Nationalists slam Nolan’s WWII blockbuster over ‘historical nihilism’

By Zhang Yiqian Source:Global Times Published: 2017/9/18 18:03:39

Political leanings leave Chinese movie-goers poles apart over Dunkirk's value

After movie Dunkirk premiered in China, it aroused controversy among some netizens. Some people are also comparing this film to Wolf Warrior 2, saying both films focused on the theme of heroism but expressed entirely different sentiments.

Some commentators are calling to focus on the film itself and overlook such sentiments. There were also some who said the two films should not be compared, because the different themes expressed in the two films reflect the different desires of two countries and their people in international relations, due to their different statuses.

Allied soldiers line up for retreat in the film Dunkirk. Photo: VCG

Since the release of Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk in China at the beginning of this month, the film has been the subject of both praise and controversy. The movie's box office takings reached 57 million yuan ($8.7 million) on its opening day and 76 million yuan the following day, making it the most-viewed film in China over the weekend it was released in.

Dunkirk depicts the retreat of Allied soldiers from the UK, France and Belgium under Nazi Germany's encirclement in 1940 during World War II. While many were touched by the way the film shows the plight of ordinary men, some are debating the content and comparing it to the Chinese film Wolf Warrior 2 which has a similar theme but portrayed in a very different way.

Boycotting Dunkirk

Wang Fang, the wife of famous nationalist writer Zhou Xiaoping, wrote an article on WeChat last week blasting the film.

"In recent years, China has been extremely tolerant of the world, especially the West … it let in all sorts of foreign films, even if those films included ideological invasions," the article began by saying.

It went on to call Dunkirk a film of severe historical nihilism that glorified the British army while ignoring the efforts of the Chinese people on the battlefield.

Wang wrote that more than 100,000 Chinese expeditionary army soldiers served as a human shield in Myanmar for the British evacuation while the British army hid in India, and even intentionally destroyed all canned foods and gas. In order to escape, the Chinese expeditionary army had to walk into the wilderness, losing many men as a result.

"Now the British are washing themselves clean through this film, twisting history, annihilating history, glorifying themselves and downplaying Chinese soldiers at the same time. Shouldn't we boycott it?" the article went on to say.

Zhou Xiaoping told the Global Times he supports his wife in boycotting the film. "Even though we say movies have no borders, moviegoers do," he said.

The article resulted in massive controversy on the Internet. The viewpoint was seconded by many, who said Dunkirk didn't deserve the praise it had received because of its inaccurate portrayal of historical events. But many also said it was just a film, and viewers shouldn't take it so seriously.

One Chinese netizen who recently watched the film told the Global Times he thought it was nonsense to dismiss Dunkirk's values.

"If you are saying the film glorifies strategic failure and evacuation, then you've not really understood the film. The whole point is about how the little people can survive war and how much they yearn for peace," he said.

"It was never about presenting historical events or debating who contributed more in a war," he added.

Liushenleilei, a popular liberal WeChat blogger, responded to Wang's piece by calling it the "stupidest article all year." He wrote that if the movie actually mentioned the efforts of Chinese soldiers, then it would indeed be historical nihilism. Furthermore, he accuses the article of stirring up nationalist sentiments in order to win readers' approval as well as their money.

Previously, the film also drew controversy when people found out the word "home" in the subtitle was translated as "zuguo" (motherland).

Some viewers and movie critics criticized the translation as being too political, while others argued that "home" in that historical context can also mean "motherland."


Forced comparison

In addition to the criticism, the film is also being widely compared to a hit Chinese film that came out a month ago. Wolf Warrior 2, about a former Chinese special forces soldier's fight against western mercenaries, became wildly popular last month amid praise and rising nationalist sentiment.

Wolf Warrior 2, which became China's top grossing film ever over the last month, comes with the tagline, "Whoever invades China will be hunted down no matter the distance." Many of the film's supporters say the motto shows the strength and positive attitude China adopts in protecting its national sovereignty.

A search on the Internet makes it clear that most media outlets and forums are using the comparison of the two films to attract attention.

One forum discussion segment on CGTN states that "Both films explore heroism; however, the fictional Wolf Warrior 2 depicts a complete victory, while historical Dunkirk shows a successful retreat." The official Weibo site of movie guide site Mtime used the comparison as a hook to gain more comments, asking, "Honestly speaking, which one is better suited for your appetite, Wolf Warrior 2 or Dunkirk?" This Weibo post attracted nearly 1,000 comments.

In the Weibo post of another media outlet with a similar question, a few netizens commented, "One makes you thirst for war, the other makes you hate war and want peace. Which is better?" "They express two different world views, there's no need to compare."

But this is not the attitude of some of the more feverish Wolf Warrior 2 supporters. Many have already started commenting online, "How do they dare to film something about evacuation, about running away? They leave most of the land to the enemy." "I will go see Wolf Warrior 2 again." Most feel that the right way to make a film about war is to show an ultimate victory, or at least feverish fighting and resistance, instead of evacuation and later "glorifying it as saving strength and strategic retreat."

There were some critics who said Wolf Warrior 2 and Dunkirk should not be compared, and that the different world views of these films reflect the different mindsets of people in the two countries.

Sophia Zhu, film producer at a Beijing-based online video streaming giant, told the Global Times that she has watched both films and she's a loyal fan of Dunkirk. She understands that these two films are being compared due to their similar themes, but said there's nothing to compare.

"War is hell and trying to survive is not necessarily a failure. I think this is the fundamental principle of Nolan's film. The difference between these two movies is crystal clear. Nolan tried his very best to surround his audience with chaos and horror from the outset, to experience the war as it is. However, Wolf Warrior 2 is more about winning and kicking ass, it is a copy of a Hollywood superhero movie, only this time, it is a Chinese guy who saves the world," she said. "Dunkirk transcends the petty and narrow ideas of nationalism. It is about humanity, about fragile individuals' fear and willingness to survive in the war."

Luanchuan, a film commentator, wrote for that "They are both about rescue and evacuation, both have heroes and the heroic acts are connected to their countries. However, Wolf Warrior 2 felt the need to establish the glory of the concept of 'homeland' through an absolute victory, and needed a strong young male protagonist to guarantee that in the end victory would come … compared with Dunkirk . That's obviously a different mindset."

He went on to say that because China is on the rise, the desire to publicize national strength and prestige makes people want to shout out that we are finally on our feet, we are finally strong.

"While Britain is considering how to get out of a relationship, China is considering how to further extend our diplomatic relations. A country on the rise of course needs a strong voice to declare sovereignty. Wu Jing (director of Wolf Warrior 2) won audience acclaim and box office success when he accidentally hit the bullseye and stepped on that theme, but Dunkirk provided another possibility: a homeland that can accept and digest failure."

Agencies contributed to this story

Newspaper headline: Battle at the box office

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