A spectacular action movie; a military adventure that advocates patriotism; an immense commercial success. All these labels can be attached to Wolf Warrior II, whose box-office earnings surpassed 5 billion yuan ($750 million) less than a month after its July 27 release, making it the world's second highest-grossing movie in a single market. But most importantly, it tells a story that audiences can identify with.
Wolf Warrior II, the sequel to an award-winning 2015 movie, is set in an unspecified African country. When a civil war plunges the country into turbulence and chaos, Leng Feng, a former member of the Chinese special forces, played by Wu Jing, finds himself on a mission to rescue trapped Chinese citizens and locals. Wu is also the movie's director and one of its screenplay writers.
At first sight, Leng is reminiscent of the Hollywood superhero who conquers bad guys and saves the world. Indeed, many virtues that the protagonist embodies, such as courage, sacrifice and commitment, are highly prized worldwide. Military movies, Wu argues, can transcend national borders to drive home anti-war and patriotic themes.
Nevertheless, Wolf Warrior II has proven to be a greater hit in China than Hollywood blockbusters. That's not only because of Wu's acting skills, state-of-the-art visual effects that satisfy viewers' expectations, especially those of young people, and stunning fighting scenes. An underlying reason is that the movie, inspired by the evacuation of Chinese nationals from the war zone in Libya in 2011, resonates with a larger message.
Six years ago, 35,860 Chinese were evacuated from Libya in a well-coordinated campaign. China also helped 2,100 foreign citizens from 12 nations leave the war-torn country. Notably, it was the first time China sent military transport aircraft overseas to take part in such an operation. Against this backdrop, Leng is both a champion of heroism and the epitome of China's enhanced capacity to protect its citizens abroad and growing role in international affairs.
China's movie industry has evolved in recent years. Box-office receipts soared 34 percent year on year on average from 2011 to 2015. The growth rate, however, dipped to 3.7 percent last year, sparking concerns over fluctuations. Encouragingly, cinemas are mushrooming across the nation. From January to June, 841 new cinemas with a total of 4,960 screens opened for business. China now has more movie screens than any other country—over 45,000—a sign of the enthusiasm of the nation's moviegoers.
The key lies in how moviemakers will cash in on this huge market. Although the success of Wolf Warrior II may not be easily duplicated, it at least can be a case study for domestic moviemakers. In the face of cutthroat competition from Hollywood, they still stand a chance given their unique advantage in understanding audiences in China.