When the apocalypse comes, China will save the world.
Or at least that's how Chinese audiences are interpreting "2012," Hollywood's latest blockbuster disaster movie.
"It's about time the world sees us as a dominant ally," said Liu Xinliang, 27, a Beijing-based computer programmer who watched the movie twice.
The movie, currently No. 1 in the U.S., is also No. 1 in China, grossing $17.2 million here since it opened Nov. 13.
In the nearly 3-hour movie, the Earth's core overheats, threatening humanity. Leaders of the world embark on a mission to build an ark in the mountains of central China to house people and animals that can repopulate the planet — a story line many Chinese have praised.
Like others in a Beijing theater this week, Liu grinned with pride as he watched Chinese troops escort wealthy and important citizens onto the ark.
Chinese netizens on popular blogs have also been quick to note other scenes perceived as having pro-China messages — Chinese military officers saluting American refugees entering China, China being one of the first nations to agree to open the ark's gates to admit more refugees, and a U.S. military officer saying that only the Chinese could build an ark of such a scale so quickly.
"I felt really proud to be Chinese as I was watching our (military) officers rescue civilians in need," said Zhang Ying, 26, an advertising executive in Beijing. "The movie along with (President Barack) Obama's visit this week made me realize that China has become a respected country on the world stage."
At a theater in central Beijing, hoards of people lined up to buy tickets.
"It's been sold out every night. They all want to watch China save the world," a ticket attendant said with a laugh.
It has also pulled in the crowds in Indonesia but has garnered a less positive response in some quarters in what is the world's most populous Muslim nation — because it predicts doomsday.
Conservative Muslim clerics on the islands of Java, Kalimantan and Sumatra have urged or banned their followers from watching the movie, saying it contradicts Islamic teachings. They say only God, not man, knows when the world will end.
"We are worried that the film will make Muslims believe that the end of the world will really happen by 2012. That is not true. The end will surely come but no one can tell when," said Mahmud Zubaida, an imam in the eastern Javanese city of Malang.
Still, Indonesia's most influential Muslim body, the Ulema Council, say there is no need for believers to worry as "2012" is only a work of fiction.
In China, the movie is seen as a refreshing change for audiences after decades of unflattering portrayals of the communist nation in Hollywood movies such as "Red Corner" starring Richard Gere, in which an innocent foreigner faces a corrupt Chinese legal system, and Martin Scorsese's "Kundun," which highlights China's rule of Tibet.
Scenes with Chinese bad guys were cut from "Mission Impossible III" and Warner Bros. decided not to release its hit blockbuster last year, "The Dark Knight," in China due to "cultural sensitivities." The latest Batman movie sees the masked hero nab a Chinese criminal in Hong Kong.
As China's economy continues to burgeon, Hollywood has set it sights on the nation of 1.3 billion where they can share profits on only up to 20 of their releases every year — making it crucial for studios to reap as much as they can with each movie.
"China has a legitimate movie market that's growing, but Hollywood is learning that movies portraying us as poor or the enemy will not make money in China," said Shen Dingli, director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai.
"Chinese love action and disaster movies with special effects, so "2012" would have been released regardless if China played a role in the story line," Li Chow, Sony Pictures Releasing International's general manager for China, said in a phone interview.
It is unclear whether director Roland Emmerich, who also directed "The Day After Tomorrow," "Independence Day" and "Godzilla," intentionally inserted the China element to gain wider viewership on the mainland.
Steve Elzer, a spokesman for Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group, declined to comment on the China element or whether any scenes were cut from the movie.
China's box office is growing but is still small compared to the U.S. market. Government statistics show that revenues surged from 920 million yuan in 2003 to 4.3 billion yuan ($630 million) in 2008 — compared to $9.8 billion in the U.S. last year.
The "Transformers" sequel earlier this year brought in $63 million in China, which broke the 11-year record of $53 million set by "Titanic" in 1998.
Associated Press writer Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.