The top-grossing film in China this year, Johnny Keep Walking! is a comedy that resonates with those familiar with the challenges of working in Big Tech.

Addressing the daily pressures of intense work schedules, fears of layoffs, and navigating office politics, the movie has amassed 987 million yuan (US$134 million) since its release on Dec 29. Surpassing the box office earnings of Hollywood productions like Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom and concert film Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour, it reflects the widespread concerns around layoffs in the evolving tech industry.

The popular Chinese film depicts the story of Hu Jianlin, a factory worker with a modest background who experiences an unexpected promotion amid layoffs. His journey unfolds as he navigates the challenges of transitioning from a blue-collar job to a prominent urban tech company position. Hu’s rural roots and practical expertise collide with the big city’s sophisticated corporate culture and intricate office politics.

Layoffs not a topic of broad concern

Dong Runnian, the film’s writer and director, shared that when he began crafting the story in 2017, layoffs were not a topic of broad concern as they are today. In response to economic challenges, major Chinese tech players such as Alibaba, Tencent, and Baidu have implemented strategies to cut costs and enhance efficiency, often involving workforce reductions.

The movie goes beyond layoffs, exploring workplace dynamics like impressing superiors through overtime and choosing between English and Chinese names. Workplace jargon, such as “align the granularity” and “study customers’ pain point,” is incorporated into the dialogue, reflecting industry vernacular.

Movie is accurate

Employees from tech giants Alibaba, Tencent, ByteDance (owner of TikTok), Meituan, and Didi Chuxing, noted that the movie accurately depicted their work life, particularly in using industry jargon.

While such terms enhance efficiency, improper or excessive use can lead to communication barriers and formalism, emphasized Guo Tao, a Beijing-based angel investor.

Interestingly, all eight workers interviewed expressed a willingness to extend working hours, even on weekends, for flexibility, preferring it to the infamous “996” culture.

The film’s conclusion sees junior staff reporting corruption cases to the company chairman, promising a fairer work environment. However, a real-life employee humorously remarked, “Everything stays the same after you walk out of the cinema.”