For China’s Holidays, a Big-Budget Blockbuster Relives an American Defeat

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A government-sponsored film recounting a brutal battle in the Korean War at a time of rising tensions with the United States has touched a popular nerve in China.

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The film runs at 2 hours 56 minutes, a government-sponsored, action-packed and patriotic drama that costs more to make than any previous Chinese film. Looks like that’s what the audience in China wanted.

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“The Battle of Lake Changjin”, a blockbuster depicting the defeat of the United States during the Korean War, broke box office records last week on the eve of China’s annual October holiday, known as the Golden Age. Is. Week.

As a barometer of Chinese politics and culture, it is a film of the time: victimless, defiant and linguist, a gorgeously choreographed call to arms in a time of global crisis and with the world, especially the United States. strained relationship with

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The villains are American soldiers and commanders, including a proper impersonation of General Douglas MacArthur. The heroes are Chinese “volunteers” who were then seen as the world’s most invincible army.

The fighting, known in the United States as the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, drove the Americans and their allies out of North Korea in the winter of 1950, setting the stage for a stalemate that ended with a ceasefire three years later. Happened. It has entered Communist Party lore as an unapologetic victory in the infancy of the People’s Republic of China, although it came at a terrible cost to the Chinese people.

On its second day in theaters, Friday, October 1, it broke China’s one-day box office record, grossing over $60 million. As of Tuesday, it had grossed over $360 million, according to the Maoyan, which tracks ticket sales, making it one of the most successful Chinese films of all time.

“This is an extraordinary and true collusion of capital and political propaganda,” Sun Hongyun, an associate professor at the Beijing Film Academy, said in an interview.

depiction of korean war known China—as a “war to oppose American invasion and aid Korea”—has long been a major focus of Communist Party propaganda. A flurry of them appeared last year, with mixed success, during the 70th anniversary of the start of the war and the destruction of North Korean forces during China’s intervention in October 1950.

In this case, “The Battle of Lake Changjin”, which reportedly cost $200 million to make, seems to have resonated with the public more widely than usual agitprop. It did so despite mixed reviews, an annoying running time and Technical errors of military history, harnessing the nationalist sentiment that has been nurtured by Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

Mr. Xi used the anniversary of the war last year to declare that the Chinese people would never withdraw from any confrontation against foreign aggression.

“The national sentiment displayed in the film echoes the growing public sentiment in defending national interests in the face of provocations, which has great implications for today’s Sino-US competition,” said the Global Times, an official newspaper that itself praised the country’s spirits. The barometer is the idea, declared in one of several articles championing the film.

The credit for the film’s popularity also goes to the cast, which includes some of the biggest stars of the country.

Among them are Jackson Yi, the pop idol who was in the Oscar-nominated “Better Days” in 2019, and Wu Jing, the leading man, whose role in a pair of action films led to China’s recent brand name “wolf warrior.” Cruel diplomacy. (“Wolf Warrior 2”, which made nearly $900 million when it was released in 2017, remains China’s highest-grossing film.)

“The Battle at Lake Changjin” was one of several films with openly patriotic themes that were approved for release during the holiday, seemingly at the expense of Hollywood blockbusters that were still approved. Waiting, including Marvel Studios’ “Black Widow” and Warner Media’s “Space Jam: A.” new legacy. “

The Chinese film, which was scheduled for release in August, was delayed as the government imposed new restrictions on cinemas during the Covid-19 outbreak. China’s film industry, as well as everywhere else, has been hit hard during the pandemic, but the film signaled a potential revival, even as pandemic restrictions still impose capacity limits on cinemas in many cities.

The film depicts one of the bloodiest battles in the Korean War, which began in June 1950 when communist North Korea invaded South Korea to unite a divided nation after World War II. China intervened as if the US-led forces fighting under the mandate of the United Nations were on the verge of victory.

The battle was fought for 17 days in November and December 1950, when China’s new army surrounded American, British and South Korean troops in extremely cold mountainous areas. The Chinese forces forced them to retreat to the port at Hungnam, setting the stage for a triumphant climax, with soldiers waving a sea of ​​red flags in victory.

The war remains a sensitive subject, despite – or because of – its portrayal as an undeniable victory for the People’s Republic of China.

The details of the heavy Chinese losses were kept secret for years. Last year, the official death toll cited by Mr. Xi put 197,000 Chinese soldiers dead, although historians broadly agree the number was much higher. Even now, the death of one of Mao Zedong’s sons, Mao Anning, remains due to a reckless insistence on cooking long-fried rice. a frightening subject.

The “Battle of Lake Changjin” was created with government support and guidance, underscoring the authorities’ lengths to shape popular culture.

Wang Jiequn, director of the Beijing Municipal Film Administration, part of the Communist Party’s propaganda office in Beijing, said at a news conference last month that officials “arranged and planned” production with the film’s producers, Bona Film Group and Bei Film. Was. studio. He called it “our gift for the party’s 100th birthday”, which was celebrated with great fanfare in July.

Laura Lee, 31, watched a movie with her father on Monday at a crowded theater in Shenzhen. She found the film simple but was surprised to see many young people in the audience. His father, a fan of war movies, cried during scenes in which Chinese soldiers were mauled to death on the battlefield.

“Now we see more and more domestic films that are able to arouse the patriotism of the Chinese people,” said Ms. Li, a project manager at a technology company.

“I still prefer American movies,” she said, “though it’s becoming harder to watch one.”

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