Shanghai (AFP) - A flag-waving Chinese action film depicting the country's soldiers saving war-ravaged Africans from Western baddies soared to become China's all-time top box-office earner Tuesday, headlining a summer of patriotic cinematic fare.
The wildly popular "Wolf Warriors 2" boasts the ominous tagline "whoever offends China will be hunted down no matter how far away they are", and millions of Chinese cinema-goers have lapped it up since the movie's release less than two weeks ago.
The blockbuster has raked in more than 3.4 billion yuan ($500 million) since debuting on July 27, according to unofficial China box-office trackers Maoyan, a leading ticket merchant, and other industry tallies.
The movie's phenomenal success launched it past "The Mermaid", a China-Hong Kong fantasy comedy released last year that grossed 3.39 billion and had held the record, according to Maoyan and Chinese media.
Replete with special effects, stunts and explosions to rival Hollywood, "Wolf Warriors 2" tells the story of a Chinese former special forces operative's foray into an unnamed African war zone to rescue compatriots and downtrodden locals from rebels and war-mongering Western mercenaries.
The privately funded movie, which lasts just over two hours, is riding a wave of patriotic fervour drummed up by the ruling Communist Party.
It also comes soon after China opened a naval base in Djibouti, a major step in the country's expanding military presence abroad. The facility in the Horn of Africa nation is China's first overseas naval base.
However, not all patriotic Chinese films this season have enjoyed such rave reviews.
"The Founding of an Army", which chronicles the origins of the People's Liberation Army, has better-known actors but has been panned by critics, movie-goers and even families of a number of Chinese revolutionary heroes.
The film's release has coincided with the 90th anniversary of the PLA's founding on August 1, which was accompanied by celebrations and wall-to-wall media coverage.
- 'Inspired' -
"Wolf" has gobbled up the competition, also smashing single-day earnings records even though the summer is traditionally a slower season for cinemas than Lunar New Year holidays that typically land in January or February.
It is directed by martial arts expert Wu Jing, who also plays the lead role of Leng Feng, and its ending sets the stage for a likely third installment. The first film had nothing like the success of the sequel.
State media has jumped on the bandwagon, with the Global Times -- which often takes a strident nationalist tone -- calling the film "a phenomenon".
"It inspired its audience enormously, so much so that many viewers said on social media that they would want to join the army," it purred.
Adding to the glut of on-screen flag-waving, cinemas across China have been ordered since July 1 to show short clips promoting "core socialist values" and President Xi Jinping's "Chinese dream" political credo before each film.
Two of the public-service adverts, which last a few minutes a piece, were shown before a screening of "Wolf Warriors 2" at the Shanghai Film Art Centre at the weekend, ensuring the packed theatre got a healthy dose of chest-thumping patriotism.
Many Chinese movie-goers say the success of "Wolf" is due not only to its unmistakeable message about China's rising military might but also to its quality action sequences, pulse-racing stunts, and acting.
Traditionally, Chinese films have relied more on star names and good looks than acting -- a criticism levelled at "Founding" -- and been weighed down by weak storylines.
"Just finished watching Wolf, I could feel the blood pulsing through my veins! I love our peaceful country free of war, love our powerful home country China!" was one typical message on Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter.