How did Point Break escape Mulan's fate? By luck more than judgment. In recent months, Bleeding Cool has excerpted-a-plenty from Chris Fenton's new book Feeding The Dragon. Fenton, formerly of Valiant-owners DMG and of IDW Entertainment, has a lot of experience creating media in China and the USA and is looking back at those experiences with more of a critical eye in the current climate. On the 21st of October, he will be signing copies of his book at The Comic Bug in Manhattan Beach, California. I asked him his thoughts about the recent issues with Disney and Mulan. He wrote the following for Bleeding Cool;
What a few weeks for Disney! Mulan created way more controversy than currency. But such an episode isn't an aberration when it comes to working with China. It's more the norm, and I've experienced similar CCP-whiplash myself… many times.
One of these wounds occurred in the spring of 2014. As we say in Hollywood, "the stage was set." I ran the film division of a Chinese media company that partnered with Warner Brothers and Alcon Entertainment on a nine-figure-budgeted remake of the iconic film, Point Break. After months of creative discussions, the filmmaking team had finalized the action sequence that would open the movie. And it would all take place in China. Why? Because similar to the efforts Disney invoked with Mulan, the intention was to garner support from the CCP and provide relevancy in the film for Chinese consumers.
The scene opens with three of our main characters, essentially Robin Hood types – as one would recall from the original film – driving black, tricked-out motorcycles. They roar out of a subway stop—the location: Shanghai's fancy Pudong district. We watch from their point of view, panning upwards. Above hovers their destination: the tallest, most modern skyscraper in the city. We follow them, cutting through busy streets of traffic and pedestrians to the building's delivery entrance. They break in, driving into a freight elevator. Their leader presses a button for the very top floor. The doors close. The audience's point of view changes to that of a CCTV camera in the corner, eyeing our characters as they prep their equipment.
The 150th Floor button lights up, sounding a bell—doors open. Our three characters, full throttle, squeal out. Their explosive momentum shatters the glass entrance of what looks to be a diamond dealer. Of course, it's a diamond dealer… 1500 feet in the sky over Shanghai!
With hammers in hand and pouches open, they race through, smashing displays and grabbing as many of the precious gems as possible. Their speeds increase, heading to the far side of the building—police chase—security guards scramble—shots fire. Workers scream. Customers cover. But these Robin Hood characters continue, accelerating faster and faster. But where are they going?
We see their point of view, heading straight to the windows—an explosion of glass as they breakthrough. We look down, their motorcycles falling to the Huangpu river below. Shanghai's financial district now behind us. Our guys are gliding towards the Bund section of the city, aided by parachutes they had stuffed in their backpacks.
Having crossed the river a thousand feet above, our vigilantes of justice open their pouches. Hundreds of gleaming diamonds fall to the ground, only to be picked up by people gathered in the streets. Celebrating, they look in the sky at our three heroes, sailing out of view. And they're gone…
Such a high-adrenaline scene warns an audience. Be ready for action! Expect the unexpected! This film will keep you on the edge of your seat! Or, at least that is the intent. But one never knows in Hollywood how an audience will respond to a given film. Adding China to the mix only enhances the mystery.
With this action sequence, we felt confident CCP's censors would support it, and Chinese audiences would embrace it. After all, a few years prior, we worked with government officials to approve Shanghai scenes in the movie Looper, a film starring Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Similar to Point Break, Looper had criminal activities occurring in Shanghai, yet it also portrayed the city in all its majesty too. It worked. Not only did the CCP grant Looper a special release during the October national holiday, but consumers made it a top ten film in 2012.
Our Chinese executives furnished Point Break's full, translated script, storyboards for the action sequence, and other production specifics to the CCP's Propaganda Ministry via its movie regulatory arm, China Film Group. Then, we all waited for a response.
Later that spring, our wait ended. The CCP finally responded, "No!" Our clever commercial and political efforts, similar to those of Mulan, went unrewarded. Why? Because we were told, in China, criminals would never be able to pull off a diamond heist. The security guards and police would have caught them before they left the building. However, in the unrealistic event that the bad guys did escape, the rest of the scene made no sense either. After all, no Chinese person would ever pick up diamonds off a street that weren't theirs.
Ultimately, we scrapped all of the Chinese sequences. We shot them in Germany and Venezuela instead, and the movie performed poorly in China as a result.
Moving forward, I implore Hollywood to do what the industry does best, making movies independent of CCP influence, from the treasure trove of strong IP and original scripts the industry controls. After all, those 1.4 billion people do really love Hollywood movies, especially when we focus on using our protected freedoms as filmmakers rather than catering to a communist regime.
Chris Fenton is an author, media executive, China expert, and U.S.-Asia Institute, trustee. His book, Feeding The Dragon: Inside the Trillion Dollar Dilemma Facing Hollywood, the NBA, & American Business, is on sale now. Twitter: @TheDragonFeeder.