Yup, Chinese star Zhang Jingchu was in ‘Mission: Impossible’… for 30 seconds


Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, the fifth installment of the Tom Cruise-led blockbuster franchise, premiered on Friday to glowing reviews and impressive box office numbers.

But one thing was missing: its supposed co-star.

Last October, Variety reported that beloved Chinese actress Zhang Jingchu had joined M:I5 in a “major role” that was “integral to a major plot twist.” Citing that story, the Guardian wrote that she was to “star” in a “leading role.” The French news agency Relaxnews described Zhang’s part in the film as “unspecified but crucial.”

Some Western viewers might recognize Zhang from 2007’s Rush Hour 3 — in which she played a grown-up version of Soo-Young, the Chinese ambassador’s daughter — but despite her fame in China and Hong Kong, she has yet to break through in Hollywood.

But Mission: Impossible would change that. So it seemed.

In reality, Zhang’s appearance in Mission: Impossible amounts to exactly one scene: she plays a CIA analyst administering a polygraph test to Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg). “I’m going to ask you a series of control questions,” she asks, then instructs the IMF field agent to “state [his] name.”

That’s it: two forgettable lines, with nothing “leading,” “crucial,” or “major” about them.

In total, the actress’s actual screentime clocks in at under 40 seconds. Zhang is primarily seen in the background as CIA director Alan Huntley (Alec Baldwin) interrogates Dunn. Her character’s credited name, Lauren, is never said by anyone.

While we don’t know how Zhang’s role may have evolved through the production process, it’s easy to see why it would be in M:I5‘s interests to emphasize — yes, even overemphasize — the presence of a Chinese film star in its cast. As of 2014, the Chinese box office raked in nearly $5 billion in revenue, making it the second-largest market after the U.S. and Canada. But only a limited number of foreign releases are allowed in the country each year, and a desire for preferable release dates and wider openings has led studios to court distributors by filming on location in China, spotlighting Chinese talent, and accepting government censorship.

In fact, the latest Mission: Impossible sequel was co-produced by China e-commerce giant Alibaba and the government-run Chinese Movie Channel. The latter organization previously collaborated with Paramount (who brought you M:I5) on Transformers 4, the highest-grossing film in Chinese box office history until it was dethroned by Furious 7 — which was itself partly funded by the China Film Group Corporation, a highly influential state-owned distribution company.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation will be released in China on September 8, after the close of the country’s summer blackout period, which restricts the exhibition of foreign movies in order to promote domestic productions. It’s unclear whether the cut seen there will differ significantly from the one you’ll find in American theaters, but producers should nevertheless be wary.

Zhang’s casting is far from the first attempt by a Hollywood blockbuster to appeal to Chinese audiences by featuring a local star — nor is this the first time such a movie has failed to deliver on that promise.

Iron Man 3 cast Chinese screen icon Wang Xueqi as Dr. Wu — who is on screen for 10 seconds in the international version and several minutes in the Chinese version — and superstar Bingbing Fan as Wu’s assistant, who doesn’t appear at all in the international version. The 2013 movie’s now-notorious Chinese release faced backlash among audiences, who found that the additional scenes included in their slightly longer version of the film were incongruous and featured insultingly lame product placement. Pandering doesn’t always pay off.

Molly Fitzpatrick is senior editor of Fusion’s Pop & Culture section. Her interests include movies about movies, TV shows about TV shows, and movies about TV shows, but not so much TV shows about movies.

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