It’s no secret that the Star Wars franchise doesn’t have a giant following in China, save for a few diehard fans. In a new interview, martial artist expert and actor Donnie Yen reveals why George Lucas’ epic saga doesn’t work in China like it does the rest of the world. Yen starred as Chirrut Imwe in Rogue One, which was a huge movie for Lucasfilm and Disney, but still did poorly in China. The Last Jedi and Solo: A Star Wars Story have done progressively worse than the last, getting pulled from theaters within weeks.
While Star Wars is one of the biggest franchises in the world, China has largely ignored it. One of the major contributing factors is that Chinese audiences did not grow up with the characters like the rest of the world, according to Donnie Yen. Apparently, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is easier to understand, with less of a history, says Yen. When the Star Wars franchise and China was brought up, Yen had this to say when it was pointed out that all the new Star Wars movies keep crashing and burning in his homeland.
“Yeah, and that’s unfortunate. Star Wars, Chinese audiences didn’t grow up with Star Wars culture so unfortunately it didn’t work. Marvel is a lot easier to understand. Star Wars, there’s a whole universe out there. Marvel, from the costumes, to the music, to the idols, to the stars, it’s much easier to close the gap between the film itself and the audience.”
Donnie Yen also has another theory as to why Star Wars and other American films don’t do as well in China and it has to do with studying. China likes to make movies quick, efficiently, and cheap, but they’ve also been studying movies from the West for decades, says Yen. However, it does not appear that North America has been doing the same, which has given China an “edge.” Yen explains.
“When you’re talking about American films you’re essentially talking about Western filmmaking. How to make a film and what is good about a film. The structure, the finance, the distribution, the marketing. That’s the gold standard, that’s the bible and I’m still learning. Chinese filmmakers are still learning, but at the same time we have an edge. We’ve been watching and studying these films. But – vice versa – I don’t think enough western filmmakers have spent the time to really analyze the Asian market – that’s why you’ll notice a lot of American films don’t work over here…
The original Star Wars trilogy didn’t have a presence in China like it did the rest of the world. It wasn’t until The Force Awakens came out in 2015 that A New Hope held a proper premiere, nearly 40 years after it made its debut everywhere else. Chinese audiences were indifferent to it and even called Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill “unattractive,” while bashing the fight scenes, comparing them to children fighting in the yard. When it comes down to it, there’s just too much Star Wars history to digest, and when a movie is 40-years old, not too many young film fans are going to want to watch it.
Donnie Yen’s example using the MCU makes more sense for China. Even though there’s a rich history from the comics and 20 movies now, they’ve all come out within the last 10 years, which gives the studio an edge. There’s a lot to take in, but it has current fighting styles mixed with the state-of-the-art special effects. Maybe it’s time for Lucasfilm to start studying Chinese cinema before moving further. You can read the rest of the informative interview with Donnie Yen at JoBlo.