Twenty-Two’s popularity

Source: Sup China (2/28/17)
Documentary on World War II ‘comfort women’ might become most profitable Chinese movie of all time
Pang-Chieh Ho gives you the latest news from one of China’s most dynamic industries.
By Pang-Chieh Ho

A promotional photo for Twenty-Two

When Twenty-Two (二十二 èr shí èr), a documentary that interviews 22 surviving World War II sex slaves, debuted in mainland Chinese theaters on August 14, nobody had expected that it would be such a big hit with Chinese moviegoers. Made from a paltry budget of 3 million yuan ($450,000), Twenty-Two managed to buck expectations. Not only is it the first documentary to make more than 100 million yuan ($15 million) at China’s box office, according to Mtime (in Chinese), but if it ends up grossing 300 million yuan ($45 million), a goal that analysts are confident the documentary will attain, it will also become the most profitable Chinese movie of all time (in Chinese).


A promotional poster for Twenty-Two

This dark horse of a film has had a somewhat turbulent production history. While filming and interviewing the octogenarian survivors took around two months, the movie was waylaid for several years due to a lack of financing, according to The Paper’s interview (in Chinese) with Twenty-Two’s director, Guo Ke 郭柯. When financing finally came through, a large part of it was in the form of crowdsourcing, with over 7,000 people contributing 1 million yuan ($150,000) to the movie.

So how did this documentary — one that eschews sensationalism in favor of quiet documentation of the everyday lives these former “comfort women” are now leading — become a force to be reckoned with at the box office? Yuledujiaoshou points out (in Chinese) that strong word of mouth and high critical ratings have been essential toTwenty-Two’s success, while personal recommendations from many industry figures, including director Feng Xiaogang 冯小刚 and actress Zhang Xinyi 张歆艺, who invested 1 million yuan ($150,000) in the movie, helped boost the movie’s exposure. Also, the movie’s shrewd choice of a premiere date — on the eve of the International Memorial Day for Comfort Women and the anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II — dovetailed with sentiments of patriotism and nationalism that had already been stoked by another film, Wolf Warriors 2 (战狼二 zhàn láng èr).


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