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The trivial villain

Skyscraper is the new Hollywood action blockbuster starring the highly bankable Dwayne Johnson. Affirmed from the recently published Forbes annual list of the world’s best-paid celebrities, The Rock rolled in fifth, earning a mountainous $124m US in acting-related duties last year alone.

EntertainmentWorld-EntertainmentArtCulture
By David Jacklin

Saturday 28 July 2018, 09:00AM


As a movie, I think we all know from the title and a single publicity shot that this is no Citizen Kane. Yes, it’s basically Die Hard, but far less believable. A tough character with a lovable soft side, familial backdrop and some foreign terrorists thrown in to really cause a bit of bother he could well do without. It appears that disaster on a monumental scale has a tendency to follow certain dominant male types around. For all the excessive bravado and brawn, perhaps they deserve it. Sadly, Hollywood loves derivatives to reduce the financial risk on the massive production budgets for its tent pole movie slate. This one cost Mr Johnson’s annual earnings.

But Skyscraper has a far more complex and interesting sub plot in terms of the ever-growing relationship between the US and China box office. With the speed and scale of China’s entertainment industry growth in recent years, America’s movie moguls could do little but roll over and beg.

And so we see the beginnings of Hollywood scripts with shoe-horned scene locations and characters from the east, primarily to appeal to the eastern movie-going audience. Most notably in recent times by the 2016 mash-up movie, The Great Wall, starring Matt Damon, Willem Dafoe and directed by Zhang Yimou. It was a blatant mutation of American and Chinese interests, which inevitably didn’t work in narrative, nor economics.

The Skyscraper script and production rights went into a Hollywood bidding war, which was eventually sealed by Legendary Entertainment, the same production company as The Great Wall. They happen to be my previous employers, and were bought out in 2016 by the Wanda Group, a Chinese multinational conglomerate, from the previous owner and US movie production stalwart, Thomas Tull. Did I mention that the hapless skyscraper in question also happens to be located in Hong Kong?

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But here’s the dilemma, and it’s not stuck in the elevator on Floor 101. Sino-American co-productions, with big interest in pleasing all markets, are creating new stereotypical characters and scenarios in search of global box office returns. Appeal in both markets currently demands Internationally recognised Hollywood lead actors attached to bring in the bucks. So where does that leave our eastern thespian friends? As the new villains of course. In this high-rise inferno the advocating honour goes to Hannah Quinlivan (Kun Ling), a Taiwanese-Australian actor. She donned the obligatory black leather ‘I’m an antagonist’ garb, perfected the martial death stare to camera, and packed a mean designer boot wielding right foot. It’s only fair to mention, and not to be outdone, they do throw in a retro European terrorist to even up the cultural mix. And to further confuse, the character’s name is ‘Kores Botha’. Perhaps to please the South Africans? I really couldn’t work out where he was supposed to come from, and I’m not sure actor Roland Møller did either.

Whilst giving the English and Russians a break from duties, the new oriental malefactor is here to stay, and I imagine, remain increasingly one-dimensional. Where’s Hannibal Lecter when you need him? He’d eat and spit out this lot for breakfast.

Any bets on the appearance of a baffling Asian baddy in the recently announced new Bond movie? You’re on.

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