Recent years have seen a trend for big military movies. Whether it was last year’s British hit Dunkirk, starring movie newcomer Harry Styles, or 2014’s American Sniper, featuring Bradley Cooper as a US Navy SEAL, it’s common to see heroes fighting for their countries on the big screen.
But even though we’re used to seeing patriotic Western soldiers saving the world, Chinese filmmakers are also showing that they have heroes of their own that they want to share with the audience.
Operation Red Sea, a military action movie that came out last month in Chinese cinemas, has grabbed headlines across the country, from newspapers to social media.
The film tells the story of a mission carried out by the Chinese Navy’s special forces team to rescue Chinese citizens and foreign nationals from a fictional Middle East country. Operation Red Sea is based on the real-life evacuation that happened during Yemen’s civil war in 2015.
In fact, the evacuation was the first time the Chinese military helped evacuate foreigners during an international crisis. “China’s participation in these evacuation efforts in Yemen is the latest example of the People’s Liberation Army attempting to forge goodwill and a positive image for itself by aiding other countries,” The Diplomat magazine noted.
Despite China’s increasing overseas missions, many Chinese people may have thought that the Chinese military only dealt with disaster rescues and public security within Chinese borders. However, the success of Operation Red Sea has added a new dimension to the public’s perception. “As China moves out into intervention in territories beyond its own borders, it stands to reason, like Hollywood before it, that its films should reflect that reality,” US journalist Jonathan Landreth wrote.
These cultural products “will further enhance public expectations and support for China’s military actions abroad, and a more active role for China in the international community as a responsible shareholder”, Chinese journalist Qiu Zhibo wrote in the Global Times.
Yet, Operation Red Sea isn’t the first movie to receive direct support from the Chinese military, which provided real arms and equipment to the film’s makers. Last year’s hit Wolf Warrior 2 received full support from the military too, according to Sina News. And Sky Hunter, also released in 2017, was co-produced by the Chinese Air Force, China.org.cn reported.
The Chinese military’s willingness to show its latest arms and equipment is due to the fact that “the comprehensive national strength of China has risen by a large margin and in some aspects even surpasses other leading powers”, Chinese naval expert Li Jie told the Global Times.