WARNING: This article contains spoilers.
China is currently celebrating the runaway success of the country’s best-ever action hero film — “Wolf Warrior 2” — but I haven’t quite been caught in the testosterone-filled box-office behemoth’s golden spell.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s a decent film production-wise, with good cinematography and exhilaratingly well-choreographed and executed action scenes worthy of any Hollywood blockbuster. But it’s the blatant nationalism, and the tinges of racism, that left me with a sour taste in the mouth.
I’m proud of many aspects of China, from her ability to pull hundreds of millions from poverty in such a short span of time, to getting me from Shanghai to Beijing in just over four hours.
And I can feel a sense of national pride, even as a foreigner living here, without being told to do it on cue. That’s what it felt like watching “Wolf Warrior 2” — a blatant, over-the-top advertisement of patriotism, not seen since Captain America.
It’s great to feel a sense of pride for one’s country, but “Wolf Warrior 2” is cashing in on a hunger for patriotism in an incessant and painful manner. It left me rolling my eyes at nearly every turn.
The most stomach-churning instance — and this is going to get me in trouble because a lot of people are fans of the movie — was when the film’s hero, played by Wu Jing, sits atop a vehicle at the head of a Chinese motorcade about to drive through a war zone. He drapes a Chinese flag over his arm and the group throw down all arms, and suddenly the war halt, if just for a few minutes: “Hold your fire, they’re Chinese!” the African warlords shouts as the five-starred red flag proudly sways, in slow motion, through the sub-Saharan heat.
I expect this from American films, but I know China can do better.
The treatment of African people in the film is another thing that did not sit comfortably with me in “Wolf Warrior 2.” It’s always a bit tough talking about racism in China because, in this largely homogenous society, people genuinely don’t think of race and race relations in the same way that Westerners do, which is great in many ways. But I’m a Westerner, so it’s hard for me to ignore a point of view I’ve grown up with.
African people in the film are portrayed as either vulnerable and in dire need of outside help, or savage and violent in turns. One scene in the film, set in a Chinese-funded factory with largely African workers, probably crosses the line. Chinese factory managers, in an attempt to calm workers down while in the midst of impending doom, lights bonfires inside the warehouse and gives the workers alcohol. It results in the African workers dancing around the fire chanting like tribespeople. “Give these people a bonfire and they’re happy,” the Chinese boss exclaims, or something to that effect.
But at the end of the day, probably the main reason I didn’t really enjoy “Wolf Warrior 2” is that I’m not an action movie fan. As a workmate told me, this film is really just a way to sit back, enjoy the explosions — and especially the opening underwater scene — and stop thinking for two hours.
I like her advice, and I promise I’ll try harder next time.