Director Wu Jing and other cast members of Wolf Warrior II attend the closing ceremony of the 2017 Beijing International Film Festival on April 23
Zhu Yuqing, a veteran movie critic in Beijing, was pleasantly surprised by China's 2017 box office success. On September 4, the revenue hit 40 billion yuan ($6.11 billion), 69 days earlier than it took to reach the same figure last year.
"It's really heartening news after 2016 witnessed the biggest slowdown in China's movie market over the past five years," Zhu, founder of Beijing Juyinghui Movie Culture Co. Ltd., China's first movie evaluation and target audience investigation service provider, told ChinAfrica.
Some believe that the much-better-than-expected dollar success of homegrown movies released this summer has facilitated the growth of movie ticket sales. "Chinese movies have performed quite well at the box office recently," Chen Siqin, assistant research fellow with the Communication University of China (CUC), told ChinAfrica.
Military-themed action movie Wolf Warrior II is the biggest money spinner. It earned $870 million worldwide 47 days after it was shown on July 27. It's also the only non-Hollywood blockbuster to be in the world's 55 highest grossing movies listed on Boxofficemojo.com. One out of 10 Chinese people [140 million] watched the movie after its release, making it the most watched one in a single territory.
Besides Wolf Warrior II, low-budget niche production like Paths of the Soul and documentary Twenty-Two have also became dark horses in their genres. Paths of the Soul, which depicts the pilgrimage of Tibetan Buddhists to holy Kangrinboqe Mountain, raked in 100 million yuan ($15.28 million), one of the highest grossing art movies ever in China. Twenty-Two, which sheds light on surviving World War II sex slaves in China, earned 170.27 million yuan ($26 million), becoming the first Chinese documentary to do so.
"China's 2017 box office is expected to total 55 billion yuan ($8.4 billion), or even be up to 60 billion yuan ($9.16 billion)," Zhu estimated. Obviously, the recent success of homegrown movies has provided an adrenaline rush to China's cinema which recorded its strongest year in the past five years. Statistics from the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) show that China's box office revenue in 2016 amounted to 45.71 billion yuan ($6.86 billion), climbing just a meager 3.73 percent year on year. It is in sharp contrast with the 49-percent surge in 2015.
As the first Chinese hit listed in the world's Top 55 grossing movies, will Wolf Warrior II be a turning point for China's movies to go global? In fact, different from other hits in the Top 55 list whose box office revenue came from diverse regions, 99 percent of Wolf Warrior II's ticket sales come from the Chinese mainland and the rest mainly came from overseas Chinese communities.
China-made movies have been lacking in the international market more than imported ones in the Chinese market. During 2012-16, Chinese movies earned just 10.94 billion yuan ($1.67 billion) overseas, less than one sixth of the revenue generated by imported blockbusters in China.
"Chinese movies still have a long way to go to win international audiences," said Jiang Wusheng, General Manager of the United Entertainment Partners, one of the distributors of Wolf Warrior II, adding that foreigners show little interest in and haven't gotten used to the works of Chinese moviemakers.
What should China's moviemakers do to move into the global market? "International topics, state-of-the-art movie production and efficient global promotion are among the prerequisites," said Zhang Miao, General Manager of the movie arm of Beijing Culture, another distributor of Wolf Warrior II. "First of all, we need to find topics that can be widely accepted by the international audience," Zhang said.
Chen Siqin believes that only a movie resonating with a common emotional message can be accepted by most audiences. "Wolf Warrior II highlights a salute to the hero, love for the nation and a call for peace," Chen said.
The climactic moment in Wolf Warrior II, when the protagonist flying the Chinese flag and leading wounded Chinese nationals and locals forward through the safe passage in an African war zone, resembles Eugène Delacroix's painting, Liberty Leading the People, which commemorated the July Revolution of 1830 in France. "Both images personify the concept of a call for peace," Chen said. But in Wolf Warrior II, in director Wu Jing's opinion, what is unique to China may also wow the rest of the world. "We need to figure out a way to project our indigenous culture onto the international screen," he said.
Moreover, a worldwide popular movie requires quality production. He complained that many Chinese movie practitioners served in several crews at the same time, which led to not only a financial loss to investors, but also poor movie production. "Moviemakers and performers should be faithful to their original aspiration and devote themselves to the cinema," he said.
Many young underachieving performers have been criticized for asking for exorbitant pay because of their fandom. Wu holds that young actors and actresses should be aware of correct professional ethics. "The fine tradition of older-generation performers of going through real-life experiences before shooting should be carried on," he noted.
Last but not least, efficient global distribution and promotional channels are another requirement for Chinese movies to go global. "Movie production is a process of resource allocation," Jiang told ChinAfrica. How to pool an international team, in which playwrights, performers, visual-effects staff and marketers work together in a "Hollywood way," is a problem for Chinese moviemakers to solve.
The lack of international distribution channels is another hurdle ahead. "Most Chinese movies reach the international market by selling their overseas distribution rights. None is distributed and promoted directly like the U.S. blockbusters," Jiang said.
In early 2016, with the help of SAPPRFT, a global movie distribution platform was set up to promote Chinese cinema worldwide. "If all the aforementioned prerequisites are achieved, I think Chinese movies will soon have a share in the international market," said Zhang from Beijing Culture.