Patriotic Chinese movie blockbuster claims “Whoever attacks China will be killed no matter how far the target is”

Nationalism sells.

By Yeo Kaiqi | August 11, 2017

Action films with Western heroes saving the world have long been a staple in the Hollywood machine. With the rise of China film industry, we may soon have to get used movie plots that see a Chinese man upholding justice and keeping the world safe.

Wolf Warrior 2, a patriotic Chinese action movie that has broken the country’s box office record, is a film that exemplifies how film-makers are projecting their the new found confidence and nationalistic fervor in the films they make.

The film has made a mind-boggling $3.9 billion yuan (S$799 million) since Jul 27, helped by the fact that it faced no competition from Hollywood blockbusters like Dunkirk, which won’t debut until September, thanks to local media regulator, which traditionally halts imports of foreign films to help domestic productions in the summer.

There’s a chance that it could even beat the worldwide box office records of Finding Dory, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Star Wars, and Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Wolf Warrior 2‘s propaganda themes

Nationalism stands as the biggest selling point of Wolf Warrior 2, a film set in war-torn Africa about a former special-forces soldier from China on a mission to save his compatriots and African locals from the hands of American-led mercenaries.

The tagline promoting the film is unabashedly patriotic: “Whoever attacks China will be killed no matter how far the target is” (“犯我中华者,虽远必诛”) – a slight adaptation from a Chinese military general’s vow to the then Western Han Dynasty emperor in his mission to defeat foreign invaders from the north.

As the film displays some of China’s latest military technology, the film’s release date also coincided with one of China’s biggest ever military parades.

Additionally, it was screened during the week of a big milestone in China’s military expansion abroad – the opening of its first overseas naval base in Djibouti, Africa.

A new type of propaganda film

In China, films with such nationalistic themes, such as The Founding of a Republic and Bodyguards and Assassins, usually draw average box office sales. The first Wolf Warrior film came out in 2014, but it didn’t make much of an impact.

But this time, Wolf Warrior 2‘s fate is different.

According to Lu Peng, a researcher specialising in film and culture at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, who spoke to the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the film has successfully incorporated real-life news events that happened in recent years to make it easier for audiences to identify with – something which traditional nationalistic films did not do.

Executive vice-general manager of Dadi Film Group’s distribution branch, Yu Yusan, also explained to SCMP that unlike past propaganda films that often promoted collective action, the film was successful as it portrayed ‘individual heroism’, a style frequently seen in Hollywood films such as Rambo. Chinese audience are now more mature and they appreciate individualism.

China’s soft power a turn off overseas

Though Wolf Warrior 2 has seen tremendous success domestically, the popularity of the film may not travel beyond the country due to its strong pro-China tones.

Jonathan Papish, an analyst at China Film Insider said that the current reception from the U.S. is only relatively strong because the box office sales were mainly from overseas Chinese.

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About Yeo Kaiqi

Kaiqi believes she's the reincarnation of ancient China's royalty. When she's not deluded, she behaves like a cat hoping to conquer the internet.

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