By Phil Contrino
When The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emporer opens this Friday, Brendan Fraser's Rick O'Connell will have to do battle with a new villain.
Martial arts superstar Jet Li enters the picture this time around as Emporer Han and the actor joins a handful of newcomers to the franchise including director Rob Cohen, actresses Maria Bello and Michelle Yeoh and actor Luke Ford as a more grown-up Alex O'Connell.
This is the second movie of 2008 for Li, who was seen earlier this year alongside Jackie Chan in The Forbidden Kingdom which was able to bring in $100 worldwide.
Considering that The Mummy and The Mummy Returns boast a combined gross of $832 million worldwide, Emporer has the potential to start August off on a high note.
Yet the question remains as to whether or not Li's presence will help bring in a bigger audience and even advance the Mummy universe.
Li hasn't exactly been on fire lately, and he has experienced disappointing domestic returns on his last couple of films. While Forbidden Kingdom didn't do as well as it could have given the pairing of Li and Chan, 2007's War made only $22.48 million in America and 2006's Jet Li's Fearless faired just as poorly with a domestic gross of only $24.6 million.
However, Li may bring a more diverse, worldwide audience to the Mummy franchise since he has proven to be a strong draw throughout the world. For proof, look no further than 2002's Hero which brought in nearly $170 million worldwide, and only $53 million of that tally came from domestic receipts.
In addition, Li may have more at stake than just the returns on this particular film. If Emporer catches on and his character becomes popular, then there could be a spinoff film.
After his scene-stealing turn in 2001's
The Mummy Returns, Dwayne Johnson (who was then still billed by his wrestling alias, "The Rock") was given his own film,
The Scorpion King.
grossed a solid $90 million domestically and it gave Johnson a push toward a more successful film career.