The makers of Mission: Impossible 5 will look to court the lucrative Chinese market by casting local star Zhang Jingchu in a leading role opposite Tom Cruise, reports Variety.

Zhang, who has starred in Hollywood production Rush Hour 3 but is not well known in the west, will take an undisclosed role which is said to be at the centre of a major plot twist.

via Chinese actor Zhang Jingchu to star in Mission: Impossible 5 | The Guardian.

By now you’ve probably seen any number of big-time Hollywood action movies that include a subplot involving China or a minor character who is, or looks, Chinese. If done well, this is practically unnoticeable. If done poorly, it looks exactly what it is, a forced device meant to pander to Chinese audiences and/or government regulators.

From a business standpoint, I get it. And when external factors force such changes to content, I try not to be overly critical. Revenue is the entire point of this exercise, after all, and pretty much anything meant to maximize that figure is fair game.

As a consumer of the content, however, my opinion changes. It’s cringe worthy to see a movie jerk and jitter as a China-specific plot point or character is obviously shoehorned into the story.

  • Wait, who is that character? 
  • Where did she come from?
  • Why is Tom Cruise suddenly in Shanghai?
  • I didn’t know Chery made a car that could transform into a submarine.

Screenwriters and directors must absolutely abhor this sort of thing. We can make an exception for anyone working on a Transformers movie I suppose, since “the art” doesn’t matter all that much in those instances. (I assume any creative type working on one of those films is perpetually hopped up on goofballs – how else could they get through it while maintaining their sanity?)

I also think such decisions reveal that Hollywood has a very low opinion of Chinese audiences. Apparently they believe that Chinese folks won’t watch a movie unless there is a cameo of a Chinese actor in there somewhere. That doesn’t explain why flicks such as Titanic or Captain America did so well here, does it? It’s almost as if people here just like good movies and are not necessarily swayed by cheap plot and story devices. Crazy idea, I know.

At the risk of bringing up uncomfortable racial issues, this sort of thing is akin to Hollywood believing that [insert race here] will only watch movies with [insert race again] actors. (Actually, I’m not entirely sure that isn’t exactly how a lot of studio execs in the U.S. think.)

So what should we expect in the near-term? I think the Mission Impossible quote above says it all. These types of movies are structured sort of like your basic Bond movie: there’s a villain, a henchman, a central male hero (Caucasian) , a female lead that he gets in the end (young and attractive, either famous and/or well-endowed in the chestal region), and a secondary female character who is either a love interest, a henchman, or both, who is often killed off after the first or second act.

I suspect that the calculation here is that if we (movie studios) have to pander to Chinese audiences, then the least-disruptive way to do it is to include a hot Chinese female actor in that secondary character role, footage of whom is often edited down to very few minutes in the final release even after all the PR suggests otherwise. This is a win-win: Chinese audiences get what they want (i.e., what Hollywood thinks they want), and the major demographic (14-year-old boys) gets to look at gorgeous Asian eye candy.

Alternatives would be a feasible China-related plot device or the inclusion of a Chinese male actor. But unless this sort of thing includes the People’s Liberation Army and/or kung fu, don’t expect to see anything like that too often.

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