(Yicai Global) Aug. 3 -- In 2015, Wu Jing directed Wolf Warriors -- China’s first domestically-made 3D action movie in China -- as the movie’s scriptwriter and one of its actors. Wu spent seven years producing this film, rejected invitations for four major films, and mortgaged his house to subsidize production costs. His risk-taking finally earned its due reward, however: Wolf Warriors became the dark horse that year, with its box office reaching USD78.75 million (CNY525 million), although it lacked powerful IP, a star-studded line-up or optimistic forecasts.
Two years on, Wu has now raised the curtain on a sequel -- Wolf Warriors 2 -- which not only introduces Hollywood production teams, but also involves overseas settings. The box office from Wolf Warriors 2 is much more staggering: surpassing CNY100 million in four hours, CNY300 million in 25 hours, and exceeding CNY1 billion only five days after release to make it the biggest winner in the summer movie season.
Wolf Warriors 2 also stormed silver screens worldwide over the weekend, snagging USD50 million more than Christopher Nolan’s new work Dunkirk.
Wolf Warriors 2 again used the tagline from its prequel – ‘Anyone invading China will inevitably be punished, no matter how great the distance is’ -- and was also released in the run-up to Army Day (August 1), when the public feels more patriotic.
Female viewers dominate the film market, but the Wolf Warriors series has attracted more male audiences. As of July 31, 54.8 percent of moviegoers wanting to watch Wolf Warriors 2 are male, data from film industry surveys show.
Without teaming up with screen idols that would naturally boost popularity, the movie only has one competitive advantage to attract the public, to wit its visual scenes which are on a par with Hollywood’s. Wu enlisted Sam Hargrave -- the action director of Captain America: Civil War, and the underwater photography team of Pirates of the Caribbean -- to join in the production. In this movie, the production level of action scenes like explosions and tank battles, which are of highest appeal to male audiences, has greatly improved.
Q = CBN Weekly
W = Wu Jing
Q: Why did you want to produce such stories as Wolf Warriors? This type of film was not very attractive in China before.
W: There are three Wolf Warriors films in my plan, all with the theme of defending national territory, pioneering new frontiers and wandering, respectively. I wrote the stories to realize my dream. When I started writing the story in 2008, a neutral esthetic was popular in society, and the social atmosphere, including atmosphere in the show business, was depressed. I felt confused as well. I wanted to show the world that Chinese people are tough. At that time, , though, there was no such film in China. I had to find standards and limits by myself. I had no reference points, so I revised the screenplay dozens of times. After all, we must protect justice and truth within our territory.
The screenplay for Wolf Warriors 2 was written before shooting began on Wolf Warriors 1. However, the screenplay was greatly adjusted, with eras, weapons, policies and countries being different, but with the constant spirit running throughout never changing. From the consciousness of a strong country and army, I can show my respect to older generation soldiers via this film, and tell young Chinese that we are valiant, but just live in an era of peace.
Q: This film has a heightened risk factor. What are the differences between the production teams in this film and the first one?
W: We have the US and Hong Kong teams. I want these two teams to compete. I convey my requirements, and they offer me the best plan. I am familiar with the Hong Kong team. It takes charge of shot points and wiring, and guarantees the safety of actors and actresses. The US team has their own methods for driving and war scenes which impose higher requirements on the film industry. I invited the action director of Captain America. He said to me, “I see your ambition. This level is rare in Hollywood, but I have no idea whether we can realize what you want in China because it needs powerful support, but I will do my best to help you.”
I tried many new skills in this film, such as ‘one take.’ Actually, I rejected one take earlier because I think such skills may lose many details in an actor’s performance. It is also difficult for cameramen in linkage, arrangement and cooperation.
Q: How did you do that six-minute one-take action scene underwater? I heard that you'd been shooting it for over half a month.
W: No one can perform in an action scene underwater for two minutes, but I would like to challenge what others have not done. If I cannot make it, I'll break it down. It now appears that such a life-and-death experience is the great fortune of my life. A long time ago, director Yuan Heping told me that as an actor, you should always ask yourself if you are ready or not. You should always grow your abilities and let all your skills be in your hands. Don’t realize that they are helpful just on the day of shooting. So I learned diving in 1998. I used to take part in racing teams, and then I learned how to ski and shoot, and studied tanks. All these saved me a lot of time.
We invited the underwater photographer who shot the Pirates of the Caribbean. He is a master of free diving. More importantly, he is skillful at using the camera to bridge the gaps between actors. Shooting underwater is not like swimming as you can imagine. I couldn’t wear glasses, and I had to hold my breath from the beginning to the end. None of us, including five actors, the photographer and the underwater deputy director, had a breathing apparatus. Five lifeguards were next to us.
One problem we encountered was that in the story we had five people underwater, but there were more than 10 groups of bubbles. How could we avoid the extra bubbles? From the photographer’s perspective, how could he help my partner kick faster than me, avoid me and pick up my actions? All these things were technically difficult. So I'm very grateful to him. He’s really superb.
Q: Wolf Warriors 1 flopped with critics, but brought in CNY500 million at box offices. With the success of Wolf Warriors 1, aside from combating potentially diminishing returns, what other major problems did you encounter while shooting Wolf Warriors 2?
W: After the success of Wolf Warriors 1, I wanted more. Love, vision, war and violence -- I wanted them all. So as a director, I had more influence on picking and choosing. In addition, the crew members of Wolf Warriors 2 were from a dozen countries, so it would have been easy for us to have security problems if communication was not smooth. When I went to the slums of Africa, I was escorted by four people. Locals there won’t accept you until you communicate with them. You could be robbed, or have a gun pointing at your head, at any time. I survived from June 19 last year to April 16 this year, and I am very happy that I finally came back alive.
One more thing, the audience will have even higher hopes for the second movie after watching the first. The Chinese audience’s expectations have been raised by high-level Hollywood war films, and you can’t fool them. Telling your story using technical means and making the audience feel happy and satisfied is a science. Chinese films, in particular, cannot completely depend on big data, because the audience may change dramatically every 3 to 5 years. There are many unknowns about how to focus on the growth of young people and changes in their mentality. But it's because of unknowns that filmmaking is fun. We don’t make movies for things such as box office numbers and rate of return. Movies are not predictable like financial and investment markets.
Q: Since Wolf Warriors 1 was a success, did you still have pressure to find money?
W: Yes, of course. The budget was CNY80 million originally, but was bumped up to CNY200 million eventually due to serious overspending. The scheduled shooting cycle was 4 months, 120 days. Despite my expectations, just the portion of the filming done in China took 137 days. Plus, we had so many difficulties in Africa. The overspending was beyond my imagination. But I think it will be worth it, because no Chinese crew had done anything like that and no Chinese war film had gone international. We were the first. As a director, I was very lucky to have such an experience, but as a producer, it was wrong to be over time always. I am not a competent director. I can only say that I am a director who has requirements for himself.
We are too tired from shooting this film and I’m afraid I will not do it again. Especially in war scenes, I suffered great mental stress. I was especially afraid of others getting injured. Many people worked hard for this film. I would feel sorry for any safety problem. One might neglect performance details when directing and performing simultaneously. But fortunately, I just needed to play myself in this film. I don’t want to direct other films.
Q: You fought with Frank Grillo, who played a villain in Captain America, in this film. What do you think about the fight between Westerners and Chinese? Did you use doubles?
W: Actions are the same, and are an international language. I can say I worked hard enough and dared to fight. Actually, the Hollywood actors do not allow punching in the face, but Chinese action actors pursue real fighting. If I used a double, the audiences would be buying tickets to see substitutes -- not me, and I would be replaced.
Aside from that, it is easy to make mistakes using a double, and it generates many problems for the cameramen. Moreover, I am pretty confident in my actions. I can finish actions I designed. I had to finish the actions with the emotions of Wu Jing so that I could touch audiences in the most authentic way. The process flow of the US team was fixed and it is normal for them to use doubles, which is good for actors. They needed the actors to train in advance, and all the people exercised together and cooperated with each other so that the shooting could be smooth and convenient. They needed to follow an industrial standard, while we were always making changes on the site. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages.
Q: We saw many heavy weapons in the film. What preparations did you make when shooting those scenes?
W: Among Chinese weapons, the most frequently used weapon was the T-59 tank and it is still used in modern baffle fields. It is a first-generation legendary weapon in China. We have a complex about it. I added some things in this film, such as tank drifting, explosions, turnovers and collisions. I really drove a tank to bump into another one.
We used ten tanks during shooting. We also used two for explosions. To command a tank, you must learn how to drive it. You should know its functions, advantages, disadvantages and steering range, and must learn manipulation methods as well as how to maintain distance from other tanks and how to command tanks using unified communication modes to generate the same effect at the same time. You need to learn before you can command uniformly. Sometimes we were short-handed on site. I asked our assistant director to drive the tank while controlling the cannon to show its grandness. We needed to spend time to learn for all that.
Q: What was your strongest feeling during the shooting?
W: The investors’ confidence doubled due to Wolf Warriors 1’s achievements. I was able to get more resources to use many heavy weapons in this film.
Actually, I never thought about what the film could do for China’s film industry. I saw many insufficiencies in China’s film industry. Our labor division is not segmented enough, and unprofessional employees are common in the industry. After bubbles formed in the film industry last year, Director Feng Xiaogang said China needs more technical schools for films. It’s true. China’s professional employees were enough for the previous output of the Chinese film industry. With the increase in output, many unprofessional employees came on the scene.
We don’t have a lot of modern military and war films, so many resources may have been wasted. We paid a lot for communication issues and repeat mistakes. We worked with the US team and learned a lot from them about explosion safety, wind direction control and underwater safety measures. In this film, some new film workers were cultivated, and they can shoot more military films in a safer way.
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