Old is the song, yet new is the messenger

This month I watched two nationalistic war movies, which use nationalism not just as a backbone to a story, but also because it sells.

First; ‘Operation Red Sea’ (红海行动) is a Chinese war movie from 2018, and stands part for a larger phenomenon, namely China’s newly found identity and its nationalism which it no longer hides. This is also seen in movies like Wolf Warrior (战狼) or Chinese Doctors (中国医生).

As a movie itself, the 6.7 score on IMDb is probably justified; lots of explosions and screaming makes for a bland two hours. Yet the most interesting bit is how every Chinese flag prominently in view was such a leap to my eye — how each nationalistic quote (such as “We leave no Chinese citizen behind!”) felt so cringy, like a younger nephew trying too hard to be cool.

Immediately after I watched ‘American Sniper’ from 2014, and actually it’s not that different, except the flag & language. Yet we are so accustomed to American nationalism, without the direct comparisons of these two movies I wouldn’t have noticed it. (In fact, I watched American Sniper before and didn’t notice it so distinctly.) Maybe it is because we grew up watching ‘Independence Day’, ‘G.I Jane’ and ’The X-Files’, etcetera — and we have really become to see the US as the default good-guys country, the dreamland, even if we have never set foot on its soil. (I’m here speaking as a Dutch citizen who watched television growing up.)

But American Sniper is drenched in nationalism as much as Operation Red Sea. In fact, America is even in the name, as well as the flag on its cover — and our sniperguy literally says things like “this is the BEST country in the world”. That would be so cringy if said about any other country.

I checked the subtitle files and American Sniper has 10 mentions of the US or a variation, while Operation Red Sea mentions China or Chinese 30 times. Another difference I noticed is that the movie American Sniper is much more individualistic (Chris Kyle is the hero) while in Operation Red Sea, it is much more about the collective (but this is not the case in Chinese movies like ‘Wolf Warrior‘ or ‘Ip Man’).

Regardless of whether you think these movies are bad or good, it is a sign of the future and China’s newly found confidence. It joins the US in flexing its abs, and in saving the world — as long as it is documented with much fanfare.