Armored Warfare God: Sun Wukong is a fantasy/Science Fiction movie opening in China this week that looks like it blatantly rips off Marvel Studios’ Iron Man and a whole bunch of other things.
This was going to happen sooner or later. Frankly, I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner. You’ll note that the imagery of a morphing power armour the characters wear is shamelessly lifted from Iron Man, even the close-ups of the armour-wearer’s face as they interact with a computer graphical user interface generated by CGI.
The plot is the usual: blah blah blah man discovers he has a heroic destiny blah blah blah gets superpowers blah blah blah has to fight bad guys to save the girl and the land blah blah blah. It’s all there in the trailer. You don’t even need English subtitles to figure that out.
It’s especially dreadful because the story also bastardises Sun Wu Kong, the Monkey King from Journey to the West. The faceplate of the hero’s power armour even looks like a stylized version of a monkey’s face so that it’s just a little different from Iron Man’s faceplate. We’ve reached the point where millennials don’t even remember or care who or what Sun Wu Kong represents, which is that he’s not about his superpowers or punching things, he’s the Chinese archetype for the trickster, a hero because he sees through the lies and deceptions of society and pokes fun at them. Journey to the West is a Buddhist parable and social satire. Sun Wu Kong is not a stupid CGI power suit.
This is a movie where the writers and producers are creatively bankrupt. They’re hoping to make a quick buck by copying what they saw from past box office hits: Iron Man, check! Sun Wu Kong is a classic character, check! CGI fight scenes, check! Kingdom under threat, check! Damsel in distress, check! Hero and friends who all look like members of a boy band, check!
And this movie is going to bomb. Chinese moviegoers aren’t stupid. They’re already rolling their eyes at this thing in China’s social media outlets. They know a turkey when they see one. The cheap CGI that looks like Playstation 3 graphics are a dead giveaway. This is the kind of production that doesn’t bother to be more than “good enough”, the worst kind of cynical laziness. There are already far more ambitious – and just as derivative and misguided – CGI wannabe blockbusters that bombed at the Chinese box office and vanished without a trace in the last year alone.
I’m not saying all this to knock China. I’ve also seen plenty of these types of derivative rip-offs in comics, TV and movies from Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Europe, and yes, the US. It’s not a Chinese thing. It’s a Capitalism thing. It’s the usual attempt by the untalented and lazy to jump on a successful bandwagon and that’s universal in the creative industries of every country. We just happened to know about this one today because of the internet.
I should point out, though, that the morphing power armour didn’t start with the first Iron Man movie. It actually started as far back as the 1960s with anime. The imagery of costumed armoured heroes and villains fighting each other really comes from Tokusatsu TV shows from Japan like Ultraman, Kamen Rider and the franchise that became known in the West as the Power Rangers.
When you’re in the film industry long enough, you will meet filmmakers who are absolutely sure their cockamamie idea is going to be a hit, not matter how ridiculous or terrible it is. They have somehow convinced themselves despite all signs it would not be. Even the cynical producer who knows he’s ripping off a successful formula has deluded himself into thinking he’s going to make bank on it. It’s depressing to think that at least a few people who worked on Armored Warfare God: Sun Wukong genuinely believe they’re onto a winner. Or they got through it because it was at least a job. It might not be so bad if it was a tech demo, but no, they just had to release it as a movie.
China has more than its share of artists, filmmakers and storytellers with genuine creative vision and ideas. They’re just nowhere near this movie. They’re off winning awards at major international film festivals. Nobody involved with Armored Warfare God: Sun Wukong is going to win anything.