Despite signs that China’s booming film industry is cooling down slightly after years of exponential growth, domestic action film Wolf Warriors 2 (战狼2 zhàn láng) just broke the China box office record set by Stephen Chow’s The Mermaid in 2016 and became the highest-grossing film ever screened in China. Released on July 27, the film has earned a total of 3.44 billion yuan ($507 million) so far. Xinhua News Agency says the film’s total revenue is expected to hit an astonishing 5.15 billion yuan ($768 million).
Directed by and starring well-known Chinese action star Wu Jing 吴京, Wolf Warriors 2 tells the story of a retired Chinese Special Forces operative who returns to his old duties after seeing American mercenaries target Chinese civilians in a war-torn region of Africa. Wu also starred in and directed the first Wolf Warrior movie, which CNN reports only pulled in 545 million yuan ($80 million) in 2015.
Wolf Warriors 2 was released in a so-called domestic film protection month (国产电影保护月 guóchǎndiànyǐngbǎohùyuè) — usually July or August — in which foreign films are not allowed to enter Chinese theaters, which partly explains why Wolf Warriors 2 performed so well at the box office. In addition to its advantageous release date, the massive appeal of the film largely comes from its branding as a patriotic action flick that was inspired by the real events of China’s efforts to evacuate Chinese citizens from conflict-ridden countries such as Yemen and Libya. The tag line used to promote the film is “Whoever offends our China will be punished,” or depending on how you translate it, “Whoever offends our China will be put to death” (犯我中华者，虽远必诛 Fàn wǒ zhōnghuá zhě, suī yuǎn bì zhū).
Wu’s patriotism was thrown into doubt after a comment appeared on social media platform Weibo saying that Wu is in fact a Hong Kong citizen, his wife has permanent residency in the U.S., and their child is a British citizen. To refute the claim, Wu gave scans of his and his wife’s passports and their child’s birth certificate to the cyber police of Jiangsu Province, who posted them with a message (in Chinese) saying, “Spreading malicious rumors and slanders is a crime of defamation.” Earlier in the year, the film and its trailer were the subject of two separate allegations of copyright infringement.
Wolf Warriors 2 is unlikely to enjoy the same success outside of China. The South China Morning Post says that “the movie’s nationalistic tone has struck a chord with mainland Chinese audiences but makes it a turnoff for Western filmgoers.” A reviewer’s influential American movie site, RogerEbert.com, put it this way:
[W]atching Wolf Warriors 2 with an at-capacity crowd on Sunday gave me an idea of what it was like to watch ugly, manipulative, and unmoving tripe like Rambo II back in the ’80s. Like Sylvester Stallone’s earlier star vehicle, Wolf Warriors 2 lectures you, pummels you, and then expects you to cheer.
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