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A Film Lover’s Complaint: Netizens Weary of China’s “Domestic Movie Protection Month”

During the summer season, big international movies are blocked from Chinese cinemas. The policy, meant to boost China’s domestic film industry, is a dreaded one amongst China’s movie-loving social media users.

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During China’s summer season, big international movies are blocked from cinemas in the PRC. The policy, meant to boost China’s domestic film industry, is a dreaded one amongst many movie-loving social media users.

This summer, while big Hollywood films such as Spiderman: Homecoming or War of the Planet of the Apes are riding the heat wave in North America, audiences in China will not be seeing them until end of August. The only big western film they can see during this two-month-period is Despicable Me 3.

The measure is a much-dreaded one on Chinese social media, where many young people complain that now that they finally have the time to go and see their favorite movies in the cinema, they can’t because they are blocked: “I’m always in school and can’t see any movies. Now that I’m free I still can’t see them.”

 

DOMESTIC FILM PROTECTION MONTH

“What once started out as a month-long Hollywood ‘blackout’ has gradually extended over the years.”

 

The reason behind the delay is the “invisible hand” of the Chinese state. During the summer holidays, the Chinese National Film Board blocks many imported foreign blockbusters, a phenomenon called “Domestic Film Protection Month” (国产电影保护月).

The term was allegedly coined in 2004, when Chinese media reported about an order restricting screening foreign films between June 10 and July 10 each year. According to Baidu Baike (百度百科), Baidu’s equivalent of Wikipedia, there are no publicly available official documents defining this policy.

The term was also used in an item published by regional media in 2006. The article (“国产电影保护月”沈阳遇冷引发议论“) states that the policy was launched in order to protect China’s domestic movie business. During “Domestic Film Protection Month,” as it was dubbed by the media and film industry, it is not “encouraged” to show big foreign films in China’s cinemas.

What once started out as a month-long Hollywood ‘blackout’ has gradually extended over the years. Currently, the blocking of foreign blockbusters lasts around 2 months each summer.

Although the measure was never officially admitted by government officials, this unspoken policy has been executed for the past 14 years. The policy has also extended to several other major national holidays like Chinese New Year and the National Day holiday. During these holidays, a majority of China’s population is off work – a peak moment for cinemas.

 

BOOSTING CHINA’S FILM INDUSTRY

“The scene in which Tom Cruise’s character kills two Chinese henchmen was one of those eliminated scenes, as it was deemed ‘truly insulting'”

 

There are various ways in which the Chinese state interferes in the movie industry to support and protect domestic film production. Besides the “Domestic Film Protection Month” and other measures – such as opening two big Hollywood movies on the same day – there is also a limit to the number of foreign films accepted into China’s cinemas; Chinese audiences can only see 34 overseas films per year. Revenues from these films are shared between the Chinese film distributors and the western producers.

The measurements are part of a wider campaign to boost the domestic film industry. In the 2005-2012 period, only one-third of China’s domestic movies were screened by China’s major cinemas; up to 80% of Chinese film projects lost money as a consequence. The ‘blackout’ periods need “to ensure that Hollywood films account for no more than 50% of the market in any given year” (Su 2016).

Some of the films that were postponed in China over the past decade include Spider-Man 2 (2004), Mr. Smith&Mrs Smith (2004) Garfield (2006), Transformers (2007), Harry Potter (2011), Ben-Hur (2016), and many others.

But support for domestic films is not always the only reason why the release of Hollywood films is postponed in Chinese cinemas. The process of translation and censorship also contributes to the final date a western film is released in China.

The release of Mission Impossible 3 in 2006, for example, was delayed because some scenes filmed in Shanghai needed to be erased. The scene in which Tom Cruise’s character kills two Chinese henchmen was one of those eliminated scenes, as it was deemed “truly insulting” by the China Film Group. The film could only be released after this part was censored.

 

FUTILE EFFORTS?

“Despite the endless efforts, Hollywood films are still making substantially more money than their domestic rivals in Chinese cinemas.”

 

Despite the endless efforts, Hollywood films are still making substantially more money than their domestic rivals in Chinese cinemas. In 2016, Terminator Genysis was the first big foreign film to come out after the ‘protection month.’

This film, that was rather mediocre considering its ratings and ticket sales in North America, received a warm welcome from Chinese audiences: it made a staggering RMB 181 million (USD 27million) on its opening day. Thanks to its sales in China, this film could be deemed – financially at least – a success.

Data shows that in the first half of 2017, 76% of the published films were domestic ones – yet they only account for 39% of the total ticket sales.

Despicable Me 3, the only western film to have been allowed outside of this summer’s ‘Hollywood blackout’, exceeded RMB 300 million (USD 44.6m) in ticket sales within 2 days after its release. As of 31st July, 25 days after in Chinese cinemas, that number had already risen to RMB 990 million (±USD 147m).

Ironically, its success also comes as a result of the ‘Domestic Film Protection Month’. As some netizens say on Weibo: “Thanks to the domestic film protection month, ???, I’ve seen too many sh*t films; I need to see some cartoon [Despicable Me 3] to wash my eyes.”

 

A FILM-LOVER’S COMPLAINT

“I’m in despair – when will the ‘Domestic Film Protection Month’ finally be over?!”

 

On Chinese social media, many other film-loving netizens also complain about the summer restrictions on foreign movies and express their wish to watch big foreign films at the same time as the rest of the world. Many also indicate they would rather support movies based on their quality than where come from.

“I’m in despair – when will the ‘Domestic Film Protection Month’ finally be over?!” some commenters asked.

“Are you done protecting your stuff yet? I’m waiting,” others said.

Despite the criticism, there are also netizens who say they hope that China’s domestic cinema can grow and develop into a more thriving industry. Their wishes might be fulfilled, as recent reports show that Chinese films such as Wolf Warrior 2 (战狼2) are benefiting from the fact that China blocks international competition from the market during this period; the patriotic blockbuster made a massive $130M debut this summer.

Some netizens are satisfied despite the restrictions, and praised the movie on their Weibo account, adding: “Wolf Warrior 2 has become the movie hit of the summer. I didn’t expect it – it’s not easy to see a good movie during the ‘protect movies’ summer season.”

By Miranda Barnes & Richard Barnes

This article has been revised by the editor.

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

References (online references linked to through text):

Su, Wendy. 2016. China’s Encounter with Global Hollywood. Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky.

Miranda Barnes is a Chinese blogger and part-time translator with a strong interest in Chinese media and culture. Born in Shenyang, she used to work and live in Beijing and is now based in London. On www.abearandapig.com she shares news of her travels around Europe and Asia with her husband.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Roge Arias

    August 5, 2017 at 1:54 am

    I have seen some of that too; didnt know it was real , tho … i mean, the phone is that strong – must be at least a little – exagerated: but i have read about the agm x2 tho: i dunno about durabilty yet but the specs are reeeeally good!the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 alone is quite interesting in that price range

    • Avatar

      Luis Tejada

      August 5, 2017 at 2:30 am

      The ruggeds usually ARE more expensive but , dude: they are too good i mean: why should i get a phone that is gonna break for a ridiculous fall if i can have something like the X1 or x2 ( talking about AGM) for waaay less than a sansumg… not even nomu; their phones are not like they look in their annoucements and their Customer services is awful; i honestly prefer Agm most that all for the good english customer service and the specs too.

  2. Avatar

    Luis Tejada

    August 5, 2017 at 2:30 am

    I love WJLF in this one! He is my fav! By the way, i have seen him promoting this brand before ( Agm phones) , a friend of mine have one and it looks amazing but i am too embarassed to ask him to let me toss his phone like in the movie xD

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China Arts & Entertainment

Hundred Flowers Awards 2022: Full List of Nominees and Must-Watch Chinese Movies (Updated)

The complete list of Hundred Flowers Award nominees for 2022.

Manya Koetse

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Which Chinese movies released from February 2020 to February 2022 are nominated for this year’s Hundred Flowers Awards? Who are the best directors and which actors could expect an award? Here’s all you need to know about the upcoming Hundred Flowers Awards and the list of nominations.

Update July 31st: we’ve marked the winners in each list in this text. We’ve also embedded the author’s Twitter thread on the Award ceremony below this article, which includes all winners. To go directly to the thread, click here.

This week, China’s Hundred Flowers Film Festival and award ceremony will take place in Wuhan from July 28-30; the red carpet ceremony will take place July 30. Earlier this month, on July 20, nominees for the 36th edition of China’s Hundred Flowers Awards were announced, with the list of nominees becoming a trending topic on Chinese social media.

Here is all you need to know about the Hundred Flowers Awards and the nominations.

ABOUT THE AWARDS

The Hundred Flowers Awards are one of China’s most important government-approved film awards along with the Golden Rooster Awards and Huabiao Awards.

The Hundred Flowers Awards were first established in 1961 by the Association of Chinese film Artists in collaboration with Popular Cinema magazine (大众电影), based on readers’ votes. The initial initiative was proposed by Premier Zhou Enlai at the time and approved by the Central Propaganda Department.

Known as the ‘people’s’ awards, the Hundred Flowers’ first edition was presented in May of 1962, when 117,000 people voted for the best films. Amid the turmoil and political mobilization of the Cultural Revolution, the awards were suspended from 1963-1979 but were reinstated in 1980. In that year, 700,000 people cast their votes (Wang 2014, p. 136; Nakajima 2019, p. 232).

Since 2004, the Hundred Flowers Award Ceremony is no longer an annual one but a bi-annual one, alternating with the Golden Rooster Awards. The two festivals also share one account (@金鸡百花电影节) on Chinese social media platform Weibo.

As explained by Nakajima (2019, p. 233), the initial selection for the films is made by a group of committee members under the organization of major film theatre managers belonging to the China Film Distribution Exhibition Association. After the approval of the Awards Organising Committee, the nominations are then sent to the China Literary and Art Federation, which decides on the ten final nominees and also selects the individual awards from these movies.

The round-up of the ten nominated films is then publicized and people’s votes determine the final five candidates for each category. The final selection comes down to a pre-approved group of 101 audience juries, from students to military staff, to cast votes at the Awards Ceremony.

This year, the official social media account of the Hundred Flowers Awards also clarified that all of the selected movies have been viewed by more than one million people, and were released and screened in nationwide cinemas nationwide from February 1, 2020, to February 28, 2022. There were a total of 108 films meeting the eligibility criteria.

 

The Nominated Films:

in random order



 

#1 Battle at Changjin Lake (长津湖) (UPDATE: WINNER)

As one of China’s biggest movies of the past few years, the war movie Battle at Lake Changjin became a social media sensation in the fall of 2021. The movie provides a Chinese perspective on the start of the Korean War and the lead-up and unfolding of the battle of Chosin Reservoir, a massive ground attack of the Chinese 9th Army Group against American forces, preventing them from driving Kim Il-Sung and his government out of North Korea. The film specifically follows the Wu brothers, company commander Wu Qianli (Wu Jing) and the young volunteer soldier Wu Wanli (Jackson Yee), and their fellow soldiers fighting side by side in extreme conditions. If you want to read more about this movie, we did a background article on it here. Watch the trailer here.

#2 Hi Mom (你好,李焕英)

Hi Mom was the box office favorite in China during the 2021 Spring Festival period. It tells the story of Jia Xiaoling (Jia Ling) who is devastated when her mother Li Huanying has a serious accident one day and passes away. Jia is especially grief-stricken because she feels she has not become the daughter she wanted to be for her mother. When she finds herself transported back in time to the year 1981, she meets her young mother before she was her mum, and becomes her friend in the hopes of making her happy and change her life for the better. For more about this movie, also check our article here. Watch the trailer here.

#3 Nice View (奇迹·笨小孩)

Released in February 2022, Nice View tells the story of the 20-year-old Jing Hao (Jackson Yee) who comes to live in Shenzhen to look after his little sister Tong Tong after the unexpected death of their mother. Desperate to pay for his little sister’s much-needed heart surgery and hoping for a better future, Jing Hao does everything he can to provide an income and create a more stable life for him ad Tong Tong, but he faces many hurdles along the way (think Pursuit of Happyness). Watch the trailer here.

#4 A Little Red Flower (送你一朵小红花)

A Little Red Flower is a touching movie about family, romance, and two cancer patients. The cynical young Wei Yihang – who claims he can see the future – and the open-minded Ma Xiaoyuan meet each other during a particularly tough time in their lives when they are caught between their past and uncertain future. Anyone familiar with American hit film The Fault in Our Stars might feel there is a striking similarity between the two movies, something that has also been discussed in the media. Watch the trailer here.

#5 Chinese Doctors (中国医生)

Chinese Doctors is a medical drama that features the story of a group of doctors at a Wuhan hospital, being the first in the world to deal with the novel coronavirus. The movie, based on true events, shows the struggles of medical front-line workers facing a virus that would change the world as we know it. Watch the trailer here.

 

Nominated for Best Screenplay:

in random order



 

#1 Hi Mom (你好,李焕英)

Jia Ling (贾玲) and Sun Jibin (孙集斌) were nominated for the screenplay of Hi Mom. Besides being responsible for the screenplay, which was inspired by events in her own life, Jia Ling also directed the movie and plays the main protagonist. Sun Jibin also wrote the screenplay for the 2017 Trouble Makers.

#2 Battle at Lake Changjin (长津湖)

Lan Xiaolong (兰晓龙) and Huang Xin (黄欣) were nominated for the screenplay of Battle at Lake Changjin. Both screenwriters also did the screenplay for the sequel of this film, titled Water Gate Bridge (长津湖之水门桥).

#3 Be Somebody (扬名立万) (UPDATE: WINNER)

Libashen (里八神), Liu Xunzimo (刘循子墨, also the director), Zhang Benyu (张本煜), and Ke Da (柯达) were nominated for their writing team efforts on the Be Somebody screenplay, which they began writing in 2018 and finished in 2020 before filming began. The small budget film became an unexpected success after National Day in 2021. It is a mystery comedy set during the Republic of China (1912-1949) that follows the story of a group of frustrated filmmakers who gather to plan a new film about a notorious criminal case. Little do they know that the actual murderer is among them. Watch the trailer here (no English subtitles).

#4 Chinese Doctors (中国医生)

Yu Yonggan (于勇敢) was nominated for best screenplay for the movie Chinese Doctors. Yu is also known for his work for The Captain and The Bravest.

#5 Nice View (奇迹·笨小孩)

Zhou Chuchen (周楚岑), Xiu Mengdi (修梦迪), Wen Muye (文牧野), Han Xiaohan (韩晓邯), Zhong Wei (钟伟) were nominated for the screenplay of Nice View.

 

Nominees for Best Directing:

in random order


 

#1 Battle at Lake Changjin (长津湖)

The ‘dream team’ of Chen Kaige (陈凯歌), Tsui Hark (徐克), Dante Lam (林超贤) are nominated for directing The Battle at Changjin Lake.

#2 Hi Mom (你好,李焕英)

For director Jia Ling, this nomination as best director is especially noteworthy since Jia is mostly known as a comedian in China, often performing during the annual Spring Festival Gala. This movie is her directorial debut.

#3 Chinese Doctors (中国医生)

Andrew Lau, known in China as Liu Weiqiang (刘伟强), was nominated as best director for Chinese Doctors (中国医生). The prolific Hong Kong film director, producer, and cinematographer most most notable in the West for his action and crime films.

#4 Be Somebody (扬名立万)

Liu Xunzimo (刘循子墨) is both the director and co-writer for Be Somebody.

#5 Nice View (奇迹·笨小孩)

Director Wen Muye (文牧野) is nominated for Nice View, which is the second feature film by the director. The Chinese film Dying to Survive was the young director’s debut in 2018, and it became an absolute box office sensation and one of China’s highest-grossing films of all time. For Dying to Survive, Wen also worked together with producer Ning Hao and Jackson Yee, who also stars in Nice View.

 

Nominated for Best Actor:

in random order



 

#1 Liu Ye (刘烨)

The renowned actor Liu Ye (1978) is nominated for his role as Wang Jicai (王继才) in Island Keeper (守岛人). Liu already won best actor for the same role during the Golden Deer Awards in December of 2021. Island Keeper is about the true story of Wang Jicai and his wife Wang Shihua who guarded a Chinese border island – Kaishan Island – for 32 years from 1986 to 2018.

#2 Shen Teng (沈腾)

Shen Teng (1979) was nominated for his role as bionic robot Xing Yihao (邢一浩) in My Country, My Parents (我和我的父辈), a four-part anthology drama film directed by four directors, who also each star in their own segment. Shen’s segment is called Go Youth. Shen previously also starred in other successful movies, such as Goodbye Mr. Loser and Hello Mr. Billionaire.

#3 Wu Jing (吴京)

Wu Jing (1974) also known as Jacky Wu, is nominated for his role as commander Wu Qianli (伍千里) in Battle at Changjin Lake (长津湖). Wu is a renowned and award-winning actor who starred in some of the most famous Chinese films of the past decade, including The Wandering Earth and Wolf Warrior.

#4 Jackson Yee (易烊千玺)

Jackson Yee is definitely one of the most-discussed people for this award edition. As a singer, dancer, and youngest member of popular boy band TF Boys since 2013, Yee has a major fan base. Over the past years, he has become a notable actor and he starred in the nominated films A Little Red Flower, Nice View, and The Battle at Lake Changjin. This nomination is for his role as Jing Hao (景浩) in Nice View (奇迹·笨小孩). Yee previously also received critical acclaim for his role in Better Days (2019).

#5 Zhang Yi (张译) (UPDATE: WINNER)

Zhang Yi (1978) is nominated for his role as Zhang Xianzhen (张宪臣) in Cliff Walkers (悬崖之上), a film by Zhang Yimou about four Communist Party special agents who embark on a secret mission and find themselves surrounded by threats on all sides.

 

Nominated for Best Actress:

in random order



 

#1 Deng Jiajia (邓家佳)

Deng Jiajia (1983) was nominated for her role as Su Mengdie (苏梦蝶) in Be Somebody (扬名立万). Deng starred in various well-known movies and TV dramas, among them the romantic comedy television series iPartment (爱情公寓).

#2 Jia Ling (贾玲)

Besides Jackson Yee, Jia Ling is also one of the names that are nominated multiple times. Besides being nominated for directing and writing Hi Mom, she is also on the nomination list for best actress starring as Jia Xiaoling (贾晓玲).

#3 Yuan Quan (袁泉) (UPDATE: WINNER)

Yuan Quan (1977) was nominated for her role as Wen Ting (文婷) in Chinese Doctors, for which she worked again with director Andrew Lau and co-star Zhang Hanyu like she did for The Captain (2019).

#4 Zhang Xiaofei (张小斐)

Zhang Xiaofei (1936) is nominated for her role as Li Huanying in Hi Mom, which means she is a direct competitor of Jia Ling, who plays her daughter in the film.

#5 Zhang Zifeng (张子枫)

The young Zhang Zifeng (2001) is nominated for her role as An Ran (安然) in Sister (我的姐姐). The movie, directed by Yin Ruoxin (殷若昕), revolves around the story of An Ran, an 18-year-old daughter who is unexpectedly facing the major responsibility for her 6-year-old brother after the tragic loss of their parents. Read more about this film in this article about how the film stirred online discussions on traditional fanily values in 2021.

 

Best Supporting Actor Nominations:

in random order


 

#1 Hou Yong (侯勇) (UPDATE: WINNER)

Hou Yong (1967) was nomiated for his role as Wang Changjie (王长杰) in Island Keeper.

#2 Liu Haoran (刘昊然)

Noteworthy enough, this is the only category nomination for the movie 1921, which came out to commemorate the centennial year anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party and tells the story of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party. Liu Haoran (1997) was nominated for his role as Liu Renjing (刘仁静).

#3 Tian Yu (田雨)

Another nomination for Nice View is for Tian Yu (1975) for his role as Liang Yongcheng (梁永诚).

#4 Jackson Yee (易烊千玺)

Besides his other nomination for Best Actor (Nice View), Jackson Yee was also nominated for his role in Chinese Doctors as Yang Xiaoyang (杨小羊).

#5 Zhu Yawen (朱亚文)

Zhu Yawen (1984) was nominiated for his role as political instructor Mei Sheng (梅生) in Battle at Changjin Lake.

 

Nominations for Best Supporting Actress:

in random order


 

#1 Hai Qing (海清)

Hai Qing (1978) is nominated in this category for playing the eldest sister in My Country, My Parents.

#2 Liu Jia (刘佳)

Liu Jia (1960) was nominated for playing the middle-aged Li Huanying in Hi, Mom.

#3 Qi Xi (齐溪)

Qi Xi (1984) was nominated for her role as Wang Chunmei, the female worker who helps Jing Hao (Jackson Yee) reach his goals, in Nice View.

#4 Zhou Ye (周也)

Zhou Ye was nominated for starring in Chinese Doctors as Xiao Wen (小文).

#5 Zhu Yuanyuan (朱媛媛)(UPDATE: WINNER)

A second nomination for Sister is for Zhu Yuanyuan (1974) as Antie Rongrong.

 

Best Newcomer Nomination:

in random order



 

#1 Chen Halin (陈哈琳)(UPDATE: WINNER)

The little Chen Halin, just nine years old, is was nominated for her role as the little sister ‘Tong Tong’ in Nice View.

#2 Qin Xiaoshen (秦霄贤)

The Chinese comedian ad host Qin Xiaoshen (1997), also known as Victor Qin was nominated for playing Dahai (大海) in Be Somebody.

#3 Ren Sinuo (任思诺)

Ren is the youngest newcomer at the awards, she starred in My Country, My Parents and is just six years old.

#4 Xu Yu (徐砡)

Xu Yu (2011) is another child star who played Xiao Bao (小宝) in Island Keeper.

#5 Yuan Jinhui (袁近辉)

Yuan Jinhui (2011) was nominated for playing the little brother in My Country, My Parents.

 
Read more about Chinese cinema here.
 

Update on ceremony and winners in thread below:

By Manya Koetse

 

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our weekly newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

References

Nakajima, Seio. 2019. “Official Chinese film awards and film festivals: History, configuration and transnational legitimation.” Journal of Chinese Cinemas 13 (3): 228–243

Wang, Zhuoyi, 2014. Revolutionary Cycles in Chinese Cinema, 1951-1979. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

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China Arts & Entertainment

The Unforgotten Victory: Why ‘The Battle at Lake Changjin’ Is One of China’s Biggest Films Yet

21st century Chinese moviegoers have never been more dedicated than they are to The Battle at Lake Changjin.

Manya Koetse

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Chinese war movie The Battle at Lake Changjin became a social media sensation this fall. Why did this particular movie become so successful in Chinese cinemas and on social media?

 
This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, original publication in German by Goethe Institut China, visit Yi Magazin: WE…WEI…WHAT? Manya Koetse erklärt das chinesische Internet.
 

It’s the biggest Chinese movie of the moment: The Battle at Lake Changjin (长津湖). The war epic dominated all top trending lists on Chinese social media during the Golden Week holiday this year, and it became an unprecedented box office hit after it premiered on September 30, just one day before the celebration of the National Day of the People’s Republic of China.

The blockbuster, literally titled ‘Changjin Lake’ in Chinese, even became the highest-grossing film anywhere in the world during the first weekend of October, beating the much-anticipated James Bond movie No Time to Die.

Three weeks after its premiere, the movie grossed over 5 billion yuan ($792 million) and smashed 24 records in Chinese film history, including becoming the first Chinese film ever to break 400 million yuan at the daily box office for six consecutive days. The Battle at Lake Changjin is set to become the nation’s highest-grossing film ever.

Everything about Changjin Lake is big, from its unparalleled budget to all-star cast and production team. Written by Lan Xiaolong (兰晓龙) and Huang Jianxin (黄欣), the three-hour film is directed by famous film directors Chen Kaige (陈凯哥), Tsui Hark (徐克) and Dante Lam (林超贤), and features big names including Chinese actors Wu Jing (吴京) and Jackson Yee (易烊千玺). The production involved as many as 7000 crew members and 70,000 extras over 200 days of filming.

The movie is by no means China’s first big movie focused on the history of war. Why this movie has become such a major hit has to do with a combination of several factors. Here, we’ll explore how the film’s specific topic and narrative, the timing of its premiere and online media dynamics contributed to Changjin Lake’s unprecedented success and the social media craze surrounding it.

 

Changjin Lake: “The Motherland Will Never Forget”

 

Three bright red characters are prominently featured on the movie poster for The Battle at Lake Changjin: 长 津 湖 Chang Jin Hu (Changjin Lake), Chinese for what is also known as Chosin, the man-made lake located in the northeast of the Korean peninsula where one of the most important and harrowing battles of the Korean War (1950-1953) took place.

Below the title, the poster shows six smiling soldiers sitting on an American tank, in the background, the remains of battle are visible in between the snow-covered mountains under white sky.

The official movie poster for The Battle at Lake Changjin.

The movie tagline, also displayed on the poster in red characters, says: “The motherland will never forget” (“祖国不会忘义“). But what is it exactly that China will “never forget”?

It was November 27 of 1950 when the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir began. The Korean War had started just five months before, on June 25, when North Korea invaded South Korea. The American-led U.N. forces, commanded by Douglas MacArthur, came to support South Korea. By early October, they had crossed over the 38th Parallel in an attempt to occupy North Korea and soon neared the Chinese border.

The government of the newly-established People’s Republic of China, led by Mao Zedong, ordered the Chinese People’s Volunteers Force (CPVF) to join North Korea in the war, referred to as ‘the War to Resist America and Aid Korea’ (抗美援朝战争). For multiple reasons, the U.N. advance into North Korea posed a threat to the brand-new communist regime, and Mao eventually sent approximately 260,000 “volunteers” to the Korean front in October of 1950.1

The movie Changjin Lake provides a Chinese perspective on the start of the Korean War and the lead-up and unfolding of the battle of Chosin Reservoir, a massive ground attack of the Chinese 9th Army Group against American forces, preventing them from driving Kim Il-Sung and his government out of North Korea.

The film specifically follows the Wu brothers, company commander Wu Qianli (Wu Jing) and the young volunteer soldier Wu Wanli (Jackson Yee), and their fellow soldiers fighting side by side in extreme conditions.

Through elaborate and spectacular battle scenes, Changjin Lake shows the violent confrontations and brutal sufferings during the battle, that went on for seventeen days. Some 150,000 Chinese soldiers encircled and attacked the U.N. forces from the surrounding hills at the Chosin area.

Tens of thousands of lives were lost on both the Chinese and American side in the bitter cold and fierce fighting. From the start of the attack to December 14th, nearly 30,000 Chinese men died of frostbite at the site of the battle and the surrounding snowcapped mountains, where temperatures would drop 20-30 degrees below zero.2

The Chosin battle and the Korean War are generally not as well-known in the U.S. and Europe as they are in China. In America, the Korean War is even referred to as the “Forgotten War”, even though it played a major role in the international community and shaped the world as we know it today.

The Changjin Lake movie is the living proof of how the Korean War and the Chosin battle are anything but forgotten in China. The Chinese attack at Chosin is remembered as a glorious victory and strategic success for turning around the war situation in Korea and leading to a withdrawal of most of the UN forces by late 1950. The battle set the stage for the ceasefire that eventually ended the war in 1953.

The epilogue of Changjin Lake also explains how the battle “completely tipped the scales of the Korean War” and “set a perfect example for annihilating a U.S. reinforced regime,” calling Chosin “the greatest setback in the history of the Marine Corps.”

The movie’s narrative and script recurringly underline why this particular historical event should not be forgotten by the Chinese people. In one of the film’s earlier scenes, Mao Zedong (played by Tang Guoqiang, the actor who has played Mao over a dozen times) talks to military leader Peng Dehuai in the days leading up to China’s decision to send out troops to North Korea:

“[Our] country is newly established and thousands of things are waiting to be done. If it’s for our current situation, I really don’t want to fight this war. But if it’s for the future, and the peaceful development of our country over a few decades or a century, we must fight this war. The foreigners look down on us. Pride can only be earned on the battlefield.”   

It is a scene that is telling for the narrative the movie conveys about the Chosin battle and the war at large, during which the Chinese troops were severely underestimated by the well-equipped U.N. forces.

After the ‘Century of Humiliation,’ the time from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s during which China was attacked, weakened, and torn by foreign forces, the Korean War and Chosin battle showed that the military strength of the People’s Republic of China was a new force to be reckoned with. By showing this strength, China did not just save the North Korean regime but also defended its own borders and the nation’s prestige.

The determination and fighting spirit of the Chinese soldiers at Chosin as depicted in the movie – one impressive scene shows dozens of soldiers frozen into “ice sculptures” while still in battle posture – strikes a chord with Chinese audiences.

Promotional image for Changjin Lake, showing the two brothers Commander Wu Qianli (right, played by Wu Jing) and Wu Wanli (played by Jackson Yee).

At one point in the movie before the battle begins, a member of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army says: “If we don’t fight this battle, it will be our next generation who will fight it.”3 It is a line that is brought up by many netizens on Chinese social media.

“I was very moved after I watched the film, and this phrase just stayed with me,” one Weibo commenter writes: “They sacrificed their blood to bring us peace, and I salute them.”

Another Weibo user shares the phrase, along with a photo of cinema tickets for Changjin Lake, writing: “I am grateful for the blood that was shed by countless revolutionary martyrs for the stable lives we now have. National peace and stability are not easy to gain. We should cherish every day.”

When the narrative of the movie and China’s role in the Korean War was questioned by former journalist Luo Changpin (罗昌平) on his Weibo account in October of this year,  he was arrested for defaming national heroes and martyrs. Luo allegedly mocked Chinese soldiers by saying they “never doubted the ‘wise decisions’ of their higher-ups.”

A hashtag related to the news of his arrest (#罗昌平被批捕#) garnered over 350 million views on Weibo, with many netizens condemning Luo’s criticism and applauding his detainment.

“I hope they give him frozen potatoes to eat,” one popular comment said, referring to the Chinese soldiers in North Korea who had nothing else to eat. Many felt that there was just one punishment that would be appropriate for him: “They should send him to Chosin, the weather is cold up there.”

 

Relevant Timing: “The Chinese Are Not to Be Messed With”

 

The specific timing for The Battle at Lake Changjin to premiere in Chinese theatres is noteworthy and has helped in boosting its success.

Firstly, the movie was released during the National Holiday, the seven-day holiday period starting 1 October that has become the most important movie season in China and annually sees the launch of the biggest domestically produced movies. Changjin Lake’s premiere coincided with China’s Martyr’s Day on September 30, which commemorates Chinese national heroes who sacrificed life to protect the motherland.

The Chinese epic was also launched as part of the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party of China. This anniversary has played a major role in China’s popular culture over the past year, with various movies and TV series being launched dedicated to the hundred years of history since the Communist Party was founded in 1921.

Perhaps more importantly, the popularity of The Battle at Lake Changjin comes at a time of escalating political tensions between the U.S. and China, accompanied by a rise of Chinese nationalism.

Chinese state outlet Global Times recently emphasized how ticket sales of the Changjin Lake movie were boosted amid China-US tensions, quoting Chinese film critic Xiao Fuqiu, who said that the popularity of Changjin Lake “fits the national sentiment in the constant rivalry between China and the US.”

Exploring how the launch of the movie and its success relates to anti-American sentiments in China leads to somewhat of a chicken and egg situation. Was the hit movie launched because of the current geopolitical climate, or are Chinese audiences more receptive to the theme because of it? The answer is probably somewhere in the middle, and one conclusion doesn’t exclude the other.

Chinese Korean War propaganda poster, via Chineseposter.net.

In 2019, during the initial phases of the US-China trade war, CCTV 6, the movie channel of China’s main state television broadcaster, surprised Chinese audiences by changing their schedule and playing ‘anti-American’ Korean War movies for three nights in a row. The move showed that there is an apparent urgency for Chinese popular films to draw attention to events that are deemed of historic importance in today’s political climate.

The day before the launch of Changjin Lake, various Chinese media included a quote by one of the movie’s writers, Huang Jianxin, in saying that the film is supposed to convey that “the Chinese are not to be messed with.”4

After it became clear just how much the movie had raised at the box office, English-language Chinese state media Global Times seemed to gloat about the success, writing that “the movie pushed the patriotic sentiment of people across the country to a peak amid the tense China-US competition and China’s effective control of the epidemic.”

 

The Social Media Era of Chinese Blockbusters

 

Just twenty days after the premier of Changjin Lake, a hashtag dedicated to the film hit a staggering 2.2 billion views on Weibo (#电影长津湖#). Besides this hashtag, there are countless other hashtags, online discussions, and fan groups dedicated to the movie on Chinese social platforms from Weibo and Zhihu to Bilibili, TikTok, and Douban.

The premier of Changjin comes at a time when China’s commercial cinema is increasingly thriving. Over the past few years, several locally-made films have become major hits in China – not just in the cinemas, but also on social media.

One of the highest-grossing films in mainland China of the past years is the patriotic “Rambo-style” action blockbuster Wolf Warrior II (战狼2, 2017), which also features Wu Jing as the hero star. The film tells the story of a special forces soldier who battles foreign mercenaries and helps Chinese and African citizens during a local war in Africa. The film became a social media sensation in 2017 and broke box office records.

Movie poster for Wolf Warrior II.

The Battle at Lake Changjin is similar to Wolf Warrior II in various ways: they’re both Hollywood-style commercial entertainment blockbusters that are set overseas, incorporate official narratives, and are immensely patriotic, speaking to the growing nationalist sentiments among Chinese moviegoers and netizens. Both movies were huge topics on Chinese social media, with online fan groups and discussions snowballing their popularity.5

In “The Era of Baokuan Films: How Chinese Social Media Creates Box Office Successes” (2021), author Xiao Yang argues that there is an emergence of a group of movies in China that become major hits (‘baokuan’ 爆款) through the Internet and social media, relying on online marketing strategies and netizens’ involvement in the film’s promotion.

Rather than just passive movie watchers, the social media era has made Chinese audiences more active in interacting with domestic movies, producing their own content, including opinions, feedback, and memes.6 The success of major Chinese movies such as The Wandering Earth (流浪地球2019), Ne Zha (哪吒之魔童降世 2019) or Dying to Survive (我不是药神2018) could partly be attributed to the interplay between social media and film engagement.

One example of the new dynamics between Chinese movies and the online environment is the 2021 hit movie Hi, Mom (你好,李焕英), which features the story of a daughter who travels back in time and meets her own mother as a young woman and befriends her. The movie led to an online trend in China of netizens sharing stories and photos of their mothers when they were young, triggering online discussions on what they would tell their mums if they could go back in time.

Although the movie and its online marketing strategy initially sparked the trend, the social media responses further added to the success of the film. In this way, film audiences also become marketers of the movies they are interacting with.

In this social media age, Chinese movies also have their own official accounts to promote their movie and define their online presence. The Changjin Lake movie has its own account on Weibo and on TikTok, and the film started its online marketing campaign as early as October of 2020, a year before its premiere.

The official online presence of Chinese movies also means they can interact with fans and other accounts. On October 20 of 2021, just when it became known that Changjin Lake had grossed over 5 billion yuan, the account of the super-popular Chinese fantasy adventure blockbuster Ne Zha congratulated Changjin Lake via social media on its new ranking in the Chinese box office record charts, emphasizing that the movies were standing “side by side” in the progress of Chinese cinema.

The hit movie Ne Zha congratulates Changjin Lake for its box-office success.

This interaction between two of the biggest Chinese movies of the past years in China garnered a lot of attention on Weibo, where people applauded both films. A hashtag dedicated to Na Zhe congratulating Changjin Lake (#哪吒给长津湖的贺图#) was viewed over 170 million times. “I love you both! Together we will further promote Chinese cinema,” one popular comment on Weibo said.

 

Engaging with Changjin: Eating Frozen Potatoes to Show Solidarity

 

Over the past weeks, netizens interacted with Changjin Lake in various ways, starting discussion groups, fan clubs, and sharing experiences of going to see the movie.

Considering that The Battle at Lake Changjin was made with government support and guidance,7 it is perhaps unsurprising to see that Chinese state media have also been actively promoting the movie on social media in various ways. Since long before the premiere of Changjin Lake, state media outlets including People’s Daily and Xinhua have consistently been featuring news relating to the movie through their channels.

The official Study Xi, Strong Country app, a Chinese app where users can score points by learning Xi Jinping Thought, issued a service where points could be exchanged for Changjin Lake movie tickets.

Besides the direct promotion of the movie itself, Chinese media outlets have also come up with other initiatives related to the movie. CCTV posted various videos on social media featuring Chinese veteran volunteer soldiers. One video was dedicated to a 93-year-old Korean War veteran Li Changyan, who is described as “the real Wu Qianli,” launching the Weibo hashtag “Wu Qianli from the Movie Really Exists” (#电影中的伍千里真实存在#).

“Wu Qianli from the movie really exists,” a short video portraying the 93-year-old Commander Li Changyan.

These kinds of initiatives further strengthened the online presence and hype of the Changjin Lake movie, inviting more interaction between the movie, the media, and netizens.

Besides the online discussions and art works dedicated to the film, there were also social media users who, inspired by the scenes of the soldiers on the battlefield, prepared frozen potatoes to try for themselves. Some local cinemas even distributed frozen potatoes to audiences before the movie.

The trend was sparked by one young woman from Yunnan, who decided to film herself while eating frozen potatoes after watching Changjin Lake. Applauded as a gesture of solidarity, the move went viral and saw over 590 million views on Weibo alone (#女孩看完长津湖回家尝冻土豆#). Since then, many people on Weibo and TikTok have posted videos of themselves eating frozen potatoes to honor the Chinese soldiers.

Trends such as these helped build hype around the movie, making the movie even more popular for its popularity.8 Showing personal engagement with the film, countless social media users in China are posting photos of their movie tickets.

See my ticket! Netizens showing others on social media that they went to see the movie.

Others also share selfies at the cinema with official Changjin Lake merchandise, which includes memorabilia such as big drinking cups, toy figures, or a military vehicle that is actually a popcorn box.

Moviegoers sharing photos of the official merchandise they got when watching Changjin Lake.

Whether it’s on social media, at the box office, or in Chinese official media, The Battle at Lake Changjin definitely is the biggest movie of the year and has come to represent much more than just the film alone.

“The mighty martyrs of the People’s Volunteer Army will never be forgotten,” is the last sentence featured in Changjin Lake before the movie ends. Several videos on social media show how some moviegoers in local theaters across China stand up and salute the cinema screen after the film has ended – 21st century Chinese moviegoers have never been more dedicated to watching a film.

Various videos circulating on social media show Chinese moviegoers saluting after the ending of the Changjin Lake movie.

For some on social media, the hype surrounding the epic war movie has led to a fear of missing out. With so many internet users sharing a photo of their cinema visit on social media throughout October, one Weibo user posted an image with her movie ticket on October 23, writing: “I feel like I’m the last person in China to go and see this movie.”

Watch the trailer for The Battle at Lake Changjin here.

 

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

1 For more on this, see: Li, Xiaobing. 2020. Attack at Chosin: The Chinese Second Offensive in Korea. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, page 29-31.
2 Li, Attack at Chosin, page 16, 32.
3 Chinese: “如果这一仗我们不打,就会是我们的下一代打”
4 “让大家看到:中国人是不好惹的”
5 For more on this see: Berry, Chris. 2018. “Wolf Warrior 2 : Imagining the Chinese Century.” Film Quarterly 72(2): 38-44.
6 Xiao Yang. 2021. “The Era of Baokuan Films: How Chinese Social Media Creates Box Office Successes.” Journal of Chinese Cinemas 15(1), page 108.
7 Wang Jiequn, director of the Beijing Municipal Film Administration and part of the Communist Party’s propaganda office in Beijing, reportedly said at a news conference in September of 2021 that the authorities had “organized and planned” the production together with the film’s makers, Bona Film Group and Bayi Film Studio (See: Myers, Steven Lee & Amy Chang Chien. 2021. “For China’s Holidays, a Big-Budget Blockbuster Relives an American Defeat.” The New York Times, October 8 [10.21.21]
https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/05/world/asia/battle-lake-changjin.html).
8 Xiao Yang (2021) refers to the “Matthew effect”: popular products get more popular (116).

Featured image by Ama for Yi Magazin.

This text was written for Goethe-Institut China under a CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0-DE license (Creative Commons) as part of a monthly column in collaboration with What’s On Weibo.

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