Directed by Guillaume Canet, who also stars as Astérix, ‘Asterix & Obelix: The Middle Kingdom’ (also known as ‘Astérix & Obélix: L’Empire du Milieu’) is a French action-adventure comedy film. It tells the story of Astérix and Obélix (Gilles Lellouche) of the indomitable village, the settlement in Gaul that the Republic of Rome hasn’t conquered. After her mother, the Empress of China, is imprisoned by the evil prince Deng Tsin Qin, Princesse Fu Yi (Julie Chen), accompanied by fierce warrior Tat Han and merchant Graindemaïs, makes the perilous journey to Gaul to ask for help from the legendary heroes.
Meanwhile, as his enemies are much stronger than him, Deng Tsin Qin listens to the counsel of his Roman advisor and seeks the help of Julius César (Vincent Cassel), who travels to China not only to conquer lands that even Alexander the Great didn’t but also to temporarily get away from the constant quarreling with his wife Cléopâtre (Marion Cotillard). If you are wondering whether ‘Asterix & Obelix: The Middle Kingdom’ is based on a novel or comic books, we got you covered.
Is Asterix & Obelix: The Middle Kingdom Based on a Novel or a Comic Book?
‘Asterix & Obelix: The Middle Kingdom’ is based on ‘Asterix’ or ‘The Adventures of Asterix,’ a bande dessinée (short form BDs; refers to comics originally published in French for French and Belgian readership) comic book series created by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo. In the comic books, the people of the indomitable village, which is located in the Armorica region in northern Gaul, use a magic potion that gives them superhuman strength to defeat their enemies.
When he was a child, Obélix fell into a cauldron of the magic potion, which makes him permanently strong, unlike the others in the village who lose their abilities when the effects of the potion wear off. Although ‘Asterix & Obelix: The Middle Kingdom’ remains faithful to the lore and mythology of the comic book series, the narrative of the film is an original story developed by Canet, Philippe Mechelen, and Julien Hervé.
After the previous two films in the franchise, ‘Asterix at the Olympic Games’ (2008) and ‘Asterix and Obelix: God Save Britannia’ (2012), garnered mixed critical and commercial responses, people involved with the projects felt it was time for a new approach. In previous films, Gérard Depardieu portrays Obélix as he was Uderzo’s preferred actor for the role. When Lellouche’s casting was announced, Depardieu said that he was fine with it, as he didn’t think he had a monopoly over the characters.
‘Asterix’ is a culturally significant work of literature in France and beyond. In an interview, Canet spoke about reading the comics as his father had a collection. Whenever Canet or his sisters weren’t reading the comics, his father would read them when he was alone. Canet now reads the same comic books to his own children. He added that his children were one of the reasons he made the film.
‘Asterix & Obelix: The Middle Kingdom’ took four years to make. According to Canet, it was worth the time and effort they invested in making it as he could hear “the laughter and testimonies of children when I strolled through the theaters when the film was released.” Reflecting on how the film explores Astérix and Obélix almost as bright-eyed teenagers, Canet told Bluewin.ch, “That’s what I wanted! I wanted to show them as grown-up children who are reaching adolescence and who have this carefree universe. I also found it interesting to tell love stories.”
The actor-director continued, “We don’t really know them to be sexual or romantic and I found it endearing to see them experience their first emotions and to play on that. This film is aimed at children in particular and I wanted to bring it closer to their everyday lives so that they can find themselves and identify with these characters.”
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