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Summary: China Blockbuster War Movies become more and more popular in the global. The national movie frequently takes on the responsibility of representing the national identity to its citizens or even the world. How does China Blockbuster War Movies Capture China’s Nationalism? What is the opinion of the public? We used Douban as the source to extract data from the film reviews of two movies (“Operation Red Sea” and “Wolf Warrior” ) on the Douban, a popular art consumption and rating website, to figure out the thought of people behind the screen and the future development of Blockbuster War Movies in China. With the help of Python, we made a Wordcloud picture of the frequent words included in the 1,000 pieces of films reviews for each movie. We found that China’s new breed of patriotic hero on the big screen reflects the rise of a superpower and  China’s War Movies is shaping the image of China.

Last month, movie tickets sales in mainland China hit 10.1 billion yuan ($1.6 billion), a box office world record for monthly sales in a single market. No film stood out more than “Operation Red Sea.”, which had grossed almost 2.5 billion yuan in just 13 days by the end of February.


 “Operation Red Sea” is based on the Chinese navy’s March 2015 evacuation of Yemen. Set amid militant unrest in a fictional Middle Eastern country, it tells the stories of a ship’s crew and an assault team as they rescue Chinese citizens and foreign refugees, resolving a potential nuclear crisis along the way.

Similarly, last summer’s blockbuster “Wolf Warrior 2,” ($854 million), tells the stories of a loose-cannon Chinese soldier in an unnamed African country. “Operation Red Sea” tones down the patriotism of last year’s smash hit film ‘Wolf Warrior 2’, playing up gore over glorifying war.

How does China Blockbuster War Movies Capture China’s Nationalism? What are the opinion of the public in China and the globe? Can these films be a step towards making Chinese action films more palatable overseas? We will make some Analysis based on the data.


Wordcloud of film reviews of “Operation Red Sea”


Wordcloud of film reviews of “Wolf Warrior”

According to the Wordcloud Pictures, we can find out the frequent words included in the 1,000 pieces of each films reviews. The bigger is the word, the more audience mentioned about that. In the end, We can find out the reason why two movies have gone hit and the thought of people behind the screen.

Chinese military movies fulfill Chinese people’s psychological need

First of all, the common words of both film reviews are 中国”(“China”)国”(“Patriotism”)、“主旋律”(“Mainstream”), which reveal the success of these movies are fulfill Chinese people’s psychological need for a screen representation of a strong and powerful nation-state as they show off confidence of nation, individuals.

Patriotism seemed more like an afterthought referring to the closing scene of the movie when a fleet of Chinese naval patrol vessels drive away an unidentified foreign ship in the disputed waters of the South China Sea in the “Operation Red Sea”.

People would like to mention about other similar war movies during the discussion. For example, 湄公河行动”(“Operation Mekong”), which shows that a reflection of the patriotic mood sweeping the country.

To some extent, the film caters to the fantasy of the common people as China’s economic power rises and many people are definitely longing for the renegotiation of China’s place in the world.”

On the other hand, the word个人英雄主义”(“Personal heroism”) is also popular in discussions, which revealed the movie portrayed an emerging power that ‘won’t be bullied.

Wolf Warrior depicts an invincible super soldier, Leng Feng, on a one-man mission to rescue Chinese citizens from rebels and mercenaries in a fictional African country. However, the strong one-man reveals how powerful his nation is. Just as the image of a Chinese passport appears on the big screen with subtitles underneath: ”Please remember: Behind you, stands the powerful motherland!“

This motif captures the newest form of state-sanctioned patriotism in Chinese society: leveraging the supposed greatness of the Chinese army, as well as the legitimacy of the Communist Party and the Chinese government, as a peacekeeper and protector both at home and abroad.

“Patriotism has been hidden away inside the audience for a long time and this sentiment needs to be released through a film and a role.”, Wu Jing, stars martial artist, said at the press conference in Guangzhou, according to SCMP.

Blockbuster War Movies Capture China’s Nationalism globally

The success of China’s Blockbuster War Movies also shakes the world. The plot will feel familiar to anyone who has seen a Hollywood action movie, but this time it’s a Chinese man upholding justice and keeping the world safe, a formula that has won the film praise. — but also criticism. Numerous moviegoers have complained that the Chinese nationalism in the film is heavy-handed and comes at the expense of the story.

China’s Zhu xuanlü films, or “main melody films” — that is, the bulk of movies targeted at a domestic audience — are charged with spreading civilized thought, improving social integration, and reflecting state-sanctioned interpretations of historical events.

We may concern about that can these films be a step towards making Chinese action films more palatable overseas? In fact, China’s Blockbuster War Movies also raised the discussion among Western movies and Chinese movies. For instance, the words of好莱坞”(“Hollywood”)、黑鹰坠落”(“Black Hawk Down”)、“产”(“Made in China”) shows. “Operation Red Sea” has more in common with action movies such as the “Die Hard” franchise, while the content, production techniques, and audio-visual effects in the latter draw closer comparisons to Ridley Scott’s 2001 epic “Black Hawk Down.”

Beyond its box-office success in China, Operation Red Sea has also fared well abroad. In the first two weeks it was shown in the US, Operation Red Sea has nearly earned as much as Wolf Warrior 2 at the American box office, taking in US$977,616, according to movie data site Box Office Mojo. In Hong Kong, Operation Red Sea achieved box office sales of HK$535,252 (US$84,400) on its first day of screening, surpassing the HK$382,000 recorded for Wolf Warrior 2.

However, these movies aren’t necessarily intended to impress foreigners but are aimed at persuading a domestic audience of the country’s growing power and righteousness. Although many of the takings were believed to be contributed by overseas Chinese, there is no doubt that Chinese movie is eager to make more progress to win a seat in Hollywood. But what should we do for the development?

We may suggest that the Rating System would be a good start. One point we would like to highlight is that people gradually consider about the rating system of the film through the words: 血腥”(bloody)、“分级”(“rating system”).

“As a cinema-goer, what was left in my mind after seeing “Operation Red Sea” was nothing but bloody scenes,” said Song Geng, a Chinese studies professor at the University of Hong Kong who specializes in Chinese culture and ideology.

It suggests that audience pay more attention to the quality of the film than before. A well-developed rating system is demanding in the movie industry in China. Its ratings should be justified by confusing, nonspecific descriptors like “disturbing violence/images” (which is somehow different from “bloody images”) and “thematic elements.”

Above all, as real wars have faded from our lives, movie audiences not born in countries dealing with localized conflicts will probably never experience a war during their lifetimes. Yet even in an era without war, it continues to live on as a kind of ideology. The ways in which people think about, fear, and use war are all extremely important and the film reviews will continue to reflect this.

Problems You Might Encounter:

  1. Your account may be blocked once the servicer caught you.
  2. For information about many pages, list generation works well, as long as you can find out the regulation of URLs.
  3. Chinese words divided syncopation technology has not been completed now, so maybe you have to edit the words by yourself.

Tools for wordcloud

  • Timdream : You just upload or copy the text into the website, then it can help you generate the wordcloud pics.

Codes and data

Interested readers can download codes and data here: group5-douban-text .

Notes from Lecturer

The article picked a recent affair and is timely to apply course materials up to this week. The data amount is limited but one can strategically explore and present the data to better communicate with readers.

Comparison is a good way. One can present the two movies side by side to make the difference more apparent. One example is the keywords comparison for Trump v.s. Hillary. There is another good post on the same topic from Initium Lab.

Talking about strategy, when we see two movies selected as the target of study, we expect to see what is in common and what is different. One can draw a quick infographic using Canva or Infogram to compare some basic facts. Say genre, date, director, producer (investor), heroism v.s. teamwork, ending, box office… One example from Initium is here.

For the keywords analysis, the article discussed enough common factors. It is more interesting to see what are the differences. If some keywords appear frequently in one movie but not another, that may signal some points for further discussion.

— Pili Hu (March 20, 2018)


Author/ ZHANG Ruirong, LI Xiaotong, LIANG Yanming

Editor/ Yucan Xu