Culture

Is Disney’s Mulan A Nod To China’s Nationalistic Philosophy?

The new version has been accused to pandering to Chinese audiences.

by Meera Navlakha
09 July 2019, 6:56am

A screenshot from the 'Mulan' trailer. Eagle-eyed viewers think Mulan's make-up resembles the Huawei logo.

No beloved dragon and no musical numbers. Instead, a whole lot of duty, honor, and solemn fight scenes.

On July 8, Disney revealed the official teaser for their much-anticipated live-action remake of Mulan. The trailer shot to number one on Youtube’s Trending section and gained over 13 million views within a day.

‘Mulan’ has already garnered over 770,000 comments on China’s microblogging site Weibo – most of them positive. While there are those who have noted the technical inaccuracies in the trailer, such as using the wrong architecture for Mulan’s town, most Chinese movie-goers seem to be delighted by Disney's depiction of the well-known Chinese legend. Nevermind the kerfuffle around Mushu’s absence and the lack of songs.

But it’s not all applause. The trailer has arrived at a time when the world is taking note of – and condemning – the perilous issues taking place in China. Currently, the largest protests in the world are happening in Hong Kong against Chinese authoritarianism.

Hong Kong-born writer Jingan Young has criticized Disney for “bowing to China's nationalistic agenda” and shaping the movie to achieve commercial victory at the Chinese box office.

“I can’t help but wonder why Disney are remaking Mulan at all if they are simply going to pander to the nationalistic values espoused by the mainland Chinese government,” she wrote for The Guardian.

She also described Mulan as a “robotic warrior” and the trailer as having a “muted, unhumorous tone.”

Perhaps we have Disney’s history with China to account for this. The company has previously seen a backlash from Chinese authorities in response to its feature films. In 1997, Martin Scorsese’s Disney-distributed biopic of the Dalai Lama drew intense criticism from the government to the point where Scorsese was banned from entering China again.

When Disney’s Mulan launched in 1998, it was subsequently met with a limited Chinese release. The box office numbers in China were low compared to the success Mulan was met with worldwide. More importantly, Chinese viewers thought it was too American.

Compared to the goofy and light-hearted tone of the animated original, its live-action version seems entirely more somber. It appears to reflect Chinese history and values over the fun-loving values of Disney as a studio. The impression the teaser leaves is, as Young writes, a move to “secure success at the Chinese box office.” Critics believe its purpose is to reel Chinese audiences in and raise the potential commercial success the film can have upon its release in 2020.

It’s no wonder why Hollywood is turning an eye to China. The country has surpassed the United States with the largest movie-going audience in the world. From the inclusion of Chinese superstars in movie franchises (think Now You See Me 2 and Star Wars) to product placement from Chinese brands, some critics see Chinese clout as propaganda. It’s obvious that parts of Hollywood are determined to pander to the Chinese audience.

In fact, eagle-eyed viewers have spotted the similarities in Mulan’s makeup in one scene to Huawei’s logo. Cue the glee from Chinese “netizens”, who found it to be a sign of staunch patriotism.

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