Mainland China has never been a bastion of award-winning films, in contrast with Hong Kong. While some gems occasionally pop up, such as my perennial favorite My Old Classmate, the vast majority of Chinese films are lackluster and feel more like government propaganda videos than anything else. In particular, China’s war movies are like hour-long recruitment videos for the People’s Liberation Army (“PLA”), and often have confusing plots and unclear story direction. Wu Jing’s Wolf Warriors is one of the more bearable Chinese war movies, with a relatively clear story and impressive film-making. The film stars Wu Jing himself as the main character Sgt. Leng Feng, supported by Yu Nan and Scott Adkins who respectively play strikingly beautiful female PLA officer Long Xiaoyun and the “evil gwai lo” Tomcat who seeks to violate China’s sovereignty.
The characters could not be any more stereotypical — Wolf Warriors begins with a drug raid in China where Sgt. Leng, a crack sharpshooter, disobeys orders to kill a drug lord. For his insubordination, he is sent to the elite “Wolf Warriors” squad, where upon his arrival he is greeted by an impressive array of what appears to be all of China’s mechanized infantry vehicles. They quickly take part in a training exercise against Sgt. Leng’s former platoon, but the exercise is ambushed by Tomcat, who was hired by a Golden Triangle drug lord who happened to be the brother of the drug lord Sgt. Leng shot in the fateful drug raid.
Plenty of bullets and explosions entail, but the most amusing parts of the film come when the military leadership give rousing speeches about how China’s borders are the “most sacred place”, all the while soldiers put on “I FIGHT FOR CHINA” arm patches in preparation for combat. While I question the realism of a couple of mercenaries taking down hundreds of Chinese soldiers by setting up copious Claymore mines in a dense forest, it was amusing to see the sometimes provincial Chinese portrayal of the white devil harkening back to the days of the Cultural Revolution. The ex-Navy SEAL Tomcat–who speaks with a slight British accent — is the epitome of a G.I. Joe villain, and serves as a great foil to Sgt. Leng, who can only be characterized as the Communist Party’s ideal of a Chinese G.I. Joe (perhaps, “Compatriot Chen”?). The broader plot point of an ethnically-Chinese drug lord smuggling Chinese blood samples across the border to develop viruses that only affect Chinese people (assuming that he himself would be affected too) is laughably bad story-writing.
In no small part to its revolutionary and patriotic spirit, Wolf Warriors was able to edge out the number-one spot in Chinese box offices over the Qing Ming festival weekend, pushing out global blockbusters like Kingsman. I have to admit that at times Wolf Warriors seemed like a comedy to me; the weak story coupled with bizarre yet expectedly-Chinese plot devices made Wolf Warriors somewhat of a ridiculous propaganda film. If one approaches Wolf Warriors with the right attitude, one might even consider it a comedy.
Wolf Warriors (Chinese: 战狼)—China. Directed by Wu Jing. First released April 2015. Running time 1hr 30min. Starring Wu Jing, Yu Nan, and Ni Dahong.