TEA LEAVES

WITH WOLFWARRIOR2 AT THE OS­CARS, RE­MEM­BER­ING WHEN RAMBO WAS ALL THE RAGE IN CHINA

The World of Chinese - - News - – HAN RUBO (韩儒博)

茶话会

On March 4—sex scan­dals not­with­stand­ing—hol­ly­wood’s elite will as­sem­ble at Hol­ly­wood’s Dolby Theater for the 90th Acad­emy Awards, where China has pinned its own Os­car hopes on an un­likely con­tender.

De­spite mak­ing 851.6 mil­lion USD with its flag-wav­ing de­pic­tion of Chi­nese for­eign pol­icy, Wolf War­rior 2 is not an ob­vi­ous of­fi­cial pick for Best For­eign Film cat­e­gory (past nom­i­nees in­cluded Zhang Yi­mou’s wartime epic Flow­ers

of Nan­jing and Feng Xiao­gang’s Back to 1942, a har­row­ing de­pic­tion of famine in He­nan).

“Be­ing a se­quel and an ac­tion film with an as­ton­ish­ingly high body count may weigh against the film,” Va­ri­ety noted. Wolf

War­rior 2 has been crit­i­cized for both its vi­o­lence and tact­less de­pic­tion of the un­named African coun­try in which the film

takes place. This has prompted many to com­pare the film’s pa­tri­otic pro­tag­o­nist, Wu Jing, with the equally pugilis­tic John Rambo, hero of First Blood and nu­mer­ous se­quels in­clud­ing 2008’s Rambo.

“The Rambo movies per­son­i­fied Amer­ica’s abil­ity to ac­cept its Viet­nam vet­eran com­mu­nity and mis­ad­ven­ture in Viet­nam, and even for the di­rect smack-down con­fronta­tion that Amer­i­cans longed for against their Cold War ad­ver­sary, the Soviet Union,” ob­served The Di­plo­mat. “Chi­nese are lean­ing not only into a Wolf War­rior that is re­spon­sive, glob­al­ly­fo­cused, and bent on pro­tect­ing Chi­nese na­tion­als and in­ter­ests, but also a Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army that is as well.” Chi­nese blog­ger Ma Tian­jie noted “the whole movie can be seen as a con­ve­nient set-up to show off the might of a ris­ing su­per­power.”

What’s some­what for­got­ten is the small role the 1982 orig­i­nal First Blood played in the his­tory of Chi­nese cin­ema. In 1985, First Blood be­came—bar­ring a cou­ple of em­bassy film fes­ti­vals—the first mod­ern Amer­i­can movie to be shown in China. It was a coup for Hol­ly­wood ex­ec­u­tives: A tick­ets may have only cost a few cents (6 mao), but the Chi­nese box-of­fice could count an­nual re­ceipts of over 10 bil­lion at the time, and the main­land mar­ket was viewed as a long game.

The Stal­lone flick ran for weeks in the­atres around the coun­try—the orig­i­nal Rambo’s harsh crit­i­cism of cap­i­tal­ism’s treat­ment of its pro­le­tar­ian vet­er­ans seem­ingly struck a so­cial­ist chord with cen­sors at the time, de­spite its fre­quent and graphic vi­o­lence. But oth­ers sug­gested the rea­son that the film was al­lowed was a sim­ple mat­ter of eco­nom­ics. At the time, the China Film Group rarely paid more than 10,000 USD for overseas dis­tri­bu­tion rights; some spec­u­lated that the stu­dio of­fered a bar­gain price. If so, it paid off: Over a nine-day run in 21 cin­e­mas in Beijing, the film’s tick­ets were scalped at sev­eral times their orig­i­nal price, and over a mil­lion cu­ri­ous cin­ema­go­ers queued to see its unique de­pic­tion of an un­ruly in­di­vid­ual’s war on so­ci­ety.

Au­di­ences were re­port­edly thrilled at the plot and spe­cial ef­fects (“there were loud gasps” when Stal­lone de­buted his bare and con­sid­er­ably bulky chest, ac­cord­ing to one for­eign re­port), but oth­ers were left shaken by the ex­pe­ri­ence. “It is thrilling, it is awe­some, but it is not beau­ti­ful,” wrote one critic on Dianyin.com. “The wor­ship of the so-called no­ble sav­age is noth­ing more than the glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of ban­dits, mur­der­ers, and ar­son­ists.” The film de­fied “our na­tional aes­thet­ics, our so­cial sys­tem, and our political sys­tem.”

Hard­lin­ers in gov­ern­ment seemed to agree, and First Blood was yanked af­ter a cou­ple of months. As the sur­prise suc­cess of Wolf War­rior 2 showed, it’s of­ten hard to pre­dict the taste of both Chi­nese au­di­ences and cen­sors. A year af­ter First Blood, the 1978 Su­per­man de­buted in Beijing. It lasted only a day: A re­view in the Beijing Evening News de­nounced the film, and a scene in which Su­per­man cir­cles the Statue of Lib­erty, as symp­to­matic of “a nar­cotic the cap­i­tal­ist class gives it­self to cast off its se­ri­ous crises.” In Novem­ber this year, though, the lat­est in the DC su­per­hero fran­chise, Jus­tice League, safely de­buted in China with a 52 mil­lion USD open­ing week­end.

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