China’s ‘State-Sponsored’ War Movie – The Battle At Lake Changjin Emerges As A Blockbuster; Media Calls It Historically Dubious

With The Battle at Lake Changjin – China has made a new record for itself, one that has often been monopolized by Hollywood. In what has startled many sections, a Chinese war film has become the biggest blockbuster of 2021, outpacing the latest James Bond movie featuring Daniel Craig.

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However, the twist to this achievement is that the film, titled Battle at Lake Changjin, has been received with a pinch of salt and called a propaganda piece by various sections.

The Battle of Lake Changjin is an epic war film commissioned by the Communist Party of China and reportedly the most expensive film that has ever been created in the country, with a budget of about $200 million, as reported by The Indian Express.

According to Box Office Mojo, it has grossed $889.5 million (Rs 6682 crores approximately).

Battle of Lake Changjin
A poster of Battle of Lake Changjin. (via Twitter)

With $822 million, another Chinese production company Hi, Mom comes in second at the box office, followed by Daniel Craig’s final James Bond movie, No Time to Die, which has earned $758 million so far.

Even though China has been a booming market for international films, it is the first time that a Chinese homegrown production has outperformed Hollywood movies.

It has been reported that no Hollywood movie has been screened in China after 2019 Spider-Man: Far From Home. Even a film like Shang-Chi which was made keeping the Chinese audience in mind did not see the light of day in the country.

China’s regulation and censorship of American films gave this propaganda film a fertile ground to find popularity among its own domestic audience.

Directed by Chen Kaige, Tsui Hark and Dante Lam, and starring Wu Jing and Jackson Yee in lead roles, the film is being touted as a mere propaganda movie, less of a piece of entertainment and more like a front of the ongoing geopolitical conflict between China and the US, according to The Indian Express.

The Battle at Lake Changjin

The film has received widespread condemnation by the United States for showing the country in poor light, and through a lens of weakness.

A Chinese propaganda film depicting the US Army’s defeat has become the country’s all-time highest-grossing film. Since its premiere on September 30, the three-hour war epic The Battle at Lake Changjin has grossed a remarkable $892 million in the communist country, said the New York Post.

With $882 million in box office receipts, it has now eclipsed the 2017 action film, Wolf Warrior II, which previously held the record for China’s highest-grossing film.

The film shows the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, a military campaign that took place during the Korean War. The 17-day battle occurred in late 1950, shortly after the People’s Republic of China joined the war in support of North Korea.

This was the first battle ever in the Cold War era where the American and Chinese troops faced off against each other officially.

The Korean War resulted in the bifurcation of Korea into two parts — the republican South and the Communist North. However, it also drew permanent cracks in the US-China relations, which have become starker in the past few years.

The film celebrates the valor of the Chinese troops showing how despite the odds, 120,000 Chinese troops encircled and attacked US forces and allies.

While the Americans were eventually able to escape, they were forced to leave the area, effectively ending their presence in North Korea. Critics have pointed out that the film just fictionalizes a major battle from the Korean War as means of anti-American propaganda.

It has been hailed as a turning point in the battle which eventually led to North Korea retaining its independence from the South as well as the United States, which intended to unify the entire mainland under the Republican leadership.

Not just the US, the media of its allied countries also disapproved of the Chinese film. British newspaper The Guardian went so far as to say that “China’s costliest film ever is a sporadically thrilling, historically dubious account of a Korean war standoff, with all the subtlety of a rocket launcher”.

Overall, cinema has emerged as a tool of propaganda almost in every corner of the world. Hollywood is said to have long monopolized the craft. With the combination of a booming market and censorship of American films, there is huge potential for further glamorizing propaganda and earning huge dividends.