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    Flag-Waving Fare Scores Big for China’s Flagging Film Industry

    A trio of nationalistic films cleaned up at the box office Monday as the People’s Republic of China prepared to celebrate its 70th anniversary.

    SHANGHAI – Patriotism dominated the Chinese box office on the eve of the country’s 70th anniversary celebrations Tuesday, as three new films celebrating China’s achievements took in a combined 646 million yuan ($90.3 million) on their first day of release. The flicks’ early success represents a shot in the arm for the country’s struggling domestic film industry, which is increasingly turning to nationalism to lure in moviegoers.

    According to Maoyan, China’s biggest movie ticketing app, the three films — “My People, My Country,” “The Climbers,” and “The Captain,” — accounted for 98.6% of the pre-holiday box office Monday, though they also accounted for 98.7% of total screenings.

    “My People, My Country” came out on top, with 278 million yuan. The movie consists of seven separate stories filmed by seven directors, each of an ordinary person caught up in a key moment of the People’s Republic of China’s history, such as the nation’s founding on Oct. 1, 1949; the handover of Hong Kong on July 1, 1997; and the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The movie’s pre-release marketing highlighted both its patriotic content and its star power, including 1993 Cannes Palme d’Or-winning director Chen Kaige and Wu Jing, star of the popular “Wolf Warrior” film series.

    “The Captain,” directed by Hong Kong-based director Andrew Lau Wai-Keung, finished the day in second with 203 million yuan. Based on a true story, it retells the events of May 14, 2018, when a Sichuan Airlines flight was forced to make an emergency landing after the plane’s cockpit windshield failed at 33,000 feet. Although the plane’s co-pilot was sucked partially out of the cockpit, the captain managed to land the plane with no fatalities.

    “The Climbers,” which features A-listers Zhang Ziyi and Wu Jing and tells the story of the first Chinese to summit Mount Everest, came in third with 164 million yuan.

    The films’ strong box office showings provided a small boost to the country’s flagging film industry. Shanghai-listed Wanda Film Holding Co. Ltd., which had a hand in producing all three movies, closed up 3.94% on Monday, the last trading day before the weeklong holiday, although the company’s stock is still down 21.1% for the year to date.

    Earlier this year, consultancy firm PwC predicted that a combination of more screens and rising ticket prices would make China the world’s largest film market by 2020. But the country’s film industry has spent much of the year mired in a slump, compounded by state licensing delays impacting a number of big-budget projects and a national crackdown on tax evasion within the industry.

    Amid this general chill, patriotic content has emerged as a reliable draw. Although the genre was long derided, Wu Jing’s jingoistic “Wolf Warrior” series helped change this narrative, especially after the second entry in the series earned 5.68 billion yuan at the box office in 2017, making it the highest grossing film in Chinese history. “The Wandering Earth” and “Operation Red Sea” — numbers three and five on the list — were also praised by critics for both their quality and their patriotic message.

    “Before ‘Wolf Warrior 1,’ no one believed in the potential of patriotic films,” internet commentator Zhou Zhiwei wrote on microblogging platform Weibo. “Back then, even naming a film ‘My People, My Country’ would have been box office suicide.”

    Editor: Kilian O’Donnell.

    (Header image: From Weibo)