As Hollywood scrambles for a breakthrough in a movie market beaten down by the Covid-19 pandemic, one of the hopes for success in the Chinese box office has hit a wall — due to a racist joke.
Monster Hunter, Paul W.S. Anderson’s new film based on the video game of the same name, was abruptly pulled from Chinese cinemas at the weekend due to a scene containing material that audiences found offensive.
The backlash emerged over a scene in the movie where an Asian character, played by rapper Jin Au-Yeung (better known as MC Jin), says to his white co-star: “Look at my knees… What kind of knees are these?… Chi-knees!”
The situation was not helped by the line’s Mandarin translation, which appeared to reference “kneeling down.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, audiences — and soon the internet — deemed the terrible bit of dialogue offensive. Many pointed out that the “joke” has links to an old playground chant that goes “Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, look at these.”
Anyway, this is going down about as well as you'd expect in China where it's being linked to the rhyme / phrase "Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees – look at these?" which is considered offensive. pic.twitter.com/pQCFNQ86Je— Daniel Ahmad (@ZhugeEX) December 4, 2020
Anyway, this is going down about as well as you'd expect in China where it's being linked to the rhyme / phrase "Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees – look at these?" which is considered offensive. pic.twitter.com/pQCFNQ86Je
— Daniel Ahmad (@ZhugeEX) December 4, 2020
Although the origin of the rhyme is unclear, it is known to have been used by non-Asian children to mock Asians and Asian Americans in the schoolyard. This was often accompanied by them slanting their eyes upwards or downwards to further continue the caricature.
Once the lines came to light and complaints were made, the film — which had made 5.3 million USD — was pulled from cinemas just days after its release. Weibo users reacted strongly with comments accusing the movie of “humiliating China” and of “naked racism.” Other commenters demanded that Jin should “apologize to the public.”
“I felt a need to address this situation because what is at stake is not my career but something even more dear to my heart — my roots,” wrote MC Jin in an apology post on Instagram. “I’ve spent the last 20 years using my platform to embrace and be a positive voice for my community. I am and will always be proud of my heritage.”
He also posted a video, subtitled in Chinese, to explain his stance further and to attempt to distance his character’s dialogue from the playground rhyme:
View this post on InstagramA post shared by MC Jin (@iammcjin)
A post shared by MC Jin (@iammcjin)
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The backlash was swiftly followed by a profuse apology from production company Constantin Films: “[the company] sincerely apologizes to Chinese audiences for a line of dialogue contained in an early scene of Monster Hunter. There was absolutely no intent to discriminate, insult or otherwise offend anyone of Chinese heritage.”
Co-star Milla Jovovich replied that she was saddened that Jin felt the need to apologize. “The line you improvised in the film was done to remind people of that pride, not to insult people. We should have researched the historical origin of it and that’s 100% on us, but you didn’t do ANYTHING wrong.”
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A number of Chinese social media users have also openly wondered what was going on with the country’s notorious censorship organs — and at distributors Tencent — that they didn’t catch the problematic scene before the film was cleared for release.
Tencent is reportedly now hoping to convince the authorities to re-release the movie with the scene removed. It has yet to be decided whether this will happen, however — and even if it is re-released, it seems the damage may already be done.
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