A new CGI movie adaptation of beloved Chinese classic Journey to the West has met an untimely demise. Meant to be a futuristic spin on the mythological classic, the movie instead got laughed off the internet because its armor-clad hero looks a little too much like Iron Man, from Marvel Comics franchise.
The film, titled Armored War God Monkey King, was expected to stream exclusively on Tencent Video over the festive period, but got yanked before debut, as Marvel fans in the world’s largest internet market pelted it online.
The promotional trailer of the film drew much flak online after it showed the Monkey King, also known as Sun Wukong, getting a makeover that included wearing a bright red-and-gold armored suit and headgear, with an artificial intelligence-powered assistant and display—similar to that used by Iron Man, the superhero alter ego of business magnate Tony Stark in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Armored War God also features a hi-tech version of antagonist Yang Jian, the three-eyed god in the novel. Yang wears a silver-coloured, full-body armor that people thought was way too similar to War Machine, Iron Man's buddy.
How dare you?
The trailer ignited outrage in China’s internet community. “Stan Lee passed away not that long ago. How dare you?” one wrote on microblogging site Weibo, referring to the late iconic Marvel comic books writer, editor, and publisher.
The film’s producers, Daishu Movie of Beijing, and Guangzhou-based Grandmet Presentation, said they took inspiration from Iron Man, the Transformers film franchise and Japan’s Gundam series of giant robots.
“We can make armored heroes that belong to China,” the producers said in one of the film’s promotional videos. “No matter how difficult the process is, we’ll carry with us our childhood dreams, presenting to the world a Chinese-made smart armor.”
But that attempt to tap into nationalist sentiment did not prevent their film from being yanked off the schedule of Tencent Video, which also removed the unpopular trailer.
The official Weibo account promoting the film was also deleted.
Neither Tencent nor the producers responded to our request for comment.
Sorting out intellectual property rights as online video soars
The widespread criticism of Armored War God has come as intellectual property rights remain a key issue in China’s trade war with the US.
US President Donald Trump has repeatedly lashed out at China’s lax IPR protection laws, forced technology transfer and alleged IP theft, saying they cost the United States as much as US$600 billion each year.
Development work on Armored War God started in 2016 and film production took a month, with more than 200 people involved in post-production work, according to a press release cited by Chinese media.
To be sure, China’s online film market has been booming, helped by the wide adoption of online streaming services like Tencent Video, Baidu-backed iQiyi and Youku Tudou, a subsidiary of Alibaba Group Holding. These platforms are tapping into Chinese consumers’ growing appetite for original content. Alibaba is the parent company of the South China Morning Post.
Still, it is not uncommon for Chinese studios to take inspiration from Hollywood and their domestic peers. For example, a 2016 Chinese online film called Mad Sheila ripped-off the plot and some characters from Oscar-winning post-apocalyptic action film Mad Max: Fury Road.
After Chinese comedy film I Am Not Madame Bovary became a hit two years ago, copycat films followed, sporting titles like I Am Madame Bovary and Who Killed Madame Bovary?.
This story was adapted from an original article published in the South China Morning Post.