24 January 2019
Wu Jing made Wolf Warriors 2 for a measly 200 million yuan. The movie has now grossed 4 billion yuan at the box office. Photo:
Wu Jing made Wolf Warriors 2 for a measly 200 million yuan. The movie has now grossed 4 billion yuan at the box office. Photo:

How Wu Jing’s patriotic blockbuster backfired on him

Recently, the mega-hit Chinese action thriller Wolf Warriors 2 directed by and starring martial artist and actor Wu Jing has taken the mainland by storm and become a huge sensation among Chinese moviegoers.

The box office results indeed spoke volumes about how well-received the movie was: despite being a “B” movie with a budget of just 200 million yuan, Wolf Warriors 2 has so far grossed a whopping 4 billion yuan in box office across the country.

The story of Wolf Warriors 2 is set in today’s Africa, in which a People’s Liberation Army soldier, Leng Feng, played by Wu Jing manages to save, against all odds, the lives of hundreds of civilians during an armed rebellion orchestrated by “western villains” in an African country. In the movie, Wu Jing not only demonstrates extraordinary intelligence, bravery, gallantry as well as dazzling kung fu, but also remarkable patriotism.

One of Leng Feng’s most frequently spoken lines in the movie is: “Whoever dares to lay a finger on my beloved country, I’ll get them, no matter how far they are.”

And at the end of the movie, a string of words printed on a page of a mock-up Chinese passport is given a close-up shot, which reads: “no matter what kind of danger you have encountered overseas, remember, your mighty motherland always has your back.”

Apart from being packed with intense and nail-biting fight scenes, Wolf Warriors 2 also showcases a lot of China’s fancy and state-of-the-art weapons.

However, what truly makes the movie such a huge box office success is actually not its fight scenes and fancy weapons, but rather, the patriotic and nationalist themes it pitches, which have just hit exactly the right note with mainland viewers at a time when ultra-nationalist sentiment is prevailing across the nation.

Another crucial factor behind its commercial success is its endorsement by mainland officialdom because the film toes Beijing’s current hawkish patriotic line under President Xi Jinping.

However, as it turns out, ultra-nationalism is indeed a double-edged sword. While Wu Jing has made a lot of money with his movie that pitches ultra-nationalism, ironically he has also recently found himself at the receiving end of the patriotic emotions his movie has evoked.

At a recent public event, Wu once again recited the string of words that appeared at the end of his movie, and added that “the passport of the People’s Republic of China might not be able to bring you everywhere around the world, but it can certainly bring you home safe no matter where you are and what troubles you have run into.”

Yet, much to his surprise, Wu immediately came under fire from mainland netizens for being hypocritical, since, they pointed out, Wu himself has acquired the citizenship of Hong Kong, while his wife is a green card holder, not to mention that his son was born in the UK and is therefore a British citizen.

As some angry mainland netizens put it: “what a bloody nerve that a guy who has given up his Chinese citizenship is telling people to love their motherland.”

Worse still, after Wu had donated one million yuan to the victims of the recent Sichuan earthquake, he drew more ridicule and criticism from netizens, resulting in an open season on him online.

Many netizens accused Wu of being a penny-pincher because he had only donated one million yuan, which was peanuts compared to the big bucks he had made with his recent blockbuster.

There were also many others who mocked that he should have donated 100 million, 500 million yuan or even all the money made from the movie to the earthquake victims in order to prove that he is not just a patriot on the big screen, but also a genuine patriot in real life as well.

Amid the public ridicule, all Wu could do was bite the bullet and remain silent, as he was well aware that any rebuttal from him would only provoke further public backlash.

Many movie critics in the mainland have often compared Wu’s Wolf Warriors series to the First Blood series starring Sylvester Stallone in the 1980s.

Ironically, while Wu, the Chinese equivalent of Rambo, is always invincible on the big screen, in real life he turns out to be completely vulnerable and powerless in the face of the online lynching.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 18

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal contributor

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