These days the common refrain in China is that if you haven't seen Zhan Lang II (Wolf Warrior II), you are not a true Chinese. Wu Jing's blockbuster sequel has already collected more than $800 million in revenue making it the second movie in history to achieve these numbers in single territory sales.
I am not Chinese, but being a Beijinger, I was not one to miss the opportunity of experiencing the Wolf Warrior II (WW2) hysteria that has consumed the Middle Kingdom and beyond.
It was a busy Saturday evening; the cinema hall was filled to capacity; a good mix of old couples, millennials, and young families with kids in tow. Our family was the only "waiguoren" (Mandarin for 'foreigner') in the theatre. It made the movie experience just a little more exciting.
It soon became clear why WW 2 is a colossal hit. It has all the ingredients of a typical Hollywood action movie -
• Slickly made and fast paced with a predictable, but entertaining storyline.
• Glitzy international look and feel, but a largely Chinese cast and crew.
• An immortal action hero who vanquishes all evil and still looks unfazed.
• Nationalism that has an almost hypnotic effect on the audiences.
In the midst of all the hysteria, there are two key consumer insights that make the success of WW 2 so significant. Allow me to elaborate:
1. The movie deftly combines nationalistic fervour with empathy
WW 2 showcases the Chinese sense of national pride in an erstwhile foreign setting and peppers it with liberal doses of compassion and care. Leng Feng, the intrepid hero, cares for more than just his fellow countrymen; he's also the saviour of the people who he has worked and lived with in this foreign land. When faced with an option of leaving his war-ridden home (a fictitious country set in Africa) with his other stranded fellow Chinese workers, he refuses to do so without his African friend and the rest of the local workers stranded with him.
China's economy has grown exponentially over the last couple of decades; perhaps the softer elements of compassion, being a part of a global community, have not kept pace with this implosion, creating a void amongst its people. The sense of empathy and inclusiveness depicted in the movie has struck a chord with the Chinese population.
2. It serves as a metaphor for China's growing international presence and global ambition
Over the past few years, China has invested heavily in infrastructure all over the world, with special focus on Africa. Chinese companies have large-scale projects in railways, ports, and power and oil across the African continent, generating employment for the local population. The movie displays this global ambition in its full splendour. The fact that China and Africa are friends is reinforced throughout the movie. In the final scene, the rebel forces are shown quietly submitting to the dominance of the Chinese flag and allowing safe passage to Leng Feng and his motley crew of survivors.
For China, the days of being known as merely a manufacturing base for the rest of the world, are long gone. It is the acknowledgement of being a global player that resonates with the audiences.
"It makes me feel good being Chinese and being an important part of the international community; this is why I will go and watch this movie again and again." says my Chinese tutor.
The movie ends with a promise of a "threequel" and may well end up as a solid franchise with more instalments to follow. Naturally, it remains to be seen if the magic of Wolf Warrior II can be duplicated in its next edition.
Wolf Warrior II is slated to release in India soon.
(The author is an international business consultant and former country head of HBO India, now based in Beijing. She loves writing about India, China and doling out general corporate gyan).