Alright, kiddies, it's time for some box office numbers:

1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens: $936,662,22 (winter 2015-2016)
2. Avatar: $749,766,139 (winter 2009-2010)
3. Wolf Warrior II: $679,495,519 (as of 13 August, 2017)

What we have there are the three largest single-territory grosses in the history of worldwide box office. The first two of those numbers come from the United States/Canada; the third is from China. Wolf Warrior II is a fucking massive film; at the time I write this, somewhat less than a month into its Chinese box office run, it's setting records just by virtue of existing. It will end up being, by an extraordinarily large margin, the most successful film ever to be produced outside of the USA/UK, and it will probably do it without clearing $4 million in North America.*

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what they call a sea change.

Okay, so it's definitely early to call it a "sea change", but it's certainly worthy of serious attention. One of the main strategies of the American film industry right now rests entirely on being able to extract massive box office returns from the Chinese market, currently the world's third-largest, and on pace to replace North America at #2 one of these years (India is comfortably the world's largest film market, but that largely doesn't matter for this conversation). Implicit in that strategy is that Hollywood can make movies for Chinese viewers better than the ones the Chinese can make for themselves, and thereby manage to dominate that country's film marketplace as fully as it has dominated its own backyard these past 100 and some years. I cannot predict the future any more than any of you, but I know that if I was a big-deal Hollywood executive, I would be shitting kittens at the Wolf Warrior II numbers.

This is all important, and to me at least, fascinating in its own right, but it's also worth pointing out that the industrial narrative of Wolf Warrior II is sort of reinforced within the film's own plot. I have not seen the original Wolf Warrior from 2015 (the sequel provides us with ample backstory, certainly enough to make sense of the film on its own), but my sense is that it has nothing at all to do with the scenario here, which finds ex-special forces soldier Leng Feng (Wu Jing, who also directs and co-writes) dishonorably discharged and imprisoned for stirring up a fight against the shady developers trying to tear down a small village. Two years later, he has arrived in Africa to work as a security agent (presumably on the east coast of the continent, but this is very much one of those "Africa is a country" type deals), and this is where he finds himself enmeshed in a local coup. Several Chinese nationals are trapped in a hospital many kilometers into the wild, including a high-value medical doctor with knowledge pertaining to the plague afflicting the country, and Leng Feng immediately and with no thought of his own safety takes on the suicide mission to rescue the doctor, as well as all of the Chinese and African workers at a Chinese-owned factory even further into the wild.

It's maybe even clear just from that summary, but Wolf Warrior II is madly in love with the model of American action films from the 1980s, the one where some brave soul journeys beyond enemy lines in some war-ravaged third-world country to save the day. And I'm happy to go back to that, because Wolf Warrior II is a pretty fucking great '80s action film, but first let's spend a minute talking about geopolitics. All those '80s films, implicitly and occasionally explicitly, were about the might of American heroism, full of red-blooded Yanks (sometimes Yanks with Austrian or Belgian accents) saving the day where nobody else could. This is a lesson that Wolf Warrior II happily replicates, and it falls firmly in the "explicitly" camp: it's stated outright in dialogue that the U.S. Marines have already turned tail and run, and there's nobody left but the Chinese military to save those poor helpless Africans. There are some differences: Leng Feng is working as part of a group of heroes, some more reluctant than others, rather than simply muscling on through as a lone wolf. One difference, then. Anyway, the notion of an action epic where the explicit message is, "with American power and influence on the wane, it will fall to China to serve as the world's policeman," is wholly fascinating, particularly when that selfsame action epic is doing the kind of box office that this one is.

Not that I imagine that Chinese audiences are flocking to it because of its political message, any more than American audiences were probably thinking about the Cold War implications of those '80s movies (okay, they were probably thinking about politics with Rambo: First Blood, Part II and Rambo III, but I doubt very much they were with, say, Commando). Truth be told, I'm not sure what in Wolf Warrior II justifies this level of box office success (see also: Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Avatar, two-thirds of the other films to have ever passed $400 million in the U.S.), but it's nothing if not a rollicking ol' crowd-pleaser. The film is happily stupid, presenting explosions and wildly over-the-top action and violence with a proper showman's flair; I don't have it in my to call Wu a great director, and I frankly think that the editing by Cheung Ka-Fai is a confused mess at some points, but what the film lacks in visual clarity and elegance, it makes up for in brio.

If there's one significantly important difference between Wolf Warrior II and the '80s films it recalls, it's that those movies tended to be serious, grim-faced affairs, up their own ass with the taciturn solemnity of their heroes. Wolf Warrior II is hugely okay with being silly, and it lets us know that fact immediately, in a scene where Leng Feng squares off against pirates off the African coast; the sheer implausibility of the choreography, much of it underwater, is offset by how eagerly Wu is to make sure we're having a grand old time, both as director and as thoroughly game actor. And by the time the climax wraps up, the sight of Leng Feng functioning as a sort of human torpedo has largely been forgotten in the face of all the film's other ludicrously broad gestures: tanks skidding around corners like they're in Mario Kart, victims waiting until the absolute most dramatic moment to choke out their last breath, a villain with the name Bear (Oleg Prudius) and a slab-thick Russian accent to match, and the main villain named Big Daddy, played with all the sneering Frank Grilloness that Frank Grillo can muster. Though I confess that my favorite moment was none of these: it was when the female lead, Rachael Smith (Celina Jade) jumped out of Leng Feng's SUV in a huff, only to find herself face to face with a pride of lions, who then chase the car off - it is exactly what you'd expect to find in a literal cartoon.

That is to say, there's more than a little camp to be found in Wolf Warrior II's pleasures, though my guess is that it's not accidental. The whole thing has a vibe where, serious undertones and overt political messaging aside, what Wu is mostly worried about is that we might, for even five minutes, be slightly bored. And so he throws things at us, from all angles: over-the-top action here, a weeping melodramatic backstory there, enthusiastically damp and crunchy violence there, and the ebullient comic relief figure of Nessa (Ann James), a blatant caricature of African womanhood presented with enough energy and good cheer that it feels like we're laughing with her rather than at her.

A grab bag all in all, and more enthusiastic, much of the time, than "good" as such. Still, it scratches that '80s action film itch better than the great majority of '80s action films do. I'm not sure how this translates into one of the most significant box-office performances in worldwide history, but if that's what it takes to get it into U.S. theaters, then I'm all for it. Wolf Warrior II is exciting, fun, dumb as hell, and cognizant of its own stupidity, and that's certainly enough to make it a worthwhile night out at the movies, if not probably enough to give it a lasting legacy in its own right, rather than in terms of its industrial significance.

Updated 12 September, 2017 - indeed, it didn't even clear $3 million in the U.S, while its Chinese gross sailed past Avatar's North American take without breaking a sweat.