War movie ‘Twenty Two’ conquers box office in China

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As shot from the 'Twenty Two' movie trailer. Photo: YouTube

Wolf Warriors 2 is hot, but a surprising documentary titled Twenty Two arguably is hotter. Making its China debut this week, the movie featuring now-elderly Chinese women who survived forced prostitution during the Sino-Japanese War took in 15 million yuan (US$2.25 million) at the box office in the first two days.

Its attendance rate was even better than that of Wolf Warriors 2, the best-ever Chinese movie in terms of box-office receipts, having beaten Spiderman: Homecoming this summer.

The film Twenty Two was named after 22 surviving Chinese “comfort women” who had been forced into prostitution by the Japanese army in World War II.

The actual number of survivors is now down to eight, as the movie was held by Chinese authorities for two years before finally making it on to the screen in its home country (it made its international debut at the Busan Film Festival in 2015). But the movie, the first Chinese film to honor comfort women, is expected to surge at the box office after favorable comments from critics.

Movie website Douban gave it a rating of 9.1 out of 10 because it triggers national sentiments to pay a final tribute to these elderly women.

An estimated 200,000 Chinese women were forced into prostitution during the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), and the survivors, now in their very last stages of life, shared similar yet distinctive experiences.

The documentary is likely to strike a chord of nationalistic feelings among Chinese who feel that war may once again be imminent because of the current geopolitical situation.

It is hitting the screens around the same time as the Korean film The Battleship Island, which depicts the story of 400 Korean slave laborers’ attempt to escape from mining coal on Battleship Island (Hashima Island in Nagasaki prefecture) during the Japanese colonial days.

The film, No 1 at the South Korean box office, also shows Korean women being badly treated by Japanese soldiers, and urges Japan to honor its promise to set up a sign before the end of this year stating that forced labor occurred on the island.

Both movies come as a reminder of the 72nd anniversary of the Japanese surrender on August 15, 1945, during World War II that put a stop to the notorious Japanese Unit 731, which had been involved in biological and chemical warfare and undertook lethal human experimentation.

This week, Japanese television broadcaster NHK ran a three-episode documentary about 12 members of Unit 731 in an oral history of the rape and human experimentation that was said to shock the Japanese audience because of the rare admission of their guilt.

Also hot in the summer box office is the Hollywood production Dunkirk, which portrays the evacuation of the famous French beach in World War II.

In addition to Wolf Warriors 2, a Chinese fictional movie about a former soldier saving his peers during a political riot in Africa, the war movies have conquered the summer box office usually dominated by Disney’s animated films.

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