On July 27, military action film Wolf Warrior 2 roared into Chinese mainland theaters wowing audiences with its fast-paced action scenes. Quickly breaking one box-office record after another, the film is currently the highest-earning film in mainland history with a total of 5.67 billion yuan (2 million), as well as the fifth-highest earning film in 2017 with a worldwide gross of 0 million, according to box-office tracker Box Office Mojo. The film has been an undeniable success for the Chinese film industry, yet its selection to compete against 91 other films in the Best Foreign-Language Film category at the 90th Academy Awards has been somewhat controversial.
In the end only five of the 92 films will be short-listed for the award.
Some people have applauded the news, while others have speculated that the choice was politically motivated. Another group has argued that there is no need for China to seek approval from the Oscars, as the values the award represents are very US centric.
A question of worth
A sequel to 2015's Wolf Warrior, Wolf Warrior 2 follows Leng Feng, a former Chinese special forces soldier, as he tries to protect Chinese and local civilians in an African country after a rebellion breaks out.
A summer box-office surprise, the film has been the center of debate over the past few months. While both audiences and film critics admitted the action scenes were top notch, many found the straightforward way the film sang China's praises and its calls for patriotism a bit over the top.
The film's performance in the global market only fueled debate about the film.
For example, Wolf Warrior 2 received a 70 percent freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but its average rating on the site was only a 5.5/10. On IMDB the film is polarizing, with some reviews calling the film "the best action/war movie in Chinese movie history," while other reviews are more critical, such as one writer who posted, "I believed the over-the-top exaggerated claims of its greatness and came out feeling like I had wasted two hours of my life that I can't get back."
Amid discussion of the film's Oscar worthiness, a few media outlets have pointed out that considering the qualifications a film needs to meet for the Foreign-Language Film category, Wolf Warrior 2 might be China's most suitable choice.
"Though Wolf Warrior 2 is not perfect, there are not many other films that match the Oscar application demands," entertainment blog Yule Yingtang commented, adding that Wolf Warrior 2 is one of the few Chinese films that captured global attention.
The blog further pointed out that the question everyone should be talking about is not whether Wolf Warrior 2 will benefit from its association with the Oscars, which is widely seen in China as an authority on film, but how the Oscars will benefit from Wolf Warrior 2.
"For the past several years, the 'highly valued' Oscars have been losing viewers, while it has also been embroiled in political issues and problems concerning diversity," it said.
This has led some Wolf Warrior 2 fans to wonder if the film will end up giving the Oscars a much-needed boost.
History of controversy
This is not the first time that a Chinese mainland Oscar contender, which is chosen by the State, has stirred up controversy.
For example, last year's choice of historical drama Xuan Zang left many scratching their heads as the film only has a 5.4/10 on Chinese film site Mtime and 5.2/10 on Chinese media review site Douban and only earned 33 million yuan at the box office.
Romance comedy Go Away Mr. Tumor, which was the choice for 2015, was a critical and commercial success, but still came under fire for not being deep enough.
While the selection process is not public, entertainment blog Yule Zibenlun summarized three factors that it believes Chinese officials consider when selecting Oscar contenders: The film must be well-known to the general public, must present Chinese society and life in China, and must have political value, a factor which far outweighs a film's artistic value.
The importance of these factors have fluctuated over the years, leading to some interesting trends.
In the 1980s and 1990s, films depicting the lives of common people, such as Hibiscus Town (1986) and Story of Qiu Ju (1992), were the State's No.1 choices. However, after Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon won several Oscars, this kicked off a golden age for period action dramas like Hero (2002), The Promise (2005) and The City of Golden Armor (2006). The second half of 2000s saw a turn to more realist films such as Aftershock (2010) and Back to 1942 (2012).
More recent years have seen Chinese officials stray away from big name directors. For example, Go Away Mr. Tumor's director, Yan Han, was still a new name and Wolf Warrior 2 was Wu's second directorial outing.