Though it might seem like a throwaway summer movie, the authorities appear committed to its vision, producing a parade of breathless praise in state media. After one film critic slammed the movie online as “bloody” and “psychopathic,” her online presence disappeared, and she may have been sacked from her job. The PLA Navy’s thunderous scenes could be clipped straight from a recruiting video: crisp uniforms, swift ships, strong prows. The fleet represents the extension of China’s expanding power, rapidly responding to both military and civilian crises as far as sub-Saharan Africa.
But while the film’s depiction of state power is distinctly Chinese, its racial politics are an unfortunate copy of old Western prejudices, with only a faint modern gloss. Despite the constant intoning by the Chinese ambassador of Beijing and Africa’s “strong friendship” — yes, apparently, it’s a relationship with the whole continent — most black Africans in the film are relegated to nameless, faceless cannon fodder. The film unabashedly exoticizes Africa as a land filled with guns and graft, desperately poor people, and crocodiles, lions, and giraffes. “Once they’re around a bonfire, their cares go away,” one Chinese fighter tells the protagonist, as the locals holler and dance with abandon to celebrate their impending rescue. Racial complexities are not something many Chinese have had to grapple with, in a society where the ethnic Han majority takes its dominance for granted. –Foreign Policy/