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What Do Chinese Viewers Think of Disney’s “Mulan” Remake?

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The long-awaited live action remake of Disney’s Mulan was finally released on video-streaming platform Disney+ yesterday after months of delays.

While the film actually had its premiere all the way back in March in Los Angeles, it’s been faced with multiple delays since then as a result of the global outbreak of Covid-19. Disney decided in August to show the movie through their video-streaming platform Disney+ starting from September 4. It was also recently announced that the film will get a Chinese theatrical release on September 11.

The build-up to the film has been beset with miscues and controversies, with many criticizing the choice of Chinese actress Liu Yifei in the starring role as the warrior princess, even before she declared support for Hong Kong police. Another flashpoint has been the awkward translation of the phrase “Loyal Brave True” into Chinese as 忠勇真 (zhong yong zhen), which has caused befuddlement among Chinese communities. Helen Hsu, a clinical psychologist based in LA wrote on Twitter, “Disney couldn’t hire a consultant to tell them this graphic is hella wrong? ‘The awkward, bad tattoo’ vibe strong here.”

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Contrary to some expectations that the film would inevitably be a critical flop, it currently holds an 80% score on ratings site Rotten Tomatoes. As it stands, the film has exceeded critical scores on the same site for other Disney live action remakes, such as The Lion King (52%), Aladdin (57%) and Beauty and the Beast (71%). 

Critics have commended the movie for its stunning visuals, both in terms of the broad geographical landscape that we see Mulan traverse, as well as the high-octane fight sequences that take place through the film.

However, there has been a wave of negative commentary on the movie as well.

Criticisms of Mulan focus around its controversial central themes, comparison with its Disney predecessor — the 1998 animated version starring iconic characters like Mushu the dragon and bisexual icon and Mulan’s love interest Li Shang — or simply its somewhat flat storytelling. Writing for the Hollywood Reporter, Inkoo Kang first admires the visual qualities of the film, but goes on to say, “The result is a creatively squeamish, pokily paced movie by committee that has four credited screenwriters, a slew of hackneyed Disney tropes and an enervating lack of emotional resonance.”

It’s over-arching narrative of “filial piety” and “virtue” — from a non-Chinese writing team — is also attracting considerable flack both on Chinese social media and on Twitter.

Over on Chinese ratings site Douban, the film currently holds a score of 5.9 out of 10, based on over 10,000 ratings (update: after 50,000 reviews, the film now has a score of 4.7).

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One Douban user, who gave the film two stars out of five, wrote, “It can only be said that the trailer was too good, which caused disappointment after watching it.” Others described the final scenes as “laughable” and accused it of hamfisted attempts to portray Chinese culture. Some Chinese viewers also criticized the cost of the movie, which was available for 30USD on Disney+, with the general feeling being that the price did not offer good value given the film’s quality.

While the battle sequences and martial arts choreography have been praised by critics and fans, some Chinese viewers were disappointed with what they perceived as the “fairytale style” of the film, taking away from the seriousness of the battle sequences and the quick-fire action scenes that don’t give the martial arts proper space to be showcased. One reviewer on Douban wrote, “I wanted to see a historical epic that is different from the previous Disney style. However, due to the fairytale style, the people in battle looked like they were in a child’s play.”

Bryan Grogan
    Bryan is RADII's Culture Editor. He is a Shanghai-based writer and editor with an interest in culture stories with a social bent. He can be found at a music show, usually with pint in hand.