Much has been made of Iron Man 3's production to appeal to a Chinese audience, including the casting of well known Chines actors, and a cut of the film that included exclusive scenes with Fan BingBing. We also looked at initial plans of Chris Fenton, former president of the Chinese-based DMG Entertainment Motion Picture Group, to change the Iron Man 3 movie so that the young kid would be Chinese and the son of an analogue character modelled on the then-future Chinese President Xi Jinping. It's all from his book, Feeding The Dragon, looking at his career, getting American movies into Chinese markets, notably Looper and Iron Man 3. I recently read it, and can confirm it is quite the page-turner, and there are so many nuggets to share. You can follow along with a few of the stories I'm sharing with this link.
And it involved the casting of Dr Wu, an original character created for the movie to appeal to the Chinese government. Originally it was announced as being played by Andy Lay, though Fenton doesn't mention him once.
To get the benefits of overwhelming government support, the role obviously had to go to a Chinese actor. He had to be a mainland Chinese too, not Taiwan or Hong Kong, with a Chinese passport (not an American-born Chinese individual or someone who married a foreigner). The role also required someone with the acting chops to share screen time with Robert Downey Jr., one of the most iconic and versatile actors in modern-day Hollywood.
That combination was unfortunately hard to find. And particularly hard to find with male actors, since very few spoke English. In general, females have an easier time speaking English and many of them do. Most male actors don't even try.
After searching under every stone and auditioning dozens of actors, similar to our search for a Chinese strongman, we found our guy—Chen Dao Ming. He was perfect for the role, and we were super excited to cast him.
This was also at the time that the US Government's SEC was making moves against possible charges of bribery regarding entry into Chinese markets.
With production approaching quickly, we had to get a deal done with his agent immediately. Kevin Feige wanted Chen on set early, but Chen needed to acclimate himself and get comfortable with the role. Kevin did not want Chen holding up production by not knowing his lines, or making Robert feel he was working with an incompetent actor. Chen's agent agreed to a deal and started coordinating travel for his client with our team. Then, abruptly, he went dark. All communication ceased.
"What's the status of Chen's travel? Is he confirmed for the flight?" I asked my Beijing-based colleague Max Epstein one night.
"No," Max responded tersely. "What? He needs to be in Wilmington in a couple of days!"
"I know. I know." "What does his agent say?"
"The guy went completely silent on us for days. Then I finally got a hold of him earlier today." "And?"
"He can't find Chen. He's not responding to emails, calls, anything," Max explained. "I'm not sure what to do at this point, nor is his agent."
"This isn't good. Do you think I need to let Feige know?" Alerting Feige was the last thing I wanted to do. We'd spent a week getting Marvel to approve Chen. We had no other options.
"Unfortunately, I do." I hung up.
That was not the news I wanted to hear. After mulling my next move, I shot an email to Feige. Marvel was furious the next day as the news of our vanished actor circulated. Not only did we lose trust with Marvel creative over this embarrassing mishap, but I also lost the ability to argue for some additional China relevancy in the film. And we still needed more.
Thankfully a few weeks later, we found another great actor, Wang Xueqi, to play the role. Though he wasn't our first choice, nor was he China's biggest star, Wang did have lots of strong attributes, leading us to believe he could be our Rod Tidwell—an overachieving, past-his- prime actor with the ability to deliver a stellar performance. Wang could, in essence, "show us the money."
Wang was best described as a Chinese Gene Hackman who was versatile, extremely skilled, and super well known. But Wang's lack of availability and an American worker visa caused a delay in production. That was costly and lost us even more goodwill with Marvel. On the positive side though, Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA) did personally jump in to help get Wang's worker visa expedited as quickly as possible. The Congressman understood the importance of what we were all doing. He saw film diplomacy resulting from our bilateral collaboration as a positive.
As for Chen Dao Ming, he did eventually pop back up. It turns out he fled to New York City. Why? Once he'd gotten the role, Chinese journalists had bombarded him with criticism asking why would he take such a small role in an American movie? A Western form of propaganda?
In June 2021. The Want Daily reported that Andy Lau had turned down the role (though Fenton doesn't mention his name once) and that Chen Daoming and Wu Xiubo were two contending actors being considered as his replacement. Widely re-reported afterwards, this version rewrites that account. Of course, Dr Wu was dropped from the US cut of the movie and his role reduced significantly in the Chinese cut, but that's another story…