‘Transformers’ tries for delicate US- China balance

BEIJING (AP) – Dazzling special effects, Optimus Prime … and Beijing. The latest “Transformers” movie has all three, mixing Texas-based action with scenes in China’s capital and a heavy dose of Hong Kong in an attempt to straddle the world’s two biggest movie-going audiences.

The fourth installment of the Michael Bay-directed franchise has gone all-out to woo China’s audience with Chinese locations, talent and even a reality TV show. “Transformers: Age of Extinction” illustrates the delicate balancing game of Hollywood studios trying to work out what the Chinese market wants while simultaneously catering to Americans.

If such films aren’t handled properly, they risk alienating both audiences, said Michael Keane, an expert on China’s creative industries at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia. In China, the core movie-going group of 19-to-25-year-olds already like Western films, he said.

“They would like ‘Transformers,’ and as soon as you start stuffing in Chinese elements, they can see through it, and you may shoot yourself in the foot by doing it,” Keane said.

Western studios are adding Chinese elements to increase their appeal in China, where films earned $3.6 billion in ticket sales last year. “Skyfall” was partly set in Shanghai and Macau. Chinese actress Fan Bingbing played one of the mutant superheroes in “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” which has earned $114 million in China – almost a quarter of the movie’s total international box office.

But the sprinkling of Chinese elements in “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” opening in China and North America on Friday, has gone further than many recent Hollywood movies.