Anti-US propaganda film beats James Bond and Marvel at the box office

·3 min read
An audience member wears a mask while passing in front of the movie poster of “The Battle At Lake Changjin" in a cinema on October 2, 2021 - Getty Images
An audience member wears a mask while passing in front of the movie poster of “The Battle At Lake Changjin" in a cinema on October 2, 2021 - Getty Images

A Chinese-made epic about the Korean War has topped the global box office, according to official statistics, tapping into growing nationalist sentiment and dwarfing James Bond.

The film, Battle at Lake Changjin, had pulled in nearly 5 billion yuan (£567m) in box office receipts as of Tuesday, according to data compiled by a company owned by Alibaba Pictures.

That puts it ahead of current global blockbusters including the latest Bond film, No Time to Die, and Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, neither of which are available in China, the world's most populous country, where government censors control foreign film releases.

The film has been such a runaway hit that fans have even been inspired to eat frozen potatoes in homage to the soldiers who endured extreme hardships.

The war film, which is nearly three hours long, was released to coincide with China’s Oct 1 national holiday, a week-long break.

The ruling Communist Party is often keen to ensure a patriotic spirit around national events.

Beijing also buzzed Taiwan with a record number of warplanes in a show of force during the week of the film's release.

China has long claimed Taiwan as its own territory, despite the fact that the island has its own democratically elected government, currency and military.

Fans of the film have taken to social media to suggest that the film’s earnings and actors’ salaries ought to be donated to support surviving veterans and bereaved families of fallen soldiers.

Battle at Lake Changjin stars Wu Jing, who also stars in Chinese nationalist epic 'Wolf Warrior', and the film depicts Chinese soldiers battling the much-better equipped US troops during the bitter cold of the 1950-1953 war.

The conflict ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty, leaving US-led UN forces technically still at war with North Korea.

One scene in the film shows soldiers chewing frozen small potatoes between battles while their US counterparts feast on Thanksgiving turkey.

Some cinemas have distributed frozen potatoes to audiences before the movie, according to videos on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, with many showing moviegoers eating them or the fried flour that was also eaten by Chinese soldiers.

A young woman in one video cried after the first bite, saying it was impossible to eat.

"The frozen potatoes they ate give us the good life we have today," said another Douyin user.

'Inflated box office numbers'

The £200m film has stirred such sentiment in China that a former journalist was arrested for suggesting on a social media platform that the soldiers who froze to death had been foolish.

Box office sales have before been inflated in China with fake screenings and phantom ticket purchases, with tickets bulk-bought to drive up figures without always having a corresponding viewer in a cinema seat.

Nearly all films currently showing at major theatres in China are linked to nationalist themes.

My Country, My Parents is a historical drama about how a family survives changing times with a strong “national spirit.”

The Eternal Wave is based on the story of a Communist agent who is shown to have played a pivotal role for the Party in the 1930s.

Zhang Yiwu, a professor at Peking University, said the increasing popularity of local films posed a challenge to Hollywood's efforts to gain share in China's movie market.

"Hollywood's movie industry produced one standard product for global audiences in the past, but they might have to learn how to cater to the Chinese market," Zhang said.

Additional reporting by Wen Xu

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