The Chinese 3D action film Wolf Warriors II has broken several box office records since it hit the big screen, which is rare for a domestic production. The film is about a rescue operation in Africa in which a soldier travels to warzone and saves hundreds of lives from foreign mercenaries. Its story of a Chinese man upholding justice and keeping the world safe touched moviegoers.
Patriotic films and TV series play a unique and important role in China’s cultural communication. They focus on positive, uplifting themes and advocate core socialist values among domestic audiences. At the same time, they display China’s soft power and promote its national image to the world.
However, these films have long been experiencing a dwindling audience and market share. Some attribute this to the fact that cultural diversity during a time of social transformation has transformed the audience’s tastes while others say the role of traditional media in the landscape of social communication is declining.
However, in addition to the aforementioned factors, the shortcomings of patriotic films and TV series also need to be taken into consideration. After all, the ideas, content, artistry and production value are what attract viewers.
The concept of patriotic films and TV series emerged in the late 1980s. A specific artistic genre, it is not exclusive to China. During World War I, the American Film Trade Union proposed the idea of using film as a propaganda tool, suggesting that it is the best medium by which the national image could be demonstrated and represented, which was acknowledged and supported by the American government. Hollywood films thus became an important means by which the US could spread its values.
In recent years, a number of successful patriotic Chinese films and TV series have been made. Drawing Sword, In the Name of People, Operation Mekong, The Bloody Battle of Xiangjiang River and Wolf Warriors II are all such examples. Their success demonstrated the audiences’ demands for high-quality thematic content and high production value. Patriotic films and TV series, in the market context, are able to be outstanding. To fully utilize their roles in ideological direction, the following points are noteworthy.
The first is to keep up with the times. To blend the elements of the era in films and TV series, creators need to have a profound understanding of the history and reality of China, especially the achievements made in the past nearly four decades since the reform and opening up, and people’s ever-progressing lives. The miracle and vitality of the country, the new looks and images of the people can be embodied in the films and TV series by appropriate artistic expressions. Second, authenticity and veracity are also integral to an excellent work. Some films and TV series pursue pure entertainment but lack authenticity and veracity when depicting history.
Some wacky and weird dialogue and characters appear. Many anti-Japanese films devolve into a type of knight-errant fiction in which the enemies are singlehandedly and effortlessly beaten by a Chinese solider. The exaggerated scenes lack artistry and fail to fulfil their social function, which often makes them the target of ridicule.
Third, artistic appeal and impact is another priority. The reason why some patriotic films and TV series are tedious to watch is largely because the characters are stereotyped and oversimplified. Speaking formulaic lines with strong didactic tones, the characters are rigid. The protagonists of the patriotic films and TV series, especially the heroic figures should be genial, down-to-earth and multi-dimensional in personalities. Close to the ordinary people, they thrust themselves forward to face challenges voluntarily and bravely. Radiating great spiritual brilliance and embodying lofty ideals, such characters, moving and true, are able to strike a chord with the audience.
Zhang Sen is an associate professor from the Guangming School of Journalism and Communication at China University of Political Science and Law and is the director of the Public Opinion Research Center at the university.