SubscribeLog in
Connect with us

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

Published

on

PREMIUM CONTENT ARTICLE

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.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

China Arts & Entertainment

Looking Back on the 2024 CMG Spring Festival Gala: Highs, Lows, and Noteworthy Moments

Reflecting on the highs and lows of this year’s China Media Group Spring Festival Gala, the world’s most-watched television program.

Manya Koetse

Published

on

PREMIUM CONTENT

The biggest media spectacle of the Chinese New Year is the annual CMG Spring Festival Gala. The entire week, this four-hour extravaganza featuring forty-six performances has dominated social media conversations.

The 42nd edition of The CMG Spring Festival Gala was broadcasted on February 9th, celebrating the start of the Dragon Year. This year, the show reportedly attracted 679 million viewers.

The annual Spring Festival Gala by the state-run China Media Group (CMG) has become an integral part of the Lunar New Year celebrations for Chinese people since its debut in 1983. As the world’s most-watched live-broadcasted entertainment program, the Gala is now aired across dozens of channels, both in China and abroad, both on television and online.

China’s Spring Festival Gala (中国中央电视台春节联欢晚会) is commonly abbreviated to Chūnwǎn (春晚) in Chinese. Over the past week, the Chūnwǎn became a much-discussed topic on Chinese social media and dominated all trending lists during the Chinese New Year’s Eve.

The Gala, which lasts a total of four hours, shows the very best of China’s mainstream entertainment and Party propaganda and is a mix of culture, commerce, and politics. Through music, dance, art, and comedy, the event serves as a significant platform for the Party to disseminate official ideology. It is also a chance to present the nation’s top performers while showcasing digital innovations.

 

A “No-Covid”, Traditional Gala


 

The phrase “There will never be a worse, just worse than last year [中央春晚,没有最烂,只有更烂]” has become a well-known saying among viewers about the Chūnwǎn, as complaining about the show is very much part of the tradition. However, was this year really worse than last year? Not at all.

This 2024 edition was directed by Yu Lei (于蕾), who also directed the 2023 Gala. The 45-year-old female director previously also served as the general scriptwriter and overall designer for the Gala.

Not only was the director the same as last year, but the five main hosts were also exactly the same. They include Ren Luyu (任鲁豫, 1978), the TV host from Henan who has now become one of the most familiar faces on the show; Sa Beining, also known as Benny Sa (撒贝宁, 1976), who is famous for his CCTV work and for hosting the Gala regularly over the past twelve years; Nëghmet Raxman (尼格买提, 1983), a Chinese television host of Uyghur heritage who has hosted the Gala seven times since 2015; Long Yang (龙洋, 1989), a CCTV host from Hunan who presented the Gala for the third time this year; and Ma Fanshu 马凡舒 (1993), who was the youngest and newest host during the 2022 Gala and has been presenting it since.

The choice of director and presenters suggests that continuity and consistency were important for this year’s Chūnwǎn. Although the Gala’s format is always more or less the same, including songs, dances, cross-talk, sketches, traditional opera, martial arts, magic, etc., this year’s Gala stood out for sticking to tradition.

Over the past few years during the pandemic, several elements of the show were altered to adapt to the new situation. From 2021 to 2023, the show was only broadcast from the Beijing Studio and focused less on big spectacular scenes. Since 2020, the battle against Covid has also been a theme in the show. In 2020, the Gala included a segment that was broadcast live from a Wuhan hospital to show how medical staff were spending their Lunar New Year taking care of Covid patients. That was the first time since 1983 for the Gala to include a segment that was not meticulously rehearsed.

From 2021 to 2023, the nation’s battle against Covid was also a theme in songs and other segments, reflecting on the daily lives of ordinary people. In 2021, for example, Jackie Chan sang “Tomorrow Will Be Better” (明天会更好), which addressed the epidemic situation and honored all who joined in the fight against the virus.

However, the theme of Covid played no role at all anymore in this year’s Chūnwǎn, which focused entirely on celebrating the Year of the Dragon, the home, and the nation (龙行龘龘,欣欣家国). Similar to the pre-2020 Gala, this 42nd edition was broadcast not only from the Beijing venue but also included performances in four other locations: Shenyang, Changsha, Xi’an, and Kashgar. Continuity was also seen in the 46 acts of the night, as many familiar faces, such as Sun Nan (孙楠) and Han Hong (韩红), performed during the night.

 

Highlights of the 2024 Gala


 

The xiangsheng (相声) act “Director’s Worries” (“导演的心事”) was the most-watched act of the entire show according to the viewership ratings – this also relates to the time of the broadcasting. Xiangsheng is a traditional Chinese comedic performance that involves a dialogue between two performers, using rich language and many puns. This act was performed by comedians Jin Fei (金霏) and Chen Xi (陈曦). They were also joined by others, turning it into a “group xiangsheng” (群口相声) that humorously portrayed the mental strains faced by Chinese young people and served as a source for parodies and memes on social media.

Watch on Youtube here

 
The Song “Dragon” (龙), performed by famous pop singers Zhang Jie aka Jason Zhang (张杰) and Sun Nan (孙楠) was particularly popular this Gala. The song encompassed the main theme of the Dragon Year, as they sang about how a dragon lies in every Chinese person, representing the spirit and strength of the Chinese nation over the past five thousand years. This song integrated popular entertainment with the essence of the Chinese New Year, cultural heritage, and national pride, making it the perfect anthem for the Spring Festival Gala. One Weibo post by Zhang Jie about his performance received nearly 167,000 comments and over 176,000 shares.

Watch on Youtube here

 
The performance of “Koi Carp” (锦鲤) featuring lead dancer Hua Xiaoyi (华宵一) and the Beijing Dance Academy (北京舞蹈学院) was another standout moment of the Gala. The ‘painting’ dance “Only This Green” (只此青绿) stole the spotlight in 2022, while the ’embroidery’ dance “Splendid” (锦绣) was one of the highlights of the show in 2023. Continuing the tradition of presenting top-notch, artistic dance that merges tradition with technology, the Koi Carp dance had a similar charm, with dancers suspended on spring ropes performing an exquisite aerial dance that made them look like graceful fish underwater.

Watch on Youtube here

 
The creative act “Start Something New” (别开生面) directed by the renowned filmmaker Zhang Yimou (张艺谋) was a highlight in the show for its originality. The act, which combined cooking, dancing, and singing, presented various Lunar New Year customs and food cultures from different regions in China. Besides directing films, Zhang Yimou also has a lot of experience as a creative director of major shows, including the 2008 Summer Olympics opening ceremony, the 2022 Winter Olympics opening ceremony, and the outdoor night show Impression Sanjie Liu.

Watch on Youtube here

 
The Xi’an special segment “Poem for the Landscape of Chang’an” (山河诗长安) performed by Zhang Ruoyun (张若昀), Tang Shiyi (唐诗逸), Zhu Tiexiong (朱铁雄) PACT (派克特), Yang Li (杨力) and conductor Sun Yifan (孙一凡), was among the most spectacular ones of the night. This was an ode to Xi’an and Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty, Li Bai. Filled with lion and dragon performances, opera, rap, dance, and specially arranged music by the Xi’an Symphony Orchestra, the segment included a virtual version of Li Bai joining the spectacle. On social media, netizens praised the performance and posted many gifs of the Chinese actor Zhang Ruoyun together with the virtual version of the classical poet Li Bai.

Watch on Youtube here

 

The ‘Lows’ of the 2024 Gala


 

The various xiaopin (小品, skits) were not very well-received. Over the past few years, the Gala’s dance and song performances have actually become among the most beloved acts – far more popular than the xiaopin, which did not get much positive feedback this year at all. Some people said they just “didn’t get” the humor or that the sketches were just not entertaining enough.

 
The song “Unforgettable Night” (难忘今宵) was the least viewed part of the show according to viewership ratings, and it marked a departure from tradition in a significant way. Since the 1980s, the final song of the Spring Festival Gala has always been “Unforgettable Night,” sung by Li Guyi (李谷一). Li Guyi rose to fame with the song “Homeland Love” (乡恋) during China’s Reform and Opening Up era, and her songs evoke nostalgia for many viewers. She made her first appearance at the Gala in 1983 and became the most frequent performer at the event. Due to her recovery from Covid in the hospital, she was unable to perform at last year’s Chūnwǎn, and her absence from this year’s show was not only a significant disappointment for many but was also seen as the end of an era. Additionally, many people commented that they did not appreciate the new interpretation of the traditional song.

Watch on Youtube here

 
The PLA song “Decisive Victory” (决胜) drew attention from Taiwanese media outlets, highlighting it as a controversial moment of the Gala. The performance of this military song, delivered by artists from the PLA Cultural and Artistic Center, featured soldiers clad in combat gear marching and dancing on stage, while the backdrop displayed images of rockets, tanks, and other war-like scenes. Taiwanese media framed the song within the context of mainland China’s military threats against Taiwan. Some Weibo commentators also interpreted the performance in this light, particularly noting the sequence where singers from Taiwan and mainland China first sang the song “Etiquette” (礼序) together just before the People’s Liberation Army performed the military song. This was seen as a statement of “diplomacy comes before violence” (“先礼后兵”).

Watch on Youtube here

 

The Noteworthy


 

The magic show “Guarding the New Year Together” (守岁共此时) performed by Liu Qian (刘谦) created quite a buzz. During a card trick involving the audience and Gala host Nëghmet Raxman, it seemed like Raxman’s cards didn’t match as intended. Although everyone was supposed to have matching cards, Raxman’s expression revealed that his two cards did not match. This led to much banter online, and Nëghmet Raxman – and his nervous expression – became a trending topic.

Watch on Youtube here

 
The song “Climbing Spring Mountain” (上春山) performed by Wei Chen (魏晨), Wei Daxun (魏大勋), and Bai Jingting (白敬亭) became one of the most discussed acts in the week following the Gala after a rehearsal video was posted online and netizens noticed inconsistencies in the singers’ attire and positions on stage. It was rumored that Bai Jingting may have intentionally vied for a more prominent position to attract more attention on stage, resulting in choreographic asymmetry and some apparent confusion during the song. One important reason why the main rehearsal video triggered controversy is because a tape of the official rehearsal always runs concurrently with the live broadcast, allowing producers to seamlessly switch to the taped version in the event of a problem or disruption without TV audiences noticing. But because Bai changed his outfit, wearing black while the others wore white, and because he did not give up his main spot during the performance, it might have been impossible for producers to switch to a rehearsed version of the song (even though the lip-syncing during the performance was completely out of sync).

Watch on Youtube here

 
● The song “A Friend Like You” (像你这样的朋友) attracted a lot of attention on Weibo and beyond this week as it was performed by the so-called “0713 Super Boys,” including Wang Zhengliang (王铮亮), Chen Chusheng (陈楚生), Allen Su (苏醒), Zhang Yuan (张远), Lu Hu (陆虎), and Wang Yuexin (王栎鑫). In 2022, these once nearly ‘forgotten’ singers made a remarkable comeback through the reality TV hits Welcome to the Mushroom House (欢迎来到蘑菇屋) and Go for Happiness (快乐再出发). They initially gained fame in 2007 after participating in the singing contest Super Boy but gradually faded into obscurity in the years following their initial success. Their gala performance marks their ultimate comeback.

Watch on Youtube here

 
“Belle” (美人) from the French musical Notre Dame de Paris was performed at the Gala in French by various French and Chinese performers, including Angelo Del Vecchio and Liao Changyong. “Who would have ever expected for Notre Dame de Paris to be performed at the Chūnwǎn in French?” one commenter wrote. The Gala provided some subtitles during the song to convey the general idea of the song. Although the Gala usually incorporates an international element, this was the first time for a song to be fully sung in French. The song was presented in the context of China and France celebrating their 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations this year.

Watch on Youtube here

 
● Dilraba Dilmurat (丽热巴) in “Dances of Xinjiang” (舞乐新疆) was praised by commenters as the most beautiful performer of the night. The Chinese actress of Uyghur ethnicity showcased her dancing skills during the Kashgar segment of the evening. Not only was her performance notable for its beauty and grace, but it also garnered attention online due to a video recorded by an audience member showing Dilmurat slipping and falling on her bum during the show, after which she promptly got up and continued. After all, the show must go on!

Watch the full performance on Youtube here

Want to know more about the previous editions of the Spring Festival Gala? Also check out our articles below:

– 2023: Behind the Short Feature Film of the Spring Festival Gala
– 2023: Top 5: The Highlights of China’s 2023 CGM Spring Festival Gala
– 2023: Watching ‘Chunwan’: Liveblog CMG Spring Festival Gala
– 2022: Chunwan 2022: The CMG Spring Festival Gala Liveblog by What’s on Weibo
– 2021: Spring Festival Gala Draws Criticism for Gendered Jokes
– 2021: The Chunwan Liveblog: Watching the 2021 CMG Spring Festival Gala
– 2020: CCTV New Year’s Gala 2020
– 2019: The CCTV Spring Festival Gala 2019 Live Blog
– 2018: About the CCTV Spring Festival Gala’s ‘Racist’ Africa Comedy Sketch
– 2018: CCTV Spring Festival Gala 2018 (Live Blog)
– 2017: The Best and the Worst of CCTV New Year’s Gala 2017
– 2017: CCTV New Year’s Gala 2017 Live Blog
– 2016: CCTV’s New Year’s Gala 2016 Liveblog

By Manya Koetse

With contributions by Miranda Barnes

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

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2024 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Continue Reading

China Arts & Entertainment

Top 9 Chinese Movies to Watch This Spring Festival Holiday

Lunar New Year lineup: These are the 9 Chinese films competing at the Spring Festival box office.

Manya Koetse

Published

on

Over the past decade, China’s domestic film industry has experienced explosive growth, both in terms of production and box office revenue.

When it comes to the latter, the Spring Festival is the most important time of the year for box office success. Especially over the past few years, there has been more media focus on the Spring Festival season as the peak season for top domestic films.

During the Chinese Spring Festival, along with the National Day Holiday, movies tend to earn around 32.3% more on average. Sci-fi and action films are the most successful, followed by comedies (Li et al 2022, 128). Last year, the Spring Festival box office revenues accounted for about 12.3 percent of the yearly total.

Notable films in the Spring Festival lineup of 2023 included Zhang Yimou’s Full River Red (满红红), the sequal to China’s all-time highest-grossing sci-fi epic Wandering Earth (流浪地球2), espionage suspense movie Hidden Blade (无名), sports drama Ping Pong: The Triumph (中国乒乓之绝地反击), the comedy Five Hundred Miles (交换人生), animation feature Boonie Bears: Guardian Code (熊出没), and Tian Xiaopeng’s Deep Sea animation film.

Especially the first two movies, Full River Red and Wandering Earth 2, became box office hits, earning a respective RMB4.55 billion ($633 million) and RMB4.03 billion ($561 million).

This year, there are nine big box office movies during the eight-day Chinese New Year’s holiday, and virtually all of them have recently also trended on Chinese social media. Here, we will list all nine of them and what you need to know about them.

 

1. YOLO 热辣滚烫

  • Title: Chinese title: 热辣滚烫 Rèlà Gǔntàng, ‘Sizzling Hot‘; English title: YOLO
  • Premiere: February 10, 2024
  • Genre: Comedy/Sports Drama
  • Runtime: 129 minutes
  • Directed by: Jia Ling (贾玲), who previously also directed the 2021 Hi, Mom (你好,李焕英) movie.
  • Screenplay by: Sun Jibin (孙集斌), who also did the screenplay for Hi, Mom. The film is based on the Japanese 2014 movie 100 Yen Love (百円の恋, Hyakuen no Koi).
  • Starring: Jia Ling (贾玲), Jia Yinlei (雷佳音), Zhang Xiaofei (张小斐), Yang Zi (杨紫), Sha Yi (沙溢).
  • About: YOLO (热辣滚烫), which will hit Chinese theaters on February 10, tells the story of Le Ying (乐莹), who has withdrawn from social life and isolated herself at home ever since graduation. Trying to get her life back on track, Le Ying meets a boxing coach. The meeting proves to be just the beginning of a new journey in life filled with unforeseen challenges.
  • Trending: Chinese actress and director Jia Ling (贾玲) went trending on Weibo on the day she announced this upcoming movie because of her remarkable weight loss transformation; she lost a staggering 100 pounds (50 kg) for her role in this film.

 

 

2. Pegasus 2 飞驰人生2

  • Title: Chinese title: 飞驰人生2 Fēichí Rénshēng 2, ‘High-speed Life 2‘; English title: Pegasus 2
  • Premiere: February 10, 2024
  • Genre: Comedy/Sports Drama
  • Runtime: 121 minutes
  • Directed by: Han Han (韩寒)
  • Screenplay by: Han Han (韩寒).
  • Starring: Shen Teng (沈腾), Fan Chengcheng (范丞丞), Yin Zheng (尹正), Zhang Benyu (张本煜), Sun Yizhou (孙艺洲).
  • About: This is the sequal to Pegasus (2019), the 2019 Spring Festival blockbuster about passionate rally driver Zhang Chi (张驰, played by Shen Tang), who had to step away from racing due to a ban for illegal street racing. But he never gave up on his dream. Now, he’s gearing up for a major comeback, facing new competition. Based on the experiences of Han Han, a talented writer and professional rally driver, and his admiration for racer Xu Lang, Pegasus 2 continues this tale of determination and passion. Zhang Chi, now a driving school instructor, gets a chance to return to the track when offered sponsorship from a car factory to compete in a high-profile racing rally with a team he must assemble.
  • Trending: Pegasus 2 is a much-anticipated movie among Chinese netizens, mainly because of the all-star cast including celebrated actor Shen Teng and young idol Fan Chengcheng. The movie’s January 29 promo event in Beijing also went trending when Fan Chengcheng posted a photo together with the cast members. This post was shared over a million times, receiving more than 100,000 comments.

 

 

3. Article 20 第二十条

Image via Weibo.

  • Title: Chinese title: 第二十条 Dì èrshí tiáo; English title: Article 20
  • Premiere: February 10, 2024
  • Genre: Comedy/Family Drama
  • Runtime: 141 minutes
  • Directed by: Zhang Yimou (张艺谋)
  • Screenplay by: Li Meng (李萌).
  • Starring: Lei Jiayin (雷佳音), Ma Li (马丽), Zhao Liying (赵丽颖), Gao Ye (高叶), Liu Yaowen (刘耀文)
  • About: Zhang Yimou’s Article 20 tells the story of prosecutor Han Ming (韩明, Lei Jiayin) who is facing a particularly difficult legal case at work, while navigating complicated situations at home, especially after his son got into a fight with the son of the school leader. As Han Ming strives to balance work and family responsibilities, he courageously fights for fairness and justice in his own way.
  • Trending: As one of China’s most prolific film directors, Zhang Yimou’s work always gets a lot of attention on Chinese social media. This time, some of the Weibo hashtags related to this movie received millions or even billions of views. Especially the young celebrity and teen idol Liu Yaowen (2005) is receiving attention for starring in this film as Han Ming’s son Han Yuchen who beats up the school director’s son and then refuses to apologise. Some online polls asking netizens which movie they’re most excited to see this Spring Festival (投票:你春节打算看哪部电影) also indicate that Article 20 is one of the most anticipated movies on this list.

 

 

4. The Movie Emperor 红毯先生

  • Title: Chinese title: 红毯先生 Hóngtǎn Xiānshēng, ‘Mr. Red Carpet’; English title: The Movie Emperor
  • Premiere: February 10, 2024
  • Genre: Comedy/Drama
  • Runtime: 127 minutes
  • Directed by: Zhu Hao (宁浩)
  • Screenplay by: Liu Xiaodan (刘晓丹), Wang Ang (王昂)
  • Starring: Andy Lau (刘德华), Pal Sinn Lap-man (单立文), Rima Zeidan (瑞玛·席丹), Yu Weiguo (余伟国), and Ning Hao (宁浩).
  • About: Andy Lau plays the main character in this film, a renowned Hong Kong film star who is preparing for a major comeback in a rural-themed film. To prepare for his role as a peasant farmer in the 1960s, he immerses himself in rural life in China, which leads to all kinds of bizarre situations that satirically reflect on the present-day entertainment industry.
  • Trending: The Movie Emperor is perhaps among the more serious comedies in this list, as it has a deeper message about the dynamics of the entertainment industry and present-day society. With a career spanning over four decades, there’s perhaps no other actor who’d be more suited to play this character than Andy Lau, and many commenters are looking forward to see him in this role.

 

 

5. Viva La Vida 我们一起摇太阳

Image via Yule 360.

  • Title: Chinese title: 我们一起摇太阳 Wǒmen Yìqǐ Yáo Tàiyáng, ‘Shake the Sun Together’; English title: Viva La Vida
  • Premiere: February 10, 2024
  • Genre: Romantic comedy-drama
  • Runtime: 129 minutes
  • Directed by: Han Yan (韩延)
  • Screenplay by: Han Yan (韩延), Li Liangwen (李亮文), Wang Xiaoyi (王小艾), Yang Fuzhi (杨富芝)
  • Starring: Peng Yuchang (彭昱畅), Li Gengxi aka Teresa Li (李庚希), Xu Fan (徐帆), Gao Yalin (高亚麟), Liu Dan (刘丹).
  • About: This movie is the third and final movie in the director Han Yan’s “Life Trilogy” of of uplifting films centered around the theme of battling cancer. It follows the successes of the previous hits, Go Away Mr. Tumor and A Little Red Flower, released in 2015 and 2020 respectively. The narrative focuses on the romance between a girl suffering from kidney dysfunction (Teresa Li) and a boy afflicted with a brain tumor (Peng Yuchang). Despite their contrasting personalities, they find unity in their shared struggles with illness, embarking on a journey that celebrates the essence of life.
  • Trending: These days, movie production teams are doing all they can to go trending on social media to increase the hype surrounding their films. In light of their promotional activities, actor Peng Yuchang went to Tianjin to join the ‘diving grandpa’s’ (#彭昱畅和天津大爷一块跳水#). This is a group of elderly swimmers who went viral in 2023 because of their daring dives into the river from the Stone Lion Forest Bridge (狮子林桥). People joked about Peng swimming in the cold river, saying they had “never seen a male lead work so hard to promote their film.”

 

 

6. Boonie Bears: Time Twist 熊出没:逆转时空

Image via Moonlight Media

  • Title: Chinese title: 熊出没:逆转时空 Xióng Chūmò: Nìzhǔan Shíkōng; English title: Boonie Bears: Time Twist
  • Premiere: February 10, 2024
  • Genre: Comedy sci-fi animation
  • Runtime: 108 minutes
  • Directed by: Lin Huida (林汇达)
  • Screenplay by: Xu Yun (徐芸), Wan Qin (万秦), Jiang Lin (蒋琳)
  • Starring: Tan Xiao (谭笑), Zhang Bingjun (张秉君), Zhang Wei (张伟), Zhang Ming (张茗)
  • About: This latest film from the Boonie Bears universe revolves around the stressed-out white-collar worker Vick (光头强), who has left his small town and forest job for a career in the big city. However, his absence has some far-reaching consequences. When he accompanies his boss on a work trip, he embarks on an adventure through time and space, that’s all about exploring life goals and finding self-fulfillment.
  • Trending: While this film may not be among the top trending movies this Spring Festival season, it’s still a beloved choice for both Boonie Bears fans and parents who want to take their kids to the movies this holiday. This is also a special Boonie Bears year, as it marks both the 12th anniversary of the Chinese “Boonie Bears” cartoon franchise and the 10th anniversary of the first feature film, “Boonie Bears: To the Rescue” (熊出没之夺宝熊兵).

 

 

7. Ba Jie 八戒之天蓬下界

Image via Xigua.

  • Title: Chinese title: 八戒之天蓬下界 Bājiè zhī Tiānpéng Xiàjiè; English title: Article 20
  • Premiere: February 10, 2024
  • Genre: Animated fantasy adventure
  • Runtime: 88 minutes
  • Directed by: He Ranhao (何冉昊)
  • Screenplay by: Li Meng (李萌).
  • Starring: Zhang Lei (张磊), Ji Guanlin (季冠霖), Zhao Mingzhou (赵明洲), Gao Zengzhi (高增志), Ma Dehua (马德华)
  • About: This is the first animated film in China about Ba Jie, a renowned character from the 16th-century novel Journey to the West (西游记) who is known for being part human and part pig – as well as being lazy and gluttonous. Presented as a quintessentially Chinese animation film, Ba Jie is not just a contemporary adaptation of a Chinese classic, it also embraces a style and color palette that builds on Chinese tradition. Originally announced for release in 2021 for 2022, coinciding with the Year of the Pig, the movie was then rescheduled for 2023, and now is finally making its premiere in the Year of the Dragon. Ma Dehua (马德华), who played Ba Jie in the famous 1986 “Journey to the West” TV series is also a voice actor in this film.
  • Trending: The fact that this film was delayed and is already three years old by the time it hits cinemas does not exactly add to its appeal. Many people feel like they’ve seen the film posters again and again, and that its momentum has already passed.

 

 

8. Broken Mission 破战

Image via QQ.

  • Title: Chinese title: 破战 Pò Zhàn, ‘Break War’; English title: Broken Mission
  • Premiere: February 16, 2024
  • Genre: Drama / Action / Suspense
  • Runtime: 86 minutes
  • Directed by: Peng Fa aka Danny Pang (彭发)
  • Screenplay by: Peng Fa (彭发)
  • Starring: Wu Zhenyu (吴镇宇), Simon Yam (任达华), Cheng Yuanyuan (程媛媛), Tang Wenlong (唐文龙), Liu Yingyi (刘颖仪).
  • About: Although this movie won’t hit cinemas until February 16, it’s still considered a Spring Festival movie. Set in Hong Kong, this action-packed film revolves around the confrontation between the local police team and a criminal committing crimes in service to his “Savior.” The filming already started in 2019, and because of the big delay – partly due to many revisions in the script – the movie seems to have lost some of its relevance.
  • Trending: Together with Ba Jie, Broken Mission is among the least popular movies in this list. There have also been very few promotional activities surrounding the premiere. In an online poll asking netizens which movies they anticipated most, these two received the least votes. YOLO and Article 20 received the most votes. Given its lack of popularity, some netizens propose that the movie should bypass cinemas entirely and go directly to online streaming services instead.

 

 

9. Huang Pi: God of Wealth Cat 黄貔:天降财神猫

Image via Weibo.

  • Title: Chinese title: 黄貔:天降财神猫 Huáng Pí: Tiānjiàng cáishén māo; English title: Huang Pi / God of Wealth Cat or God of Money
  • Premiere: February 10, 2024
  • Genre: Animation/Comedy
  • Runtime: 82 minutes
  • Directed by: Bai Ding (白丁) and Guan Yang (关杨)
  • Starring: Li Meng (李盟), Yan Nan (闫楠), Wang Zi (王梓), Yang Tianxiang (杨天翔), Liu Yike (刘依可).
  • About: Inspired by Monkey King Wreaks Havoc in Heaven, this Mandarin-Cantonese bilingual animated movie revolves around Huang Pi, who is transformed into a cat by the Four Heavenly Kings after causing trouble in the Heavenly Palace. In order to repay the kindness of the God of wealth who rescues him, Huang Pi descents to the mortal world with his five incarnations. Here, he faces various challenges, one of which involves being mistaken for a stray cat by a pet hospital owner.
  • Trending: The ‘lucky cat’ theme and Chinese artistic influences makes this movie a suitable one for the Spring Festival, with many people and animation fans anticipating its premiere.

 

By Manya Koetse

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

References

Li, Xuefei, Hua Lu, Chengzhong Wu. 2022. “The Destiny of Movies’ Box Office Performance in China: An Expectation–Evaluation Model.” The Journal of Arts Management, Law, and Society 52(2): 117-135.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2024 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Continue Reading

Subscribe to our newsletter

Stay updated on what’s trending in China & get the story behind the hashtag

Sign up here to become a premium member of What’s on Weibo today and gain access to all of our latest and premium content, as well as receive our exclusive Weibo Watch newsletter. If you prefer to only receive our free newsletter with an overview of the latest articles, you can subscribe for free here.

Get in touch

Would you like to become a contributor, or do you have any tips or suggestions for us? Get in touch with us here.

Popular Reads