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Armour-clad Monkey King: China’s Iron Man knock-off pulled from Tencent Video amid backlash

  • Online production Armoured War God Monkey King was expected to exclusively stream online on Tencent Video from Tuesday
PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 December, 2018, 6:34am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 December, 2018, 6:33am

The latest film adaptation of the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West, which features an armour-clad Monkey King, has been pulled from Tencent Holdings’ streaming video service after being criticised for copying Marvel Studios’ Iron Man.

The film Armoured War God Monkey King was expected to stream exclusively on Tencent Video from Tuesday, but never made it online as Marvel fans in the world’s largest internet market slammed producers Daishu Movie of Beijing and Guangzhou-based Grandmet Presentation for their effort.

The promotional trailer of the film drew much flak online after it showed the Monkey King, also known as Sun Wukong, getting a makeover that included wearing a bright red-and-gold armoured suit and headgear, with an artificial intelligence-powered assistant and display, similar to that used by Iron Man, the superhero alter ego of business magnate Tony Stark in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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Armoured War God also features a hi-tech version of antagonist Yang Jian, the three-eyed god in the novel. Yang wears a silver-coloured, full-body armour that is no different from the gear worn by War Machine, the superhero comrade of Iron Man.

The trailer sparked outrage in China’s internet community. “Stan Lee passed away not that long ago. How dare you?” one wrote on microblogging site Weibo, referring to the late Marvel comic books writer, editor and publisher.

The film’s producers said they took inspiration from Iron Man, the Transformers film franchise and Japan’s Gundam series of giant robots.

“We can make armoured heroes that belong to China,” the producers said in one of the film’s promotional videos. “No matter how difficult the process is, we’ll carry with us our childhood dreams, presenting to the world a Chinese-made smart armour.”

That attempt to tap into China’s growing nationalist sentiment did not prevent their film from being yanked off the schedule of Tencent Video, which also removed the unpopular trailer.

The official Weibo account promoting the film has also been deleted.

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Tencent did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Producers Daishu Movie and Grandmet Presentation could not be reached for comment.

The widespread criticism of Armoured War God has come as intellectual property rights remain a key issue in China’s trade war with the US.

US President Donald Trump has repeatedly lashed out at China’s lax IPR protection laws, forced technology transfer and alleged IP theft, saying they cost the United States as much as US$600 billion each year.

Development work on Armoured War God started in 2016 and film production took a month, with more than 200 people involved in post-production work, according to a press release cited by Chinese media.

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To be sure, China’s online film market has been booming, helped by the wide adoption of online streaming services like Tencent Video, Baidu-backed iQiyi and Youku Tudou, a subsidiary of Alibaba Group Holding. These platforms are tapping into Chinese consumers’ growing appetite for original content. Alibaba is the parent company of the South China Morning Post.

Still, it is not uncommon for Chinese studios to take inspiration from Hollywood and their domestic peers. For example, a 2016 Chinese online film called Mad Sheila ripped-off the plot and some characters from Oscar-winning post-apocalyptic action film Mad Max: Fury Road.

After Chinese comedy film I Am Not Madame Bovary became a hit two years ago, copycat films followed, sporting titles like I Am Madame Bovary and Who Killed Madame Bovary?.