Jacky Wu’s action-sequel Wolf Warriors II singlehandedly saved a beleaguered domestic box office this weekend, battling its way to an incredible debut of 921 million yuan* ($136.7 million), and edging towards the all-time record held by The Mermaid.
America, meet Leng Feng (冷锋), China’s answer to Hollywood’s greatest action heroes. Played by martial artist Jacky Wu (吴京), who has consciously studied his action film lexicon, Leng is an amalgamation of the types of individuals global audiences have come to expect from their male action heroes. He’s got the killer combat instinct of Rambo, the individualistic, maverick spirit of Die Hard‘s John McClaine, and the staunch patriotism of 24‘s Jack Bauer.
But Wolf Warriors‘ Leng Feng is an action hero — as the official party line often goes — with Chinese characteristics. He defends Chinese interests both at home and abroad (this time in an anonymous African country under the throes of revolution), fulfilling his sworn duty as a special ops soldier in the People’s Liberation Army, whether he’s donning his uniform or seemingly wearing nothing at all.
And it’s this flip of the well-worn Hollywood action film script that had Chinese audiences flocking to cinemas in record numbers this weekend. After four hours of advanced screenings Thursday evening racked up RMB 100 million* ($14.9 million) in ticket sales, phenomenal word of mouth quickly made its way to the social media-obsessed masses and by the end of Sunday, Wolf Warriors II (战狼2) had earned RMB 921 million* ($136.7 million).
Sunday’s box office numbers climbed a mind-bending 15% from Saturday’s, a rare feat in a country where the biggest films are usually the most front-loaded, and early results from Monday show Wolf Warriors II dropping just 35% meaning the film is just kicking off a remarkable box office run.
Local analysts had initially predicted a RMB 1 billion total — nothing to sneeze at considering 2015’s Wolf Warriors earned just half of that — but it’s now become clear that Wolf Warriors II has the very real potential to topple China’s all-time box office champion The Mermaid which earned RMB 3.392 billion ($526.8 million) in 2016.
Chinese exhibitors, thirsty for revenue after a long box office drought, initially gave 42% of the nation’s 46,000+ screens to Wolf Warriors II, but by Monday that percentage had ballooned to 52%. Eight out of every ten movie tickets sold this weekend went to the action film, leaving other new releases high and dry including the propaganda film The Founding of an Army (建军大业), a “gift” to the Chinese people upon the 90th Anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army.
Following Zhou Enlai, Mao Zedong, Zhu De and other Chinese revolutionaries, The Founding of an Army dramatizes the first steps the Communists took to distance themselves from Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists as the Chinese Civil War broke out in the late 1920s.
Despite better-than-average production values and praise for Hong Kong director Andrew Lau’s action direction in three large-scale battle sequences, The Founding of an Army was unable to find a receptive audience, earning RMB 191 million* ($28.4 million) in its 4-day debut.
China’s summer blackout period continues next week with Once Upon a Time (三生三世十里桃花), a potential $100M+ romantic-fantasy based on a popular novel and television series, and the sports drama My Other Home (我是马布里), Stephon Marbury’s fictionalized portrayal of his journey from disgraced NBA star to the most respected player in the Chinese Basketball Association.
*All listed grosses in this article are adjusted to remove online ticketing fees. For a primer on why CFI reports this way, see here.