become for studios that rely on international grosses in China to prop up their tentpoles.
The CCP can be unpredictable. This week, per The Hollywood Reporter, James Wan’s “Malignant” also became “the first R-rated U.S. horror movie to ever score distribution in China.” It’s going straight to streaming there the same day it hits theaters domestically in the U.S. Wan is Australian but he is of Chinese descent.
The last Hollywood movie to see a theatrical release in China was “Free Guy” starring Ryan Reynolds. With the CCP taking an increasingly hard-line stance in recent months (perhaps also because of the pandemic), it only underscores how a different kind of cancel culture, for lack of a better term, has taken shape in certain box-office territories abroad.
From a purely business standpoint, Hollywood filmmakers exercising their free speech may need to be more careful with what they say about China — now or anytime in their career — if they hope to ever enter the Chinese market.