Is the world ready for a Chinese Rambo?

He’s the special forces soldier taking down his country’s enemies around the world.
He’s an irresistible force of patriotism and violence that leaves a trail of bodies in his wake.
He’s a loose cannon who plays by his own rules.
But he’s not Rambo. He’s Len Feng.
And his latest story – Wolf Warrior 2 – has earned more than $US800 million in China, making it the biggest-grossing Chinese film in history.
It is also the second-biggest movie of all time in a single market after Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
With the Chinese box office rivalling Hollywood’s for the first time ever, Tinseltown is sitting up and paying attention.
Which leads us to ask: is the world ready for a Chinese Rambo?
If you ask the box office, then the answer is emphatically yes. Chinese audiences have enjoyed seeing arrogant Western mercenaries being taken down a peg, particularly chief baddie Big Daddy (Frank Grillo from the Captain America movies).
“Like Sylvester Stallone before him, and John Wayne before Stallone, star Wu Jing (who also directs) has successfully exploited the crowd-pleasing potential of enhancing militaristic action-adventure heroics with a heavy dose of flag-waving patriotism,” says Variety’s Joe Leydon.
On the surface it’s Rambo with a Chinese twist: Hollywood action meets Eastern patriotism in a violent ballet of gunfights, fistfights and tank battles.
Yet Wolf Warrior 2 also tells the story of a rising China, ready to defend its various interests and national pride around the world. The tagline for the poster reads: “Whoever attacks China will be killed no matter how far the target is.”
Not only is Wolf Warrior 2 a sign of the new power of the Chinese movie market, it’s a sign of an increasingly muscular Chinese cinema, eager to project its soft power. In a world where Australia’s Foreign Police White Paper expresses concern with Chinese island building in the South China Sea, China needs a propaganda win.
Looking ahead, one could imagine future movies where China must its send heroes to defend its One Belt One Road investments from possibly Western-themed threats.
But back to Feng.
He has taken the metaphorical baton – or machine gun – from that disillusioned agent of empire, Rambo.
Once Rambo was a symbol of American military assertiveness writ large, fighting its battles by proxy on the big screen.
Rambo transcended his sympathetic origins as a troubled war veteran in First Blood to become an agent of propaganda in Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rambo III, rather shamelessly rewriting history so that America “won” in Vietnam in Part II.
The last time we saw him in 2008’s Rambo he was as tired as the American Empire itself, a victim of age and imperial overreach.
If Western heroes have become less confident and less jingoistic – take a look at Hugh Jackman’s magnificent swansong for Wolverine in Logan – Len Feng has no such problems. Nor does the actor who plays him, Wu Jing: “Why do only foreign nations get to have superheroes?” he told press. “In Hollywood, the hero can take on a whole army. Why can’t my character take on a dozen mercenaries?”
Wolf Warrior 2 also has another message: that we no longer exclusively need white, male Western heroes to save the world.
The trope of the great white saviour is in retreat in popular culture everywhere. Television shows such as The Defenders represent the idea that diversity is strength: that a blind man, a bulletproof African-American and a superpowered female detective can team together to save New York. (We’ll leave out mentioning Iron Fist, Exhibit A in the Western White Saviour/Cultural Appropriation wars).
Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is more than just a role model: she’s a bona fide box-office smash, topping the $800 million mark worldwide.
We finally have, after much fanboy wailing, a female Doctor Who.
Then there’s the rise and rise of multicultural films such as Lion, aka the fifth-biggest Australian film of all time at the local box office.
In such a diverse world, perhaps there is room for a Chinese Rambo.

My military thriller Game Of Killers: The Spartan is out now as an ebook and paperback.

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