Poignant Martial Arts Film ‘Never Say Never’ Breaks Box Office Records

Viewers were struck by the film’s poignant storytelling and gritty realism, a far cry from the fantasy and escapism which usually characterizes the martial arts genre

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4:10 PM HKT, Tue July 11, 2023 1 mins read

Boys fighting under the glow of blue spotlights. Boys stretching, sprinting, kicking into the air. Boys laughing, boys crying.

More than anything, Never Say Never (八角笼中) is an exploration of boyhood, mentorship, and perseverance in the face of hardship — themes which are touching the hearts of Chinese audiences.

Never Say Never made over 400 million RMB (about 55 million USD) in box office sales prior to its opening day. It beat the previous record holder, The Eight Hundred, which became the world’s highest-grossing film of 2020 after bringing in its own impressive presale haul.

Directed by Wang Baoqiang, who is himself an actor and martial artist, Never Say Never tells the story of a group of orphaned boys who are taken in by a martial arts coach (played by Wang). The coach, whose own dreams of becoming a fighting champion were dashed, trains the children in martial arts so they can pursue a better life.

“This is a story about finding a way out,” Wang said at the Beijing premiere of the film on June 26. “Movies are my way out, and movies have given value and meaning to my life."

wang baoqiang in lost in thailand

Wang Baoqiang (center) in his 2012 comedy Lost in Thailand. Image via IMDb

Wang grew up in rural Hebei province; prior to his breakout as an actor, he worked as a laborer. He is known for his blockbuster comedy Lost in Thailand (2012) and his role in the film series Detective Chinatown. Referring to the children he cast in Never Say Never, he said, “[I] seemed to see my former self.”

Early reviews praised the gritty authenticity of the film. “This movie proves that Wang Baoqiang has not forgotten his roots,” one critic wrote on Douban, a review aggregator similar to Rotten Tomatoes. “He has deep empathy for the working class and vulnerable groups… This movie allows us to deeply appreciate and understand how some people must try their best just to live.”

promotional poster for never say never

Promotional poster for Never Say Never. Image via Weibo

The record-breaking sales of Never Say Never represent an increasingly successful recovery for Chinese box offices. Though sales have not quite returned to pre-pandemic levels, they grew 52.9% in the first half of 2023, and reached 1 billion RMB (139 million USD) in record time this summer.

According to China Youth Network, there are 106 films already released or slated to be released this summer, with a projected box office haul of 15 billion RMB (2 billion USD).

Cover image via Weibo

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