Wolf Warriors 2: A hit defining the new Chinese nationalism

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Former Chinese soldiers were portrayed as robbers in 'Long Arm Of The Law' (1984) but they become superheroes in 'Wolf Warriors 2' (2017). Photo: Youtube

Hot news in China this summer is the surprising surge of military film “Wolf Warriors 2”, which has swept national cinemas – edging “Spider Man: Homecoming” and carrying the country’s hopes of breaking Hollywood’s box office dominance.

After just 18 days, the movie, directed by and starring marital artist Jacky Wu Jing, passed 4.5 billion yuan (US$690 million) in cinema returns, according to CBO China’s real-time chart. That beat even the latest Spider Man movie, which recorded a global return of $680 million.

That made “Wolf Warriors 2” the first non-Hollywood movie to ever make the top 100 movies list for box office sales. And according to a forecast by Maoyan (which literally means “Cat’s eye”), “Wolf Warriors 2” is likely to bag $800 million by the end of summer.

To put that in perspective, the top US movie in 2016 “Beauty and the Beast” earned $504 million at the box office.

However, mainland cinemas are notorious for inflating box office sales via unorthodox methods, such as showing movies at 3am for a phantom audience. But, there is little doubt about this movie’s popularity, given the positive responses when people talk about it.

The success of “Wolf Warriors 2” was a surprise because the first episode two years ago was not a super-hit. “Wolf Warriors 1” recorded a box office return of just $89 million. The follow-up was made with an initial budget of $10 million, although that blew out to $30 million.

Mainland Chinese in Hong Kong may have to go across the border to Shenzhen to see the movie as it is not being shown in Hong Kong, a market where local people may not have much interest in propaganda about Chinese soldiers.

Many Hong Kong audiences have a negative image of Chinese soldiers – as portrayed by Hong Kong director Johnny Mak’s “Long Arm of The Law”, a 1984 film about how a group of ex-soldiers from Guangzhou robbed a jewelry shop in Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon.

‘Rambo’ or ‘Die Hard’

So, why all the fuss about “Wolf Warriors 2”? It is nothing more than a simple plot with former soldier Leng Feng, who finds himself embroiled in an African political riot – reminiscent of Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo or Bruce Willis’ Die Hard series – but choses to save his peers and refugees in some critical circumstances.

While Chinese movie-watchers enjoy some national pride in an African setting, the plot had many non-Chinese viewers scratching their heads. One commentary in Variety magazine noted, “Depending on their own political leanings, some Westerners will be either amused or incensed by the full-throated nationalism that pervades ‘Wolf Warrior II’, and by the film’s sporadic insistence that Chinese military forces are more resilient and reliable than those of any other country (like, say, US Marines) when it comes to extracting its citizens from international hot spots.”

Some viewers even said in media reports that after watching “Wolf Warriors II” they now feel they are very safe when traveling to foreign countries with a Chinese passport.

The movie comes as the world’s biggest army marches to the drumbeat of President Xi Jinping and amid heightened US-North Korean tension, which has led to a fresh concerns about world peace and order.

Beijing gave its blessing to film about Mao

“Wolf Warriors 2” also trounced another military film – “The Founding of An Army”, which obtained blessings from Beijing as a politically correct movie that displayed the leadership of paramount leader Mao Zedong during the Nanchang Uprising, the first major Communist-Kuomintang engagement.

“The Founding of An Army” did not lag in distribution channels, as the Chinese government had requested local cinemas to open their doors for it. So, while sponsors are giving away tickets to “The Founding of An Army” or offering a group discount as low as 10 yuan, many mainland people are still willing to pay 80 yuan to see “Wolf Warriors 2” because they feel more connected to the nationalistic spirit in the latter.

Obviously, many Chinese have been fed-up with the “we can safeguard our land” kind of messages over the past two decades. But they seem to like “we can safeguard our people in any place”.

Movie producers who want to make big money should maybe follow this new trend and match the mindset of the Chinese audience.

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