HONG KONG (AP) — The stars of "Transformers: Age of Extinction," including Mark Wahlberg and good-guy robot Optimus Prime, were attending the film's worldwide premiere Thursday in Hong Kong, which was a key part of the blockbuster franchise's latest installment.
Wahlberg and other cast members including Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer and Nicola Peltz walked the red carpet to the screening as a giant statue of Autobot leader Optimus Prime overlooked the venue next to a waterfront promenade on famed Victoria Harbor.
The film's debut in the southern Chinese metropolis ahead of its launch in New York next week is the latest sign of Hollywood's increasing focus on China's booming film market.
The fourth installment of the Michael Bay-directed franchise is due in North American and Chinese cinemas June 27. While the films have been derided by critics as superficial, mindless action flicks overloaded with computer-generated effects, that hasn't hurt their global appeal. The franchise's third film, "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," earned $1.1 billion at the global box office, with $165 million from China, its second biggest market after North America.
Production in Hong Kong last year made world headlines after it was disrupted by two extortion attempts, including an incident in which a man reportedly swung an air conditioner at Bay's head. One assailant in that incident was later sentenced to 30 months in prison..
Wahlberg stars as a mechanic who finds a rundown truck that turns out to be Optimus Prime. While most of the film is set in the U.S., Hong Kong's skyscraper-studded skyline is the backdrop for the climactic battle sequence, in which the Transformers — giant, sentient robots that change into cars, jets and helicopters — trash the city onscreen.
The Autobots and their Decepticon enemies clash in the tenements of Kowloon and above the financial district's glittering towers. Spaceships hover above the city, tearing apart a waterfront convention center and throwing the former British colony's iconic Star Ferry about like a toy.
Other nods to China including scenes featuring the Great Wall in Beijing and the southern factory hub of Guangzhou, where a nefarious tycoon played by Tucci collaborates with Chinese actress Li Bingbing's biotech CEO character to produce robots based on the metal Transformers are made of. Four other minor roles were filled through a talent search on Chinese TV.
The premiere "can be viewed as an indication of Asia's growing importance in the global industry — and that Hong Kong, as an extension of the China market was both convenient and meaningful for the venue," said Rance Pow, president of Shanghai-based film consultancy Artisan gateway.
China is the world's second-biggest film market, with box-office revenues up by nearly a third in the first quarter after rising 27.5 percent last year to $3.6 billion.
AP writer Angela Chen contributed to this report.
Follow Kelvin Chan at twitter.com/chanman