When it comes to selling out brand integrations, the next James Bond film Skyfall is getting the most attention for its record product placement deals, including a controversial deal that will make Heineken the official drink of 007, replacing the classic "shaken, not stirred" martini as Bond's drink of choice.
Less of a focus is how the film has written some China scenes into its plot in an effort to appeal to cinema's hottest market. In fact, audiences everywhere should get ready for a lot more scenes shot in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong on the big screen as Hollywood aims to include its most important and profitable new product placement: China.
In 2011, China's cinemas sold 13 billion yuan ($2.1 billion) in tickets. Just under 40 percent of tickets sold were for Hollywood blockbusters. The importance of China's market was cemented recently during the Beijing Film Festival, when director James Cameron announced his intention to cooperate with Chinese filmmakers on future projects. Now Avatar 2, a sequel to the moist profitable film in history, is being shot partly in China. Scenes from the original Avatar were reportedly inspired by the majestic "hanging" mountain vistas in Zhangjiajie.
More importantly, while Hollywood's profit-taking in US theaters has dropped in the last couple years, it has skyrocketed in China. Recognizing this, studios and directors are beginning to overtly appeal to the audience.
In a few weeks, the movie Battleship will debut in America. It has already hit China's theaters where audiences watched as Hong Kong was destroyed by an alien invasion.
In interviews, Battleship director Peter Berg admitted he chose Hong Kong for as a key locale in order to engage Chinese audiences.
The China set-piece is something other savvy film producers have already used. In 2008, the massive hit The Dark Knight hit Hong Kong for a high-flying Batman action sequence. That same year, the entire plot of The Mummy sequel focused on China and its legends.
A year later, Michael Bay's Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen sequel started off the film by sending its robots to tear through Shanghai. (Though, the Shanghai scenes were filmed in Pennsylvania). Bay's 2011 follow-up Transformers 3 went even more Chinese with a large number of product placements for Chinese brands.
For example, the third Marvel Comics installment of Iron Man will be shot in China and star Hong Kong mega-star Andy Lau. At a press event, Disney's China GM said, "We know Chinese audiences love Iron Man. So we are going to add Chinese elements and a Chinese story into Iron Man 3." Disney is no stranger to the practice. For 2007's third installment of Pirates of the Carribean (At World's End), a part for a Chinese captain was carved out for legendary Hong Kong actor Chow Yun-Fat.
Alongside Battleship, audiences lining up for blockbusters in 2012 will also see major roles for China in the sci-fi film Looper, starring Inception star Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Chinese actress Xu Qing. Speaking of sic-fi, the big 2012 remake of Total Recall takes place in a world where "the nation states Euromerica and New Shanghai vie for supremacy."
Skyfall, Transformers, Batman and Battleship are all China newbies compared to Tom Cruise. All the way back in 2006, the producer/actor placed a significant portion of his third entry of the Mission Impossible franchise in Shanghai.
Mission Impossible 3 also employed an actor popular with Chinese audiences, Hong Kong's Maggie Q. The inclusion of the Chinese star is also a new characteristic of Hollywood fare looking to fare better in China.
When a green light was given for a remake of the 1981 cult classic Escape from New York, guess where it was decided it should be set? That's right, Escape from Hong Kong is currently set to hit the big screen in 2013.
But Hollywood's new focus on putting China into its films isn't a one-way street. At least one example proves that Tinsel Town is also willing to remove China to stay in the good graces of the gatekeeping film authorities.
Last year it was announced that the remake of Red Dawn would be completely digitally overhauled to remove the Chinese as the invaders of America. In China's place, they inserted North Korea, a country Hollywood probably won't be doing business with anytime soon.
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