BEIJING – A nationalistic blockbuster set during the Korean War has racked up hundreds of millions of dollars in ticket sales and become the highest-grossing film ever in China, according to box office data.
“The Battle at Changjin Lake”, a chest-thumping war epic, is the latest entry in a new era of Chinese action films with explicitly patriotic themes that reflect rising levels of domestic nationalism.
Criticism of the film’s message – which depicts the titular battle as a total victory for Chinese forces– has been met with a heavy-handed response from the authorities, including the arrest of a high-profile former journalist.
But the film, released on the eve of China’s annual October public holiday, proved popular with audiences, smashing the previous box office record of 5.6 billion yuan ($891 million) in ticket sales, ticketing platform Maoyan said Wednesday.
The movie depicts a crucial battle in winter 1950, where Chinese soldiers forced US-led UN troops to evacuate from North Korea, fighting in freezing temperatures.
Chinese propaganda has portrayed the clash as an absolute victory necessary to stop the US from capturing North Korea.
The heavy losses sustained by the Chinese side are rarely acknowledged.
Days after the film was released, Luo Changping, a former editor of Caijing magazine who has gained a reputation for exposing official corruption, questioned the justification for sending troops to fight in such brutal conditions.
“Half a century later, Chinese people have barely reflected on the justifiability of the war,” he commented online.
The post was soon censored, and Luo’s Weibo account of two million followers taken offline.
He was detained by police for “infringing on the reputation and honour of heroes and martyrs”, and faces up to three years in prison if convicted under the 2018 law, which criminalises the slander of revolutionary war heroes and modern-day soldiers.
“The Battle of Changjin Lake” is not the first patriotic blockbuster to garner widespread public support.
The smash-hit success of the “Wolf Warrior” franchise – where a swashbuckling Chinese soldier defeats foreign mercenaries – is credited with kicking off the new wave of nationalistic action films.
The vast majority of films shown in China are domestically produced, with only 34 foreign films allowed domestic release per year.