The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

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Having just read Jurassic Park, I decided to mesh my interests in archaeology and China by penning a 20-page sci-fi adventure story about two American archaeologists poking around the tomb of Qin Shihuang, China’s first emperor, and the chaos that erupts when Qin’s vast terracotta army is disturbed from its slumber … Sounds like a good back-of-the-book synopsis, doesn’t it? I thought so. The story was called “Knowledge and Glory,” and I was in 9th grade.

That juvenile plot has essentially just been made into a $145 million movie called The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. It’s director Rob Cohen’s third Mummy film, and it’ll be the first I’ll actually bother to see. No, not to weep at the sight of someone else carrying out my creative vision, but to see what exposure Americans will have to China this summer—besides the Olympics. Movies like this also give Chinese actors their biggest exposure to western audiences. This one stars Jet Li as the Dragon Emperor aka the Mummy, and Michelle Yeoh as a “double-crossing sorceress.” Given that this is a film about a good American family that faces off with a resurrected Chinese emperor leading a ghost army to take over the world, it’s pretty surprising to find out that this was a co-production between the Chinese government and Universal Pictures. Green-lighting this film was a major departure for China’s State Administration for Radio, Film & Television, which usually bans any mention of ghosts or superstition from mainland entertainment.

Universal Pictures and NBC, which has exclusive rights to broadcast the Olympics in the U.S., have started pushing The Mummy hard. On July 1, the partnership launched a national commercial that “features settings and characters from The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor and athletes seamlessly blended in sequences in which the action from the film transforms into Olympic events,” according to a press release. Are you kidding me? Until this moment, I had never connected Brendan Fraser with the Beijing Olympics.

On Wednesday, Variety reported that China’s censors approved the latest version of the film for worldwide release. The Mummy will open in Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea on July 31, and in the U.S. on August 1. It’s likely to be released in China in late August, right after the Olympics, the report said. So what will Chinese audiences think of this “ruthless” Chinese emperor? And if Qin Shihuang was the emperor of the Qin dynasty, why is he the “Han” emperor in this movie? Details, details.