Deciphering Wolf Warriors 2 and untold stories
By China Plus commentator Luo Dan
The runaway success of Wolf Warriors 2 is something that few people could have imagined, with the film becoming the top-grossing movie of all time in China.
The action film has injected a freshness to China's film industry, which is traditionally been dominated by comedies and fantasies. The previous record holder, The Mermaid, is a fantasy romance that grossed 3.39 billion yuan last year.
A still of the film Wolf Warrior 2. [Photo: mtime.com]
The game-changing moment came on August 7, 2017, when Wolf Warriors 2 raked in over 3.4 billion yuan, less than two weeks after its debut. The blockbuster has now made a record 4 billion yuan, as it's still being screened in cinemas in both big and small cities across China.
The film's single-day earnings exceeded 200 million yuan, lasting for more than 10 days and breaking new ground for China's box office records.
Wolf Warriors 2 is the sequel to "Wolf Warrior", but the setting for the story has moved from the Chinese border to Africa. Wolf Warriors 2 tells the story of Leng Feng, played by martial art star Wu Jing, a former Chinese Special Forces operative, who sets off to rescue compatriots and friends in a war-torn region of Africa ravaged by local insurgents and foreign mercenaries.
Many observers have branded the film as a good combination of patriotic and commercial elements. The former could be reflected in the timing of its release, which was just several days ahead of August 1, the 90th anniversary of the founding of the People's Liberation Army. Even Wu Jing, who also directed the film, stated he wanted to portray an image of heroic and invincible Chinese soldiers in an international setting.
So what does 'international setting' mean? It certainly has a lot to do with the Chinese military mission in Africa and surrounding areas.
Few moviegoers will forget the scenes of pirates attacking merchant vessels and a Chinese warship helping Chinese nationals and foreign civilians out of conflict-hit area.
Undoubtedly, the two situations are reminiscent of the Chinese Navy's escort mission overseas and the two major evacuations of Chinese nationals in Libya and Yemen. The real events struck a chord for the Chinese audience, especially in terms of patriotism.
China sent its first escort squad to the Gulf of Aden and Somali waters in December 2008 in order to protect passing ships against pirate attacks, safeguard sea lane security and maintain freedom of navigation along waterways. So far, some 80 Chinese Navy vessels have helped ensure the safety of more than 6,000 domestic and foreign ships.
A typical high-profile example of this dates back to early April this year, when a Tuvalu-flagged freighter OS 35 was attacked by Somali pirates. Nineteen crew members locked themselves in a safe room until commandos from the Chinese flotilla came to their rescue. In a video clip that later went viral on China's social media, the crew extended their gratitude to the Chinese military, with one saying only China came to save them, although there were actually five warships in the area by that time.
The incident once entered the public spotlight about a month later, when the Chinese navy handed over 3 suspects in the foiled hijack attempt to the Somali authorities. This was covered by major western media outlets, which helped highlight Chinese soldiers for their awareness of law and international practice.
In reality, Chinese naval ships were already involved in evacuation missions in Libya and Yemen. In late February 2011, the naval frigate Xuzhou joined a special mission, sailing into the Mediterranean Sea to escort foreign ships with Chinese nationals evacuated from restive Libya. Within two weeks, more than 35,000 Chinese nationals were pulled out from the North African country by various means, including by air and sea. In March 2015, the naval frigate Lin Yi itself transported nearly 900 people from restive Yemen to Djibouti in east Africa. The evacuees included Chinese and people from about ten other countries, including Pakistan, Ethiopia, Singapore, Italy, Ireland, Poland, Germany, Canada, UK and Yemen.
The two Exodus-style events surely provided a source of inspiration for Wu Jing before he directed the film Wolf Warriors 2, the plot of which includes bringing Chinese and foreign employees in a local plant to safety. Chinese media report that among the audience were some involved in the real evacuation, and for them the movie went a long way toward explaining how they managed to pull through possibly the worst scenario in their life.
However, most of those watching Wolf Warriors 2 have little knowledge of China's multi-faceted connection with Africa and therefore it must be something else that appeals to them.
Generally speaking, to ordinary Chinese audiences, including millennials, jaw-dropping action sequences and the use of special effects are major attraction, which are also trademarks of Hollywood blockbusters like Saving Private Ryan, Transformer and Fast and Furious.
Analysts say director and actor Wu Jing's solution is the participation of a professional team and their emphasis on detail. Sam Hardgrave, fight coordinator of Captain America: Civil War, was invited to join Wu's production team to make the fighting scenes more impressive in accordance with Hollywood standards. Typical examples are protagonist Leng Feng's close-up five-minute fight with a mercenary leader, played by Hollywood veteran Frank Grillo who also appeared in Captain America as the antagonist. Sam Hardgrave also jokes that Wolf Warriors 2 could be termed "the tank version of Fast and Furious" as the movie sees quite a few stunts involving the heavy armored vehicle, including the bringing-down of helicopter.
Last but not least, Wu Jing's refusal to use stunt people for himself is another factor contributing to Wolf Warriors 2's success, because as both martial art actor and film director, he knows what he is good at, and how to bring the best visual effects in front of moviegoers.
To sum up, a good story line and professional production are prerequisites for a film's success, and with China's ever-increasing exchanges with foreign countries, ranging from government, economic to scientific and cultural, it's possible that Chinese audiences could see more high-quality films with exotic flavors in the future.