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China’s Biggest Movie Star Just Joined Warner Bros.’ ‘The Meg 2’

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at January 1, 1970

Variety is reporting that Wu Jing has joined the cast of The Meg 2: The Trench. The sad news is that The Meg co-star Li Bingbing will not be returning. Whatever the reason for that, Bingbing hasn’t made a film since the 2018 blockbuster, it’s a shame as it furthers the implicit notion that the female lead is entirely expendable. You probably wouldn’t make a Meg sequel without reprising, but the female lead can be swapped out with little fuss or muss. I’d prefer Jon Turteltaub return to the director’s chair as well. Ben Wheatley is a distinctive filmmaker, but I’d argue one reason The Meg worked as a meat-and-potatoes crowdpleaser is because Turteltaub (he of National Treasure, Cool Runnings and While You Were Sleeping) was an old-school studio craftsman as opposed to a more new (er)-wave auteur.  

Still, no matter what happens, the movie is the movie, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed The Meg. For that matter, I was pleasantly shocked at how well the shark tale performed globally in summer 2018. It was the first live-action China/Hollywood big-budget coproduction to be a smash hit on both shores. It earned a whopping $145 million in North America from a $44 million domestic debut, right alongside Crazy Rich Asians and Mission: Impossible – Fallout no less, while earning a terrific $156 million in China. The film’s $530 million global gross was A) quadruple the reported $130 million budget and B) more than any non-Jurassic monster movie save for King Kong ($550 million in 2005) and Kong: Skull Island ($567 million in 2017). Credit the movie’s four-quadrant appeal and WB’s clever tongue-in-cheek marketing campaign.  

It’ll have been five years since the first film when summer 2023 rolls around, and there may have been some “folks were just curious the first time” drop-off. Bringing on Jing as (presumably) a co-lead is a safe way to ensure big business in China. He’s the star of Wolf Warrior II ($877 million in 2017), The Wandering Earth ($699 million in 2019), The Battle at Lake Changjin ($911 million in 2021) and The Battle at Lake Changjin II (which just topped $600 million in China yesterday). He’s essentially been a lead or co-lead in four of the seven biggest-grossing Chinese blockbusters released since 2017. Even if you argue that he’s merely an added value element (three of those four films are patriotic war/action movies), and that is a huge added value element for a Hollywood/China co-production.  

It is no secret that China has spent the last several years fine-tuning their own homegrown blockbusters, something I sounded the alarm bells about in late 2014 after seeing Gone with the Bullets in IMAX 3-D. And it’s no secret that changes in terms of China’s relationship with Hollywood, as well as obviously less demand for Hollywood tentpole action blockbusters (since China now makes their own) has changed the equation even for the kinds of films that might have scored there pre-Covid. Marvel is on the outs, and even tech-friendly actioners like Matrix Resurrections were DOA. Free Guy and Tenet were happy exceptions, and the likes of Uncharted (video game movies have a track record) and The Batman (The Dark Knight Rises earned $55 million in 2012) could go either way.  

I have been ranting for years about how most Hollywood films that score well in China are the same ones that do well in North America and elsewhere, and that China liked Transformers: Age of Extinction because they liked Transformers: Age of Extinction ($300 million in 2014 out of a $1.105 billion worldwide cume) not because they craved all big-budget action fantasy flicks. Hollywood can account for not being able to count on China going forward, so the real “danger” is already-done or in-production biggies like Top Gun: Maverick, Jurassic World: Dominion or the various MCU movies that were relying on China as an important (or, in some cases, essential) part of their global theatrical gross. Moreover, there are some franchises, like Fast & Furious, the MonsterVerse, Avatar and, yes, The Meg, that will all-but demand Chinese grosses.  

Casting China’s biggest movie star, whether he’s China’s Leonardo DiCaprio or something closer to Chris Pratt (a well-liked actor who headlined a few presold tentpole flicks), is a smart way to make it that much more likely that The Meg 2: The Trench will at least approximate the Chinese gross of The Meg from summer 2018. It’s not like Jing (who has Wandering Earth 2 and Wolf Warrior III in development) will be the only thing worth seeing, as there is still the whole “Jason Statham versus a giant shark” angle and whatever fan base still exists from Steve Alten’s original novel and its six (!) sequels. Jing and Pratt may be co-starring in a remake of Saigon Bodyguards for AGBO and Universal. I hope the action comedy casts Pratt as the straight man and Jing as the comic goof. 

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