History and Culture

Hollywood hears wolf at door

2017-08-13 15:52:00 (Beijing Time)         Xinhua

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If Hollywood hears a wolf at the door, it may well be Chinese director-producer-star turned uber wolfpack leader, Wu Jing, whose recent effort, "Wolf Warrior II", has gobbled up the competition to become a genuine cultural phenomenon, not only in China, but also for Hollywood.

After shocked by the movie's performance in box office, raking in 650 million U.S. dollars since July 28 to this weekend in China alone, some critics, like Film Journal International, contend that it's because "'Wolf Warrior II' is like a propaganda movie, with Leng even unfurling a Chinese flag at one point to assure safe passage through a war zone."

But more critics shrugged off the prejudice, just like the Rotten Tomatoes.com only gave the movie a 50 percent on their tomatometer while it scored 88 percent on their audience approval score.

"Like Sylvester Stallone before him, and John Wayne before Stallone, star Wu Jing has successfully exploited the crowd-pleasing potential of enhancing militaristic action-adventure heroics with a heavy dose of flag-waving patriotism," the Variety argued in the latest report about the movie published Friday.

"The big difference here, of course, is that the flag waved by Wu and others in this shoot-'em-up extravaganza is that of the People's Republic of China, and Wu's heroic Leng Feng is not a Green Beret, but rather a once and future member of his country's elite Wolf Warriors special ops unit," the report said.

Italian-American co-star, Frank Grillo, who compellingly plays the blood-thirsty mercenary antagonist, "Big Daddy", rebutted it as well, "It's Chinese nationalistic, not propaganda. It's no more propaganda than 'Rambo'."

Grillo, best known for his portrayal of famed Marvel comic book character, "Crossbones" in Disney's blockbuster "Captain America" franchise, sang Wu Jing's praises in an exclusive interview with Xinhua Thursday, "He's a special man who's got his finger on the pulse of what politically and emotionally charges his country. He understands China's Zeitgeist."

Wu also dismisses this criticism, while readily admitting his film is "a combination of a commercial action movie and a Chinese military propaganda movie." During a recent press conference, he angrily retorted, "Why is that a problem? America makes movies that promote the American spirit. Why can't I do that for China?"

And many of his countrymen agree. Though Wu may still be learning the narrative nuances that would enable his films to appeal to international audiences as well, Chinese audiences voted with their wallets, sending "Wolf Warrior II" snarling to a record-breaking first place as the highest grossing movie in China's history.

"Wu Jing's 'sturm und drang' is making Hollywood sit up and take notice," Grillo told Xinhua.

"I've got about 15 calls from Hollywood studio people, casting people and producers, asking, 'Can Wu Jing speak English?'" revealed Grillo. "Wu Jing can do anything. He's breathing very thin air right now and is in a room with very few other people."

Celina Jade, Chinese-American singer-turned-actress who plays the beautiful doctor in the movie, echoed Grillo's words.

In an exclusive interview with Xinhua last week, she recounted, "Wu Jing called me the very last minute and said, 'I'm doing a movie and I need a lead actress. Can you fly tonight?' I really wanted to help because my acting career wouldn't exist if it weren't for this guy pushing me forward ... I knew this was my opportunity to help him back."

"On top of that, my Mom is Chinese and she was worried I was losing my heritage and roots. She wanted me to do it," Jane said.

She emphasized that Hollywood can noticed that this movie is far more technically sophisticated than a typical B-movie and easily outstrips Wu Jing's franchise-founding predecessor, "Wolf Warrior", as Wu clearly styled himself after Sylvester Stallone's "Rambo" with more than a pinch of Jackie Chan thrown in for good measure.

"It is an amazing movie first," both Grillo and Jade used the same words before involved in the controversy.

The film uses high-production value cinematography, complete with sweeping aerial and crane shots, massive underwater and high action, military set pieces featuring deadly drones, seagoing vessels and marauding tanks.

There's also no shortage of gut-pummeling, hand-to-hand combat scenes and elaborate stunt sequences designed by Marvel's top stunt master, Sam Hargrave ("Captain America", "Hunger Games"), along with China's fight choreographer Wai Leung Wong ("Operation Mekong").

Hargrave said at a recent press conference, "It' s a big movie and a big challenge. With 50 to 100 explosions, it's like the 'Fast and Furious' with a tank!"

Clearly, Wu's type of explosive, flag-waving, nationalistic action-adventure strikes a deep chord with Chinese audiences. What remains to be seen is whether, like Jackie Chan before him, Wu Jing can make the leap from homegrown superstar to a global box office draw.

Grillo's prediction? "The next iteration for Chinese and American cultures is: we go in and make movies that both cultures can connect to."