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Netflix Announces “The Water Margin” Adaptation, Chinese Social Media Fears Another “Mulan”

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“Please, not another Mulan.” This popular comment on Chinese social media sums up much of the reaction to news that Netflix is to make a new film based on The Water Margin, one of the “four great novels” of classical Chinese literature.

According to Deadline, Japanese filmmaker Shinsuke Sato — director of ancient China-set action adventure Kingdom — will helm the project, with Deepwater Horizon writer Matt Sand working on the script. The forthcoming movie is being described as a “futuristic take” on the book, which deals with the tales of a group of outlaws and their battles.

Sometimes referred to as Outlaws of the Marsh, The Water Margin sits alongside Journey to the West (the tales of Sun Wukong the Monkey King), Dream of the Red Chamber, and Romance of the Three Kingdoms as one of the four works thought to define classical Chinese literature. Based on oral retellings and legends, the first full text version was recorded in the 16th century.

The stories have been adapted for screen numerous times over the years, including as a Shaw Brothers movie and multiple Chinese TV shows. In the 1970s, the BBC presented a version of a Japanese TV show based on the stories (pictured above), dubbed into English by someone who understood neither Japanese nor Chinese.

Related:

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

After the mauling Mulan received, many commenters on Chinese social media have not exactly greeted this recent announcement with enthusiasm. In addition to some predictable criticism of Netflix turning to a Japanese director, many have referenced Disney’s disastrous take on another classic Chinese story. “Destroying Mulan wasn’t enough?” reads one highly-upvoted comment on the news on microblogging site Weibo.

Not everyone is up in arms at the news however. One commenter writes, “It’s fine. Just make sure to film lots of the bits in the original that can’t make it past the censors here.”

The movie will eventually join a growing catalog of content on Netflix that pulls from Chinese tales. Last month saw the release of animation Over the Moon, based on the story of Chinese moon goddess Chang’e. And in September, it was announced that Netflix was working on an adaptation of a more recent Chinese epic, Liu Cixin’s sci-fi smash hit The Three Body Problem.

Jake Newby
Jake Newby is a Shanghai-based writer and editor with more than a decade's experience living and working in China. Previously managing editor of Time Out Shanghai, he's also written for publications such as South China Morning Post and the Financial Times.