Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Mulan rides multiple controversies to a disappointing debut in China

Mulan
Mulan
Screenshot: Jasin Boland

If there was ever an American movie that was obviously and famously targeted directly at a foreign market, it would be Disney’s new live-action Mulan remake. They took out the songs, they took out the talking dragon from the cartoon that people in China supposedly hated, and they made the whole thing into more of a historical war epic—which, in China, is either a genre that people genuinely like or a genre that people are strongly encouraged to like, sort of like the Marvel movies here in the States.

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Unfortunately for Disney, Mulan has repeatedly stepped in it, leading to a number of controversies both in and out of China, like when star Liu Yifei made some social media posts that seemingly sided with Hong Kong police over pro-democracy protestors or when Disney made a point to thank China’s Xinjiang Public Security Bureau in the credits for allowing the production to film in the country’s Xinjiang region—where the aforementioned organization has been accused of “cultural genocide” against the area’s Uighur Muslim population.

Because of stuff like that, Variety says the Chinese government has instituted a media blackout on coverage of Mulan “in an attempt to obfuscate and downplay growing outcry outside China.” Unsurprisingly, that seems to have put a bit of a damper on Mulan’s Chinese prospects, with the movie only making $23 million in the country this weekend. That was enough to win the Chinese Weekend Box Office Crown, but it was only a couple million over its closest competition, a Chinese-made historical war epic called The Eight Hundred. Predictions for the future aren’t much brighter, with industry trackers predicting a total haul of only $41 million once it ends its Chinese theatrical run (apparently those same trackers predict something like $65 million for Tenet). It’s hard to really analyze those numbers from an American perspective, since we don’t really cover the Chinese box office and it’s unclear how/if the coronavirus is impacting theatergoing over there, but it doesn’t seem especially great either way. Hopefully for Disney the pricey Disney+ scheme works out a little better over here in the West.

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