The plan sounded infallible in 2015, when Hong Kong was a raft and no one had heard of Uighurs or Wuhan: Disney would shoot a Chinese heroine with a Chinese cast to conquer the Chinese market. ‘Mulán’ premiered last week in China with mediocre collection and criticism, international calls for a boycott and silence imposed on the national press. He piling up of misfortunes advises a chronological order.
First was the political mess. Liu Yifei, the protagonist, supported the Hong Kong police when last year he exchanged slaps with pro-democracy protesters. Later it became known that some scenes were filmed in Xinjiang, the eastern province where hundreds of thousands of Chinese Uighur Muslim ethnic group have been locked up in re-education camps. The ignorance years ago was excusable, but it is difficult to understand why they included the provincial authorities in the acknowledgments of the credit titles. It was a mistake, the producer has assumed, which was still reducing water between calls for a boycott when the coronavirus pandemic closed theaters.
The postponed premiere came this week, with the highest expectations and predictions from the national press that Western sabotage would not prevent its success. The 20 million euros raised by ‘Mulán’ are modest in China. They are light years away from those achieved by ‘The 800’, the umpteenth patriotic epic, and even below the elusive ‘Tenet’. The reviews were even worse. On Douban, the most famous website, users give it a 4.9 out of 10.
The regrets are varied. Netizens judge that it lacks the nerve and grace of the animated version two decades ago. They miss the dragon Mushu, which this time Disney discarded for fear that the country would take the jokes about its iconic animal badly. Mulan is seen by many as a regular heroine that he could be in China as in an African jungle or in the Middle East, with no other features of his own than slanted eyes. “More than a Chinese story, it is a story about a Disney princess like Frozen,” said Yun Feiyang, one of the most followed critics.
And many wonder who are those experts and historians who Disney claimed to have commissioned the reconstruction of the time to avoid mistakes. They are plentiful and thick. The tulou in which Mulan’s family lives, in the west of the country, is the most obvious: these circular constructions would not appear until a thousand years later in Fujian, at the other end of China. There was also no news at that time of the tai chi practiced by the general. Tom Cruise can escape from the bad guys by taking advantage of the tumult of Sanfermines in Cadiz but licenses with Mulan are inadvisable. ‘The Ballad of Mulan’, about an intrepid daughter who pretends to be a man to fight the Huns, had already passed from generation to generation before it was recorded in writing in the 6th century. It has survived ever since, molded to the needs of the time, but always as the epitome of Confucian values such as love for the country and respect for parents.
Chinese Government Circular
The ‘Global Times’, the most ultramontane of propaganda newspapers, explained that “the unpopularity of the film has nothing to do with the defamations of the West, which are ignored by the Chinese audience, but with poor artistic level and misunderstandings about our culture». A few days later, Beijing sent a circular to the press to dedicate a modest coverage to the film without explaining the reasons.
‘Mulán’ is the last victim of the rarefied climate between the two powers. From the United States, Disney is accused of kneeling before China and fomenting its patriotism to benefit from what this year will become the first film market in the world. And from China they accuse her of depleting her most sacred references and adapting them to the western palate. A lot of substance for what in that distant 2015 was thought as a simple adventure film.