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A whole different 'Iron Man' for the Chinese market

This picture taken on April 6, 2013 shows attendees sitting in front of a poster during a promotional event for the Hollywood movie ''Iron Man 3'' at the Forbidden City in Beijing.

In the version of "Iron Man 3" that’ll appear in the U.S., there’s a Chinese character named Dr. Wu.

LEK Consulting’s Ken Chen says Dr. Wu makes it onscreen for a total of five seconds.

“He says something like ‘hmm.’ And rolls his eyes. That was it," recalls Chen, who just saw the film in Taiwan.

Chen helps consult film studios in China. He says the Dr. Wu character is more central to the plot of the Chinese version of "Iron Man 3." He’s so central that, according to the Chinese actor who plays Dr. Wu, his role goes from a five second cut-away in the American version to saving Iron Man’s life in the Chinese version.

Chinese version of "Iron Man 3" trailer

This got Chen thinking about the future for other Hollywood blockbusters in China.

"I wonder if it’s going to be a bifurcated market in the world where you have the China version and the rest of the world version?" Chen asks.

USC’s East Asian Studies Center director Stanley Rosen says it’s already going beyond that. Village Roadshow, a co-production partner of Warner Brothers, has produced two box office hits in China by capitalizing on Chinese talent and ignoring the U.S. audience altogether.

"Now we’re seeing a situation where you can just do well with a Chinese film for the Chinese market and you can forget about the overseas market," says Rosen.

Last year, the Chinese spent nearly $35 billion on the movies, second only to the U.S. In the meantime, the U.S. has 120 screens per million people.

China? Only five. It's a sign that China may not have even entered its own golden age of the silver screen.

About the author

Rob Schmitz is Marketplace’s China correspondent in Shanghai.

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