China Audience Ambassador (中国观战大使) is the exact translation of the title. It’s a new official diplomatic position created by Hollywood films in the hopes of persuading Chinese audiences to go see US films in China.
China’s box office grew by nearly 50 percent last year, putting the nation ahead of schedule to become the world’s largest film market in the very near future. Very near (2017). China’s market is now worth close to $7 billion dollars, so it’s no wonder Hollywood has created its own despotic position.
For the upcoming blockbuster film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, producers selected Chinese pop star Li Yifeng as its official China Audience Ambassador. From Sichuan, the 28-year-old rocketed to fame after appearing on the American Idol-like Chinese talent show, My Hero. A megastar in the Madopop genre (Mandarin pop), Li is also an actor, having appeared in huge Chinese franchises like Tiny Times. He packs stadiums, appears on magazine covers and causes small riots wherever he goes.
Other recent China Audience Ambassadors include fellow pop star Lu Han. The 25-year-old former star of South Korean-Chinese boy band EXO is similarly popular in China. Last year, Lu was the face of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This year, he was Hollywood’s diplomat for Kung Fu Panda 3.
The role of the China Audience Ambassador is to be the (handsome) face of the film in China. For example, for the premier of Batman v Superman in Beijing, Ambassador Li Yifeng joined the stars and director on stage and spoke to the press and fans about the film. It should be noted—and this is important—that Li Yifeng does not have a role in Dawn of Justice. In recent years, Hollywood has plugged popular Asian stars into bit roles in its films in an attempt to appeal to East Asian audiences. This included Fan Bingbing in both Iron Man 3 and X-Men: Days of Future Past, Kim Soo-hyun in Avengers 2, Li Bingbing in Transformers (and the upcoming Realm). But a China Audience Ambassador does not appear in the film and instead appears with the film’s stars at events and in promotions as, literally, an ambassador for the film.
The benefit of having a China Audience Ambassador is also as a marketing multiplier. For example, when Batman v Superman held its premier event in Beijing, the entertainment segments of local news outlets like Hunan TV dedicated coverage to the event, largely focusing on Li Yifeng.
But the role of China Audience Ambassador can be bigger than press junkets and premier red carpets. Ambassadors are also expected to represent their respective films on social media. Li Yifeng did just that, posting to his nearly 3 million Weibo followers his hearty endorsement of the 蝙超大战 or “Batman war.” The image included with the post put Li in the center of the action (top).
After all, these are pop stars. For his role, Lu Han also cut “official promotional songs” for both Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Kung Fu Panda 3. Star Wars’ “The Inner Force”《原动力 and Kung Fu Panda 3‘s “Deep”《海底 are pop ditties featuring Lu Han gyrating and longing for his girl.
It’s understandable why movies like Dawn of Justice and Star Wars need China Audience Ambassadors. The films are based on generations of brand recognition and history in their home nation. They are speaking the language of US nostalgia—a foreign language the Chinese do not understand. One reason the Fast and Furious and Expendables franchises are huge in China is that they are less than two decades old. China’s young moviegoers have grown up with them and emotionally invested in the stories and characters the same way American audiences have grown up with Batman, Superman, Chewbacca and Han Solo.