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The Spectrum of Survivor Guilt from ‘Wolf Warrior 2’ to ‘Paths of Soul’

China's Entries to the Oscars and Golden Globes

Lead heroine, the ebullient Celina Jade alongside Wu Jing, the Rambo-esque hero struggling to live fully with survivor guilt, the belief that one is undeserving of life when others perish.

Wolf Warrior 2 (WW2) is a wildly successful Chinese box office hit of the ‘action romance’ type with patriotic themes gaining traction around the world. Freed from underdog colonial status of an 11,000 year old society, one can identify with Chinese tropes as a continuum of rise and fall. Becoming more comfortable in ascendance mode, China’s subservience no longer rules the day. WW2 taps into a zeitgeist in which our heroes come from behind on every front.

From someone who usually eschews action movies, WW2 stands on the strength of its story telling. Action romances like this one inspires a second look at the entire genre given the opening fight scene which plays like an underwater ballet. WW2’s narrative themes speaks to a universal yearning to embody high self esteem, even when it’s necessary to be sly and cunning at times. The goals are to persevere in love, hold family together and accomplish good works in one’s life despite obstacles and frustrations.

At the end of they day none of this prognostication means a thing. Whatever chord has been struck, it has been substantial with the viewing public. Finding audiences compelled to see movies on the big screen in theater seats has been tough of late. As reported in ‘Variety,’ WW2 is a mega-hit. Not only is it one of the highest grossing films to date, it will likely receive a sizable bump from increased visibility as China’s submission to the 90th anniversary of the Oscars as the race heats up leading to March 2018.

Written and Directed by Wu Jing, this was a screening of China’s entry in the best foreign language film category (with plenty of English and African peppered throughout). Afterwards there was a Q&A with delightful co-star Celina Jade, an East-West bridge builder and lamp lighter for just causes. Good for her, modest person that she is, Jade refuses to do nude scenes and puts her money where her mouth. Following her dear departed mother’s guidance, she prefers to participate in ‘green’ roles, with sustainability and feminism at the forefront.

Jade is a self professed ‘mixed race girl’ next door polymath: actress, singer, martial artist who has extensive training in economics. Her savvy about the show biz is quite apparent when she speaks of this film’s box office success. She reads as a cross between Audrey Hepburn, Bonnie Bedelia and Jennifer Lawrence.

China’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film Category for the 90th year anniversary of the Oscars is action thriller Wolf Warrior II showcasing writer, director and co-stars Wu Jing and Celina Jade.

Jonathan Karp, of the Asia Society has written that critics have noted Wu’s “charisma is enhanced by his athletic prowess” and he “again stakes his claim as the natural heir to Jackie Chan.” The film incorporates plot lines of personal relationships that reveal, “a more worldly awareness than Chinese films typically express,” according to one reviewer. “After years of watching white men save the world,” writes another, “Wolf Warrior II gives Chinese audiences a hero of their own.”

For the U.S.-China Film Summit, Asia Society Southern California co-hosted two special screenings, at Creative Artists Agency’s (CAA) fabulous offices. Being in CAA’s home base was a thrill to experience far exceeding its reputation as, ‘The Dark Star,’ eclipsing all other talent agencies in epic Hollywood terms of clout and reach, meant as a compliment.

PATHS OF THE SOUL, China’s submission for the Golden Globe Awards was screened three days earlier than Wolf. ‘Survival guilt,’ is a theme interwoven in this film too from a perspective that offers a stark contrast to WW2. Written and directed by Zhang Yang, (“Shower,” “Getting Home”) he conducted a Q and A afterwards with CAA executive, Jonah Greenberg. The cowboy debonair Yang has made an important road trip movie par excellence. An extraordinary chronicle of ordinary Tibetan yak shepherds undertaking a 1,200-kilometers journey, which is about 800 miles, over a 9 month plus pilgrimage to their spiritual capital, Lhasa.

Our protagonists’ stories are a composite, composed from actual peak experiences culled from the testimony of fellow journeyers. Both films grapple with the universal challenge of having meaningful, joyful lives in a world audiences might find alien to their own experience. ‘Paths’ envelopes viewers inside a sacred trust, ‘in flow,’ in a profane broken world. Along their expedition a baby is born and an elder dies which is known to happen on pilgrimages according to Yang.

I have a feeling this film could fall into the ‘sleeper hit’ category.

Much more than simply a long walk down National Highway 318, as Karp wrote, “this act of Buddhist devotion requires participants to prostrate themselves – aka kowtow – every few yards while trucks and cars dangerously zoom past. Filmed in simple documentary fashion and performed with immaculate conviction by a non-professional cast, the pic is a stirring study in faith and spirituality that will inspire many viewers to think about big and small questions of life.”

‘Paths’ is required viewing for the global ‘seeker’ community. As a travelogue alone it reads like a National Geographic expedition. Sweeping vistas change with the seasons transport us to Tibet where few among us will ever venture. Critics at film fests everywhere are raving about this one-of-a-kind ouevre.

These two films are interesting bookends. Both deal with timeless themes of love found, love lost and love regained. They both are imbued with a co-operative spirit that addresses gender and generational equality. ‘Wolf’ incorporates an urbanized multi-racial cast; ‘Path,’ a mono cultural agrarian one. These two films end much in the same place, with gratitude for opportunities to shelter in deeper relationship which reminds me of a simple yet profound proverb, as the Irish say, “The people live in the shelter of each other,” and a line from a song by The Band, a formative American roots r’n’r band, calledLife is a Carnival.”

Edited with Lewis H. Perkins.  

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