Chinese film propaganda's biggest hits and misfires

It's a fine line between success and failure in Chinese propaganda

This month sees the release of Lei Feng Man, a low-budget cartoon drawing from the iconography of saintly Chinese propaganda subject Lei Feng. It's not the first cartoon you've never heard of to serve a nationalistic purpose, either: last year saw the release of Teenage Mao Zedong, a cartoon about...teenage Mao Zedong (if they'd just added a 'mutant' into that title we so would have been there). Most of these movies come and go without anyone in or outside China paying much attention, but some Party-bolstering films have conquered the box office or set off huge controversies. Here are some of the biggest hits and misfires of recent Chinese propaganda movies.

The Founding of a Republic


You'd think a movie with a name (and story) as boring as The Founding of a Republic would be box office poison, but you'd be wrong. When this movie came out in 2009, it set box office records in mainland China. Strong state support for the film surely didn't hurt, and an insane amount of cameos from Chinese stars helped seal the deal. The cast listing for this movie is like a who's who of the Chinese film industry, ranging from Jet Li and Jackie Chan to Chen Kaige and John Woo. See what all the fuss is about below (VPN required).

Hundred Regiments Offensive


Like The Founding of a Republic, this was another state-backed box office success in mainland China. Rival film executives cried foul, however, when it became clear that the profits of Hundred Regiments Offensive were inflated. Cinemas were set quotas for the movie, and sold tickets for it to movie-goers who actually wanted to see other films. It's only been a year since the movie came out, but the scandal is already the most memorable thing about it. You can be the judge, by clicking the clip below (VPN required).

The Cairo Declaration

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The Cairo Conference was an important World War II meeting between Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Chiang Kai-shek. Mao Zedong was nowhere near that meeting, but apparently no one told the producers of The Cairo Declaration, a 2015 Chinese film about the meeting whose promotional materials heavily featured Mao Zedong. The same Mao Zedong who had nothing to do with the meeting. Netizens had a field day making parodies of the poster, photoshopping in anyone from Gollum to Barack Obama. You can even make your own parody here. Unfortunately, we can't find an English-subtitled version online, but you can test your Chinese, Russian and understanding of world history by watching below (again, VPN required).

The Taking of Tiger Mountain


Originally one of the Cultural Revolution's Eight Model Operas, this drama about a PLA commander taking on a fortress of evil bandits was given the blockbuster treatment in 2014 by Hong Kong action legend Tsui Hark. Tsui's sure sense of action and theatricality make the film much more entertaining than you'd expect, but every scene set among the saintly PLA soldiers feels like a slog. Check it out below, via YouTube (VPN required, of course).

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