Want to find the world's next superhero? Look in China
Updated: 2013-08-29 07:13
By Eric Jou (China Daily)
Producer Avi Arad is looking to create a Chinese superhero. Zou Hong / China Daily
Puffing on a cigar and leaning back into his arm chair, 65-year-old Avi Arad looks less like a movie producer and more like a comic book fan.
Sporting a hat emblazoned with the Spider-Man crest and wearing a ring with the Punisher logo, he looks like a walking advertisement for Marvel comics - but Arad isn't in China promoting Marvel, he is in China hoping to create a Chinese Marvel for the world.
The Israeli-American businessman and movie producer has been a fixture in modern pop-culture for decades. Starting out in the toy business with ToyBiz in the early 1990s, he rose to become CEO of Marvel Comics' film studios, Marvel Studios. He is now head of his own production company, Arad Productions.
Arad says he has a deep connection with China and the Chinese people, citing Hong Kong toy mogul Francis Choi as a longtime friend and saying he has a connection with Seven Stars Media founder "Bruno" Wu Zeng.
Seeing China and its culture as a treasure trove of ideas, Arad is looking to bring about a shift in the way movies are consumed worldwide. Arad wants to export Chinese movies and Chinese culture to the world.
"I think Japan is probably the most successful exporter of IP (intellectual property) next to the United States but in a way they're more successful because they didn't change the essence (of the IP)," Arad says. "If you look at Pokemon, Ghost in the Shell, Gundam it can live in any culture.
"And I felt that the Chinese project not only can be a great super hero project but it can also be a great ambassador."
Puffing away at a cigar, Arad says his joint ventures with Wu are based on the pair's mutual desire to bring a successful IP from China to the West. However, for Arad, the first step is to create that successful IP in China.
He recounts being astonished by a visit to a Shanghai bookstore. There were books about Hello Kitty, Transformers, and various Disney characters, but there were no recognizable characters from China.
"The stores, there is nothing quintessentially Chinese," Arad says. "I think there is a lot of pride, if we take some of the great characters that you have here and just put them in the airport souvenir stores or bookstores you will be surprised."
Arad says superhero stories do very well in China and can be easily transplanted out of China. Using previous movies he's had a hand in as examples, Ironman, The Amazing Spider-Man, and Avengers he notes that they all had healthy box office returns in China.
"The stories are all the same, people are people in all cultures, despite different languages, they're the same," he says. "We all have the same issues, we all fall in love or lose the girl or lose the guy; family struggles, economics, they're all equal all over the world."
Arad is working on The Rise of The Terracotta Warriors, which he says is a project he is deeply invested in.
"I picked up one project that I liked a lot and it would be an interesting attempt and I think it will succeed - The Rise of the Terracotta Warriors," Arad says. "I just fell in love with the Terracotta Warriors, I started getting heavily in it."
Arad's plans for Rise mirrors some of the movies he's worked on before, such as X-Men. In The Rise of the Terracotta Warriors, warriors from the time of the first Emperor of China wind up transplanted into modern society. They come to the modern era at a time when aliens are invading and the world needs them.
Arad says that the vulnerabilities of these warriors from a time long ago will help them relate to audiences much like the way Peter Parker did in Spider-Man.
Arad also claims that this will be one of the few Chinese made superhero movies set in the modern era, and not a period piece like some Chinese martial arts epics.
Arad is also working on a project involving Chinese animated hero Mr. Black. He hopes to translate the character and bring it to Western audiences.
At 65, and having already revolutionized the film industry by bringing comic books to the big screen, Arad calls this stage in his life his last. And he says he's very optimistic.
"I think we're heading into a very exciting period; it will have setbacks ... but the idea is correct," he says.
"I hope that we will be. Everyone is excited about the original material from here."
(China Daily USA 08/29/2013 page6)