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Marvel Triumphs in China with “Avengers: Infinity War” and a New Suite of Chinese Superheroes

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I’m not a hardcore fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I could still feel the hype on the Chinese internet ahead of the May 11 release of the new Avengers film — especially since it has already been screening in the rest of the world since April 27. This past Friday, Chinese fans were finally able to step into theaters and enjoy the blockbuster, after carefully avoiding social media for potential spoilers.

Even though it was a workday, in order to better serve rabid fans, some theaters arranged two consecutive midnight premieres, with the second starting at 2:50am and ending at 5:20am Friday morning. The late hour didn’t hurt attendance, evidently:

photo via Weibo

Popular film review site DU SHE caught up with (link in Chinese) a few young Marvel-lovers who stayed up late (or got up very early) to see the film. The last viewer to leave the UME cinema — a young man who works in the Forbidden City as a tea artist — was heading straight to work after catching the premiere. He told DU SHE that he’s been a fan of Marvel films since 2008, when Iron Man opened in China. He was 15 at the time, and started to read Marvel comics the year before last.

Out of the theater and on to work at 5:27am (DU SHE/Weibo)

Fans like him helped Avengers: Infinity War set a new pre-sale record in China, with 302 million RMB (about $47.5 million USD) in tickets sold two days before the opening. On Friday, the film raked in the third largest opening day box office in Chinese history at 385 million RMB (about $60.7 million USD), trailing behind this year’s Monster Hunt 2 (546 million RMB) and 2017’s The Fate of the Furious (417 million RMB), according to film statistics website Maoyan (link in Chinese).

Avengers: Infinity War also took the #2 spot for all-time best opening weekend box office in China, bringing in 1.28 billion RMB ($202 million USD) as of 11pm Sunday night, according to Variety. Huge numbers, but perhaps not all that surprising: China weighed in as the biggest film market in the world in the first quarter of 2018, with 20.2 billion RMB (about $3.2 billion USD) in total box office, according to financial publication The Paper (link in Chinese).

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Infinity War‘s box office success comes after a botched press conference at Shanghai Disney Resort on April 19. Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Mark Ruffalo (The Hulk), Tom Holland (Spider-Man), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), and directors Anthony and Joe Russo attended an event celebrating the 10th anniversary of Marvel Films as part of the conference, and a queue of excited fans began forming the night before.

But on the day, many who had official tickets for the event were prevented from entering. The team behind the event had also invited irrelevant local celebrities “to expand Marvel’s fan base” (link in Chinese), a common promotional strategy for imported films in China. Marvel Films eventually apologized on its Weibo to furious fans who complained about local actors pushing the superheroes aside on the stage, and the overall poor organization of the event.

Group photo at Marvel Film 10th Anniversary press conference in Shanghai (Reddit)

This initial friction didn’t slow Marvel’s endeavor of attracting new Chinese fans, apparently. On May 9, Marvel released an original comic series called Warriors of Three Sovereigns (三皇斗战士) on internet gaming and online comics giant NetEase. The series features all Chinese superheroes, and is based on the legend of Chiyou, a mythical leader of ancient China. The following day, another Marvel Chinese comic called Aero (气旋) — featuring a story centered around a young female architect that can control and unleash air turbulence — was also released on NetEase.

Both comics are the result of a partnership between Marvel and NetEase, “were created by Chinese artists and scriptwriters, and went through revisions by Marvel’s editorial team, as per the normal Marvel process,” according to Quartzy. They join Chinese-language editions of Marvel classics like Captain America, Spider-Man, and Doctor Strange on NetEase’s platform.

Generally speaking,  the Marvel Universe has done a good job of sinking its hooks into Chinese audiences, pulling them in with a decade of films and introducing Chinese viewers to “Easter egg culture” on a mass scale. Chinese movie-lovers are now fairly used to waiting for Easter eggs, the secret clips previewing upcoming sequels after a film’s end credits. It’s common these days for the cleaning staff of theaters to remind audiences, “Eh, there are two Easter eggs in this movie!,” or confirm “No Easter eggs!” as the closing credits roll.

Cover image: Warriors of the Three Sovereigns (NetEase)

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Fan Shuhong
    Shuhong (aka Rita) is a language instructor, English/Chinese translator, writer, and proud bunny owner based in Beijing. She's previously worked in Washington D.C. and IUP at Tsinghua University. She loves Chinese language, Japanese arts, post-rock music and good English TV series. Instagram: rita_van