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Daily Drip

Chinese Moviegoers Flock to Patriotic Films on National Day As Movies Get US Releases

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Three patriotic films topped the Chinese box office on Tuesday, as China celebrated its National Day holiday, marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Interestingly, the films are also set to hit US cinema screens.

In Beijing, a day of pageantry featured a parade with thousands of soldiers marching alongside ballistic missiles, choirs of children crooning hymns for the motherland, and a gigantic painting of the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, Xi Jinping. But throughout the rest of the country, citizens sat down to enjoy a different kind of show: Party-approved patriotic cinema. A trio of films exploring Chinese officially-sanctioned national themes earned a total of 646 million RMB (90.3 million USD) on Tuesday, the day of their official debut.

The three films, My People, My Country, The Climbers, and The Captain, each extol national spirit in a different way. My People, My Country, the highest grossing of the three, traces seven different stories of how ordinary Chinese citizens experienced quintessential moments from the history of the People’s Republic. The film is already on a limited run in North America.

The Climbers is based on a true story, and catalogues the daring ascent of Chinese mountaineers up the North side of Everest. The film stars Wu Jing, famous for his roles in blockbuster smashes Wolf Warrior and The Wandering Earth, who reportedly underwent “cold training” at a remote mountain in Qinghai province on the Tibetan Plateau to prepare for the role. It also has Jackie Chan and Zhang Ziyi, for good measure, and is in select US cinemas as of October 4.

The Captain, meanwhile, tells the true story of Liu Chuanjian, sometimes likened to Captain Sully in the United States. Liu, a former Air Force pilot and Sichuan Airlines captain, saved 119 passengers by conducting a miraculous emergency landing after his plane’s front-right windshield splintered and flew off the aircraft on a flight between Chongqing and Lhasa. The Captain will land on screens across North America on October 18.

The films’ windfall revenues represent a welcome upswing for China’s domestic film market, which has experienced an unprecedented decline in recent months. Many attribute that downturn in part to Beijing’s increasing control over content production, with authorities favoring entertainment that extols nationalism and carefully toes the Party line over esoteric art house films or apolitical blockbusters. But the success of patriotic films on National Day shows the trend can go both ways, with citizens around China eager to enjoy their country’s past and present glory.

“It’s great to see the history of the Chinese climbing team’s ascent finally put on the big screen,” one commenter wrote of The Climbers in a short review posted to social network and review site Douban.

On the Douban page for My People, My Country, one viewer wrote, “These lesser-known details of historical events are extremely moving.” Not everyone is impressed however. One commenter on Douban stated “I love my country, but I don’t love this film.” 

SCMP, meanwhile, called the movie — which is helmed by Chen Kaige and features contributions from other famous directors including Xu Zheng and Ning Hao — “jingoistic.” 

Cover Image: A still from My People, My Country.

Zach Hollo
    J. Zach Hollo is a RADII contributor currently based in Guangzhou. He recently competed a master's degree in international affairs at National Chengchi University in Taipei, where he studied as a Fulbright scholar. Before that, he taught English in China's Hunan and Henan provinces. As an undergraduate, he attended Northwestern University's campus in Doha, Qatar, where he majored in journalism.