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Australia Mulan has fizzled in Chinese cinemas, here's why Disney's blockbuster retelling might have failed to land

00:40  26 september  2020
00:40  26 september  2020 Source:   msn.com

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But Disney ' s Mulan is facing calls for a boycott in some Asian countries. Liu Yifei, the live-action film' s star, first angered fans last year with comments reportedly It didn't take long for #BoycottMulan to trend on Twitter - a site that is banned in China - while Chinese citizens voiced their support.

When Disney announced that it would be releasing " Mulan " on Disney +, one number stuck out: . That' s how much Disney is charging viewers to watch the blockbuster when it debuts next week on its new streaming service.

a little boy that is standing in the snow: Disney released Mulan after many COVID-related delays and calls to boycott the film. (Supplied: Disney+) © Provided by ABC Business Disney released Mulan after many COVID-related delays and calls to boycott the film. (Supplied: Disney+)

'Disney tried to have this be something to everyone': The evolution and confusion of Mulan

Mulan might be part of the pop culture lexicon of Western audiences, but it's worth remembering that while Disney's animation was a hit internationally when it was released in 1998, it was a flop at the Chinese box office — despite being based, ostensibly, on a Chinese folktale.

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Disney has publicly thanked a Chinese government agency accused of human rights abuses in Xinjiang for its help in making " Mulan " — a revelation that has provoked a storm of criticism online.

It might have been an excellent reinterpretation, were it not so heavy-handed and, well, Disney -fied. The live-action Mulan remake has many promising parts, but fails to bring them together in a satisfying way. Why hire actors with great fighting capability and then give them precious little to show off?

So it's no surprise that Disney approached its new Mulan movie with the Chinese market front of mind: it cast big-name Chinese actors like Donnie Yen, Gong Li, and Liu Yifei, and adjusted the story for less romance (a kiss between Mulan and her love interest was edited out) and more patriotism.

There was also a China-specific release strategy: while the English-language version was released in Australia, US, Canada and a number of Western European countries on streaming service Disney Plus on September 4, a Mandarin-dubbed version of the film opened in Chinese cinemas on September 11.

Even so, the film has fizzled on release: on its opening weekend, the Mulan box office takings in China were US$23 million, compared to the $29.6 million Tenet took in its opening weekend.

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UPDATE 8/5/20: Disney has announced that Mulan will be made available on Disney + for .99 starting The upcoming blockbuster , directed by Niki Caro and starring Yifei Liu, is less a direct remake of the 1998 animated original and more of a retelling of the Chinese folk legend of Hua Mulan .

Surely calls to boycott the film have not helped, nor criticisms of the lack of Chinese talent behind the scenes — but there's more to it than that.

We asked experts about the origins of the Mulan tale, how it's been adapted and why it might not be landing with Chinese audiences.

What is the original Mulan story?

Associate Professor Shirley Chan, the head of Chinese Studies at Macquarie University and editor-in-chief of the Journal of the Oriental Society of Australia, says "the Ballad of Mulan probably appeared in the 5th or 6th century AD, and it must have been a well-known song during that time".

The Ballad — a 360-word poem — was transcribed in the 11th or 12th century in a government collection of music, poems and performing arts called The Music Bureau Collection.

Chan summarises the plot: "As the ballad begins, Mulan is weaving at her loom, worried because her father is about to be drafted into the military. So she decides to purchase military equipment and join the army in her father's place ... 10 years later, after the death of their general, the army returns home and Mulan declines the promotion by the emperor."

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Yahoo got an early look at Disney ’ s Mulan , coming to cinemas on 27 March, 2020, and we can On why the story is more relevant than ever, Caro says, “It' s been told and retold countless times since it New details from the ancient Chinese ballad of Mulan will be included. Among those details to be

In a new twist, China has launched a #SupportMulan initiative to counter the calls for a boycott. Why we care: It’ s beginning to look like the story of Mulan as a political prop may be even more dramatic than The Chinese government has apparently adopted the upcoming film as a symbol, using both

It's only on Mulan's return home that she reveals her real gender identity.

Was Mulan a real person?

Dr Delia Lin, senior lecturer in Chinese Studies at the University of Melbourne's Asia Institute, says that Mulan probably was a real historical figure although the details (including precisely where she lived and her surname) aren't clear.

"What we can guess, from looking at the lyrics and language of the ballad, is that the war she participated in was during the period of time when China was split into Southern and Northern Dynasties, in a period between 420 and 589 AD," Lin says.

Lin says Mulan would have served Emperor Taiwu of the Northern Wei dynasty, founded by the Tuoba clan of a non-Han, nomadic ethnic group called the Xianbei (who were ancestors of the Mongols).

Both Lin and Chan say it's not clear whether Mulan herself was ethnically Han or Xianbei.

Chan says that the ballad also mentions real-life locations of battlefields on China's northern border, not far from Mongolia.

"All this shows that the story is not purely just creative ... [and] she could be a mix of different figures," she says.

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Mulan is a 2020 American action drama film directed by Niki Caro, with the screenplay by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Lauren Hynek, and Elizabeth Martin, and produced by Walt Disney Pictures. The film is based on the Chinese folklore "The Ballad of Mulan " and is a live-action adaptation of Disney ' s 1998

How big is the Mulan story in China?

Both Lin and Chan say they had to learn and memorise the ballad during their education in China and Hong Kong, respectively.

The ballad is still part of China's state curriculum, and Chan describes Mulan as a "national icon".

Lin says that "Mulan is a very beloved figure, people love the story. The official discourse would paint her a patriotic person, but I think generally people admire her as a female warrior".

How has Mulan's story been told through time?

"Mulan has been reproduced so many times throughout history, in a lot of art forms," Lin says.

Especially in the province of Hunan — one alleged birthplace of Mulan — where her story has been immortalised in local operas.

As Mulan's story has been retold and adapted across the centuries, it has shifted to reflect the values of its time.

Chan says later versions emphasised Mulan as "an embodiment of filial piety and loyalty," and a version written in the 17th century introduced the plotline of Mulan taking her own life after rejecting the emperor's request to become his consort.

Alongside retellings in plays and songs, the story has a rich celluloid history, including the 1939 Shanghai film Mulan Joins the Army, the 1956 Yu Opera movie Hua Mulan, and the 1963 Shaw Brothers musical version Lady General Hua Mulan.

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There is also a 2009 Chinese action movie called Mulan: Rise of a Warrior, directed by Jingle Ma and starring Zhao Wei as Mulan.

So how do the Disney versions differ?

Lin says that ultimately both Disney movies — the first and only screen tellings of the Mulan story outside of China, Taiwan and Hong Kong — are a "cultural-hybrid".

Chan reads the original Mulan story as an expression of "the three major teachings of China: the Confucian, the Taoist and the Buddhist".

"[In the Disney versions] the cosmic balance and social harmony [of those teachings] in the ballad is replaced by the over dramatisation of family devotion, self-sacrifice and Mulan's role as a warrior," Chan says.

She says both Disney versions also over-emphasise heroism and patriotism.

Jane Hu in the New Yorker, exploring the story's many adaptations and the new film's politics, wrote that: "The film is, put crudely, an Americanised celebration of Chinese nationalism."

The reveal of Mulan's real gender is also a key dramatic moment in both the Disney tellings.

"I think sometimes people emphasise too much the gender role [element of the story]," says Chan.

"I think the beauty of the Mulan ballad is more about how you can make your own choices."

Academics Sin Wen Lau and Shih-Wen Sue Chen wrote in The Conversation that: "Disney's Mulan is a more conservative telling of an ancient story — and the place of women — than some historical Chinese renditions".

Is that why it's struggling to find a Chinese audience?

News.com.au film and TV critic Wenlei Ma told Stop Everything!: "There are many Chinese-made epic blockbusters that are doing really well in China right now. And for audiences who maybe are looking at a choice between Mulan and maybe some three or four homegrown options, this might not be their first choice."

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And as the New York Times reported, Chinese audiences had a litany of complaints against the film — including the 'creative license' it takes with Chinese history and philosophy.

For example, the film's portrayal of the principle of Qi: screenwriter and director Corrie Chen (Homecoming Queens) says Qi is "largely spoken of in Chinese medicine about someone's energy, or in martial arts, but they've made it into this gendered supernatural power that you can suppress ... That did not make sense to me".

Chen also makes a distinction between audiences in China and diaspora audiences, pointing out that Crazy Rich Asians and The Farewell were largely popular with Asian diaspora audiences, while failing to resonate in China.

"I think we're yet to really find something that is about Chinese culture that crosses over both sides," she says.

So is this new Mulan any good?

Ma says: "I think part of the film's problems on a dramatic level is because Disney tried to have this be something to everyone [both Chinese and Western audiences] ... And maybe, in the end, it doesn't really have a national identity."

Both Ma and Chen say this new Mulan struggles in the final act, but admire the look of the film (which was partially shot in New Zealand).

Chen, a Taiwanese citizen, says she was "riddled with indecision about whether to watch it".

"I feel somewhat invested in what's happening in Hong Kong right now — but working in the [film] industry means I do also want to support anything with an entirely Asian cast in the Western world," she says.

She ultimately decided to watch it after her housemate hit purchase on Disney Plus.

"I loved the cast and actually performances across the board … I was moved in the moments that they wanted [me to be moved]; the power of Disney was alive and well," Chen says.

Still, she says: "I really almost had to make myself forget that it's meant to be a Chinese story in order for me to enjoy it".

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"In the end, this is a Western film. It felt about as Chinese as eating lemon chicken in a food court; It's somewhat satisfying … It's okay in the moment, but I regret it later."


Gallery: Who is Liu Yifei? A closer look at Disney's controversial Mulan (StarsInsider)

a woman standing in front of a mountain: Disney's live-action take on 'Mulan' has generated quite the buzz—good and bad. While some had qualms about the lack of music and Mushu, others praised it for its artistry, and many more bickered over its historical and cultural accuracy. Overall, however, people were still generally excited to see it.That is, until #BoycottMulan shot up the Twitter trends and Chinese-American actress Liu Yifei, who plays the starring role, became the target for a wave of worldwide criticism.Now Disney has announced that the film will skip theaters and instead premiere on Disney+. 'Mulan' will be available to rent on September 4 for US$29.99 (which is on top of the subscription fee). This decision is yet another that's proving controversial.Intrigued? Well then, click through this gallery to see the events leading up to Liu Yifei's role as Mulan.

The Future of Chinese Power .
The policies and practices of the country’s dynasties offer insights into how modern Chinese leaders may wield their strength.Fortunately for those of us seeking answers to this question, China was a major power for long stretches of history, and the foreign policies and practices of its great dynasties can offer us insights into how modern Chinese leaders may wield their widening power now and in the future.

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