Michael Bay was only in Hong Kong for 10 days of shooting on Transformers: Age of Extinction, but in that time he was attacked on set by a deranged man wielding a refrigerator and had to deal with two men attempting to extort $13,000 from the film crew. Now, months later a hotel in Beijing attempted to delay Age of Extinction’s premiere. Maybe Michael Bay just isn’t meant to be in China.
Here’s what happened: Beijing Pangu Investment had a sponsorship deal with the producers of Age of Extinction whereby not only would their Pangu Plaza Hotel be featured in the film the Hotel would also get to host an exhibition of props from the film as well as be the site of a VIP screening.
However, then Beijing Pangu Investment turned around and sued Paramount for breach of contract. The Hotel owners supposedly didn’t like how the footage of their world-class plaza turned out, and they threatened to go running to the government to force a delay of last week’s world premiere in Hong Kong or even the Chinese launch of the film this Friday (6/27). That type of threat was particularly scary for Bay and Paramount because the Chinese government is notoriously weary of Hollywood’s big budget spectacles making gobs of money, distracting from local Chinese films. So, maybe they would actually listen if Pangu came asking for help.
Now is a good time to point out that BoxOfficeMojo revealed this morning that due to the lackluster box office performances of this summer’s big budget tentpole releases (looking at you, Amazing Spider-Man 2) 2014 will likely end up being a down year in terms of total domestic gross compared to last year. However, everything is trending the opposite direction in China, TheHollywoodReporter marveling at the record-setting pace the country is on at the box office thanks to huge recent business for Edge of Tomorrow, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and Godzilla.
Clearly, you want to keep doing business in the market that’s booming, not the one that’s leveling off or even declining. So, Paramount settled with Pangu, whose owners weren’t actually reacting to the quality of the footage of their hotel in the film but instead the quantity. They wanted their hotel to be featured in the trailer, which Paramount complied with according to a Pangu spokesman, “They have moved the Transformers exhibition to Pangu Plaza and put Pangu Plaza on the trailer. Out of respect to Paramount’s attitude and Michael Bay, we reached an agreement and didn’t want to affect the release of the film.”
This is an interesting new twist on an increasingly familiar tale: a big budget Hollywood release being tweaked before it could be allowed to play in China. For example, footage of a Chinese character’s death and references to prostitution and tortured were edited out of the Chinese release of Skyfall, Kate Winslet’s nude portrait scene was cropped so you could just see her face for the Titanic 3D re-release, and Chow Yun-fat’s character was completely cut out of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End after having been declared an insulting, racial caricature. But, wait, there’s more:
That’s all just good old-fashioned censorship. What just went down with Transformers: Age of Extinction is different. It doesn’t appear as if a government agency was dictating what could and could not be shown, but instead a Chinese investor simply exerting its will upon Paramount to ensure the film’s trailer included new, more charitable footage.
Personally, I know that the first time I saw the trailer for Transformers: Age of Extinction I immediately noticed how odd it was seeing Frasier Crane pop up as one of the human bad guys and just how little anyone seemed to miss Shia LeBouf. I also marveled at Stanley Tucci’s hilariously over-the-top green-screen acting when shouting the line, “Oh, my God!” in reaction to some off-screen carnage, and walked away with the impression that they were going for good, old-fashioned American values by focusing on Mark Wahlberg’s rugged family man as the new face of the franchise. What I failed to notice, however, is that if you look closely a fair deal of the action appears to takes place in China:
There have been 3 Transformers movies, each one of them grossing more in China than the last. The most recent one, Transformers: Dark of the Moon came out in 2011, and grossed an impressive $177.9 million in China. Since that time, China has seen its number of theaters double. As a result, box office reports believe Age of Extinction might turn into China’s highest-grossing film of all time, passing Avatar’s $221.9 million.
Paramount was well aware of that, and no one’s totally buying Michael Bay’s claim that he only chose to shoot part of the movie in China because “Hong Kong is a very visual city.” They clearly know what they’re really up to, making sure Chinese stars Li Bingbing (who is briefly seen in the first trailer) and heartthrob Hang Geng populate the cast alongside four young Chinese actors who were chosen to star in the film via a Chinese reality TV show. They also had, according to THR, “Mark Wahlberg, Nicola Peltz, and Jack Reynor post videos in China wishing nearly 10 million high school students good luck in their important college entrance exams earlier this month.” They had the worldwide premiere in Hong Kong, and even played at the Shanghai International Film Festival, China’s biggest film festival.
However, the United States is China’s bitch, at least according to former Wall Street executive Peter D. Kiernan, and China seems to know that, at least when it comes to our movies. The China Film Group withheld over $150 million in box office gross from the Hollywood studios across a 10-11 month period stretching from 2012 into 2013 over a tax dispute, and the studios just kept releasing their movies over there, hoping it would all work itself out. Recently, it was revealed local Chinese theaters habitually cook their books to evade taxes, meaning Chinese box office figures might be under-reported by as much as 10%. Michael Bay’s experiment in China has resulted in assault, extortion, and a last minute out-of-court settlement. Ask him if he’ll care about any of that if Age of Extinction does what experts expect and sets new box office records in the country.