A sequel to the 2015 hit Wolf Warrior opened across the Chinese mainland on July 27 and raked in 1.7 billion yuan ($253 million) in five days, making it the highest-grossing movie in July. Xu Fan reports.
It was a real-life adventure in Africa for him. At a recent event in Beijing, Wu Jing speaks of his experiences while working on the military-themed movie Wolf Warrior 2. He saw colleagues bitten by spiders, acted with lions and nearly drowned at sea.
The movie, a sequel to the 2015 hit Wolf Warrior, opened across the Chinese mainland on July 27. It raked in 1.7 billion yuan ($253 million) in five days, and was the highest-grossing movie in July.
The popular review portal Douban.com gives it 7.5 points out of 10 thanks to its action sequences.
The film, which features Wu in multiple roles besides director and star, is set in an unnamed African country facing a civil war.
Wu plays Leng Feng, a former Chinese special forces operative, who fights a US mercenary and his bloodthirsty soldiers.
The cast includes Hong Kong actress Celina Jade and US action star Frank Grillo, who is known for his role as Crossbones in Captain America movies.
For Wu, the movie is a dream project.
The former martial arts champion shot to prominence with kung fu productions, such as the 1999 TV series, Legend of Dagger Lee, directed by Hong Kong filmmaker Yuen Woo-ping, and two crime thrillers－SPL: Sha Po Lang and SPL 2: A Time For Consequences.
But Wu, who was then seen as an heir to the legacy of China's action superstars like Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Donnie Yen, wanted to go beyond just fighting on screen.
So, after co-directing the 2008 thriller Legendary Assassin with Hong Kong filmmaker Li Chung-chi, Wu began working on the Wolf Warrior idea. He was inspired by reports about Chinese peacekeeping missions and efforts to evacuate Chinese who were caught up in wartorn areas overseas.
"When I watched news clips of these events, I felt proud of China," says the 43-year-old.
Wu says he was then disappointed with Chinese showbiz for favoring only young pop idols.
So, he wanted to change the discourse and make films based on Chinese soldiers.
After the Wenchuan earthquake in Southwest China's Sichuan province in 2008, Wu volunteered to help. There he saw Chinese soldiers risking their lives to rescue survivors.
"After that, I wanted to showcase the kindness, wit, courage and sacrifice of Chinese soldiers," he says.
Wu had to make the first Wolf Warrior movie mainly with his own money because very few potential investors believed that a military-themed movie could become a commercial success in 2008.
But thanks to word-of-mouth praise, the first movie became a hit in 2015, bringing in nearly 550 million yuan.
Then, with a bigger budget for the second movie, Wu led his crew from more than 10 countries and regions to Africa to make Wolf Warrior 2, the first Chinese military-themed movie shot in that continent.
The crew also went to Iceland to film some scenes, a possible indicator of what will come next.
"We went to several African countries," Wu says. "And the experiences there were more thrilling than what you see in the movie."
As for his reactions to the unexpected events, he says: "I was stressed, but not scared. All these are unique experiences."
Speaking about what he learned from working with foreigners, he says he learned a lot about action sequences, including safety.
The movie used 12 tanks, two helicopter props and more than 100 cars.
Some cutting-edge weapons and vessels are also seen, such as a Type 052D guided-missile destroyer.
Giving his take on the future, Wu says: "As of now, China has few such military movies. We are still exploring the genre and hope to raise the bar."