On Screen China: Nationalist Films Heat Up Frigid Summer Box Office

After last weekend’s box office hit a three-and-a-half-month low, two films intended to stoke nationalism prior to Army Day on August 1 — action sequel Wolf Warriors II and the propaganda film The Founding of an Army — take on the heavy responsibility this weekend of rescuing China’s lackluster domestic blackout period.

Wolf Warriors II (战狼2)

China Distribution – Beijing Culture (北京文化集团)
US Distribution – Well Go USA (In Select NA Cities July 28)

“Those who challenge China’s resolve will have nowhere to hide.” — Wolf Warriors (2015)

Wolf Warriors was an unexpected box office smash when it opened during the Tomb Sweeping Festival in April 2015, earning RMB 545 million ($86.9 million) by stoking nationalist pride in China’s mighty military prowess.

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Actor/Director Jacky Wu returns this weekend with his sequel and distributor Beijing Culture’s decision to release the film this time in the heart of the lucrative summer moviegoing season ahead of Army Day on August 1 should stir up plenty of excitement from the Chinese masses.

Look for an opening weekend total in the vicinity of RMB 500 million ($75 million) including Thursday’s advanced screenings. By the end of its run, Wolf Warriors II will become the first local film since February to join the RMB 1 billion ($150 million) club.

The Founding of an Army (建军大业)

China Distribution – China Film Company (中国电影股份有限公司)

The third in the Founding series — the Chinese government’s attempt to appeal to the masses through slickly-made “main-melody” i.e. propaganda films — The Founding of an Army follows 2009’s The Founding of a Republic and 2011’s The Founding of a Party, both of which seemingly scored well at the box office in their respective years.

We say seemingly because it’s impossible to know how much of their box office totals came from actual paying customers. For these types of films, the government bulk buys tickets, dispatching work units to cinemas for required viewing, and institutes a per screening attendance quota that exhibitors must abide by.

This time, in an attempt to appeal to more mainstream Chinese filmgoers, China Film Company has recruited a huge cast of actors and actresses including just about every single “Little Fresh Meat” they could get their hands on.

In trailers and other marketing material, they also tried to disguise the film as a popcorn-friendly wartime epic, provoking online ridicule by comparing itself to Hacksaw Ridge and for some reason Marvel.

In the end, the reported box office numbers for The Founding of an Army may reach RMB 900 million ($135 million) or even higher, but removing what the Chinese call 注水 zhu shui — literally “injected water” — the film will have made barely half of that.