To the surprise of some, China’s top-grossing film of all time, “Wolf Warriors II,” has been better received in Hong Kong compared to previous Chinese propaganda movies. The film’s modest success in Hong Kong theaters comes despite its unabashedly patriotic content, of a kind which in the past was strongly rejected by residents of the former British colony.
“Wolf Warriors II” scored HK$2.6 million ($333,000) during its opening Sept. 7-10 weekend, putting it fourth among new releases. The weekend’s winners were “It,” with HK$3.97 million ($509,000), and “American Made,” which took $461,000. Also outranking “Wolf Warriors II” was “The Sinking City: Capsule Odyssey,” a dark comedy about the absurdity of the Hong Kong property market. It earned $448,000.
“Hong Kong audiences always show less interest in mainland Chinese films, particularly those revolving around a patriotic theme. Hong Kong audiences look for entertainment or stories they can identity with,” says Pierre Lam, a lecturer at Hong Kong Baptist University.
Nevertheless, “Wolf Warriors II” now has a 10-day cumulative of HK$5.3 million ($681,000). That is pitiful compared with its $860 million total in China. But it is nearly double the score of star-studded “The Founding of An Army,” which was directed by Hong Kong’s own Andrew Lau on behalf of mainland producers. It scored only HK$2.96 million ($379,000) following its Aug. 3 release.
In 2015, Tsui Hark’s “The Taking of the Tiger Mountain,” a remake of a play from China’s 1966-76 Cultural Revolution period, took less than HK$400,000 ($60,935), a figure so embarrassing that it was never officially publicized.
“The case of ‘Wolf Warriors II’ is different, because it is propaganda dressed as entertainment,” says critic Freddie Wong. “The heroic patriotism portrayed in the film coincides with the rise of China as a global economic power. People buy into that thinking it is finally China’s turn to rule the world after over a century of attacks and humiliation by foreign powers.”
The Hong Kong audience may also be changing. Mainland authorities allow 150 people per day to emigrate to Hong Kong, and local government reports indicate that 900,000 mainland immigrants have made use of the so called one-way permits. These days there are also large numbers of mainlanders who come to Hong Kong to study.
“If 50,000 people went to see ‘Wolf Warriors II’ in Hong Kong, it could generate HK$6 million ($768,000) box office already,” Wong says. “There are others who are simply curious to find out for themselves why the film was so successful in China.”