Mainland blockbuster Wolf Warrior 2 unlikely to impress Hong Kong moviegoers, critics say
Patriotic Chinese action film smashed mainland box office records, raking in more than 5 billion yuan in just a month
Chinese blockbuster Wolf Warrior 2 may not be able to replicate its mainland success when it is released in Hong Kong on Thursday, as its patriotism will not resonate with the city’s viewers, film critics and industry insiders have said.
The US$30 million military-themed action film, directed by martial artist Wu Jing, took the mainland by storm, raking in more than 5 billion yuan (US$765 million) at the domestic box office in just one month. It has also grabbed international headlines by becoming the first non-Hollywood film to make the top 100 all-time highest grossing movies worldwide.
But it seems the film’s huge success at home did not travel overseas. Almost all – 99.7 per cent – of its box office takings were from the mainland, despite screenings in the US, the UK and other countries, according to database website Box Office Mojo.
“Hong Kong audiences in general could be a bit resistant to the nationalism elements,” Jeffrey Chick, general manger at Harvest Entertainment, a marketing firm specialised in promoting films, said.
The Beijing-based Hongkonger said the film’s huge fanfare was mainly sparked by the latest wave of patriotism on the mainland.
The film depicts a Chinese special operations soldier, Leng Feng, who rescues aid workers and locals in Africa from American-led mercenaries.
“When I heard the rapturous applause at the end of the film, I did not understand as a Hongkonger,” Chick said, recalling his trip to a Beijing cinema.
“People here don’t applaud for other very good films. It must be for something else.”
But Chick said the magic ingredients of the film may not work on Hong Kong viewers.
For example, Hong Kong audiences might not relate to Leng’s frustration when he is jailed over a dispute about a forced home demolition – a common source of social disaffection for mainland villagers, but rare in Hong Kong.
Nevertheless, Universe International, the film’s Hong Kong distributor, is hoping for the best.
“The huge box office success of Wolf Warrior 2 in China has proved that it’s an amazing commercial movie, and we believe Hong Kong audiences will be impressed by the action elements and production scale of the film,” a senior manager at the company said.
“Many elements would affect the box office of a movie in Hong Kong. Hopefully Hong Kong audiences will enjoy the film and spread the word.”
Very few mainland productions have enjoyed equal success across the border – even if they have some Hong Kong elements.
Operation Mekong, a 2016 Chinese-Hong Kong crime film directed by Dante Lam Chiu-yin made 1.2 billion yuan on the mainland, but only took HK$5 million in the city.
In fact, no mainland film has ever made it into the top 20 list in Hong Kong in the category of Chinese-language films.
While the city’s audience largely shares a passion for action films with the rest of the world, Horace Chan, a Hong Kong independent film critic, said mainland productions usually come in at the bottom of their lists, as there are plenty of other options.
China adopts a quota system, allowing only 34 foreign movies to be imported to the country each year on a revenue-sharing basis. Such restrictions do not apply in Hong Kong.
“Wolf Warrior 2 is indeed a major improvement from the previous mainland movies, but it still could not match Hollywood productions nowadays,” Chan said.
“The plot of the movie is more like the typical heroism film Hollywood produced in the 80s,” he said.
Wu Jing is not well known among viewers in Hong Kong, having mainly appeared in Hong Kong films as a supporting actor.
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However, Checkley Sin Kwok-lam, the Hong Kong producer behind the martial arts film series Ip Man, said he believed the military-themed production would be able to draw local fans of the genre.
“It is an action movie in the first place with some patriotic elements infiltrated. I don’t think the patriotic elements will have either positive or negative effects, as Hong Kong people will only focus on whether the movie is attractive or not, especially the young generation,” he added.
He said the film could earn HK$20 million to HK$30 million at the box office in Hong Kong, helped by its massive action scenes.