Hollywood’s desire to capitalize on the rapidly-growing Chinese box office has been clear to see for years, but in some cases it’s a lot more transparent than others. Disney’s Mulan is a notable example, which dropped Mushu to appeal to local audiences and cut something as innocuous as a kissing scene to make it past the censors, only to become embroiled in a human rights controversy, face a nationwide media blackout and bomb spectacularly.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe, meanwhile, is just as popular in China as it is everywhere else in the world, with the last thirteen consecutive installments in the franchise all earning upwards of $100 million, but somewhat ironically, the next two projects might not even be released at all in the region, even though they have the strongest ties to the country on paper.
Chloe Zhao was born and raised in Beijing, but after being critical of the local regime, her recent Academy Award wins for Nomadland were suppressed from making any press headlines, while the movie was pulled from the theatrical schedule altogether, which isn’t looking too encouraging for her upcoming Eternals. As for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, the first trailer came under fire in China for being too Americanized and stereotypical in its depictions of the culture being largely defined by martial arts, lanterns, pagodas and other familiar iconography.
The CCTV6 China Movie Channel recently disclosed release dates for the MCU’s Phase Four slate, but Eternals and Shang-Chi were conspicuous by their absence. While that’s by no means a guarantee that they won’t play there, it is a state-controlled network and the government holds approval and veto over any foreign blockbusters to be released, of which there are only a finite number per year, so it might not be good news for the aforementioned titles.