Jing Wu is the star of is the star of China’s record-breaking box office action movie Wolf Warrior II.
Jing Wu is the star of is the star of China’s record-breaking box office action movie Wolf Warrior II.

A new Chinese martial arts movie hero rolls into town

By Melanie Peters Time of article published Aug 28, 2017

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Every once in a while, cinema produces a martial arts hero with apparent superhuman skills that enthral audiences. This includes the master Bruce Lee, comedian Jackie Chan and actor Jet Li.

And now a new hero has rolled into town. Jing Wu is the star of China’s record-breaking box office action movie Wolf Warrior II.

International media are touting Wu as the next global hit.

Newspapers in China have even called Wu the next Chuck Norris.

With a budget of just $30million (R390m), the film opened in China on July 27 and has earned an astonishing $780m, making it China’s highest grossing film ever.

Not only was it a vote of confidence for the local movie industry but, as one Chinese newspaper neatly summed it up, it was also a reflection of the patriotic mood sweeping the country.

In the film, actor and martial arts guru Wu plays Feng Leng, a special forces operative.

The plot, which has been likened to that of Rambo, revolves around a rescue operation in deepest, darkest Africa.

The protagonist is a former People’s Liberation Army soldier who saves the day by helping evacuate Chinese businessmen, workers and locals from a war-torn and disease-ravaged country.

Despite the plot of the movie being fictitious, in some ways it touches on reality. Chinese troops were sent in to evacuate the Chinese when civil war broke in Libya in 2011 and in Yemen in 2015. Chinese medics were also on hand to assist during the Ebola outbreak.

The country’s biggest English-language national paper ran an editorial praising the movie for its effort to promote a modern Chinese military hero, “especially since there are many such heroes in real life, thanks to China’s increasing participation in global affairs”.

Movie critics have waxed lyrical about the fresh and realistic script, which departs from the usual superficial fare on screen which concentrates more on casting pretty faces than a concrete plot. One critic pointed to the Chinese lamenting the poor quality of local cinema, with most audiences favouring Hollywood blockbusters.

Wolf Warrior II has excelled, eclipsing another local production about “the most beautiful fairy couple”.

The movie’s release was impeccably timed with the People’s Liberation Army celebrating its 90th anniversary.

During these celebrations, bold pictures of President Xi Jinping in his military fatigues ran on the front pages of the local newspapers and programmes aired on national news broadcasters.

The movie was also a boost to the Chinese army and its navy, which are taking on more global responsibilities.

It drove home a subliminal message that it is no longer the mighty Americans rolling up their sleeves, trying to clean up the hot mess that is Africa.

China has become Africa’s succour. While the debate continues about whether China is pariah or saviour, Africa has done well out of China’s economic rise.

The Chinese movie industry raked in 27 billion yuan (R52bn) at the box office last year, accounting for more than half of the total market. This is promising, since Hollywood blockbusters still appeal to most audiences.

China’s movie industry has produced the likes of Fan Bingbing, Li and Chan, who have been propelled to the international stage.

The sensation around Wu has a powerful magnetic pull, which the Chinese government could leverage as soft power and amass favour in the world.

Ostensibly, America has a knack of harnessing such soft power. The US government and the Pentagon understand this power well and have assisted in promoting the country’s dream factory, Hollywood, in its mission of art depicting reality. It has produced blockbuster after blockbuster selling the the American dream and American hero to the world.

President Xi has staked his reputation on fulfilling his signature slogan the “Chinese dream”.

The country’s movie studios should collaborate with its government to produce more box office hits to influence the rest of the world to buy into this dream.

It worked for the US, it might well work for the Chinese.

Peters is the live editor of Weekend Argus. She is on a 10 month scholarship with the China Africa Press Centre. Instagram: mels_chinese_takeout

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