Why do the Chinese hate Disney’s Mulan so much?

Disney’s Mulan comes out in China today. All indications are that this movie is going to be a huge flop in China.

Chinese audiences hate Disney's Mulan

Now, Mulan isn’t getting great reviews in the US either (it’s currently at a 5.5 out of 10 on IMDb), but it’s doing even worse in China (currently at a 5.1 out of 10 on MTime, China’s IMDb). Some of the US reviewers are saying that the film suffered from trying to appease Chinese censors and Chinese audiences.

But Chinese audiences are not at all impressed with the results, and I’m talking about the buzz before anyone has ever seen the movie. Chinese audiences love Disney movies. Chinese audiences also loved Kung Fu Panda, so it’s not simply a “don’t try to do our culture” reaction. So why all the hate for Mulan in China?

I’ve been asking lots of Chinese friends what they think about Mulan. Everyone hates it (without having seen it), and the reasons are various:

  1. The kung fu choreography is terrible.
  2. The plot is poorly written. (Not sure how they can know this before it’s released?)
  3. Disney arbitrarily changed key, immutable “facts” about the legend of Mulan, who is from Henan, not Fujian.
  4. It doesn’t “feel” like a Chinese movie; the stylistic choices made don’t have a Chinese sensibility and don’t appeal to Chinese audiences.
  5. The cartoon version was better.

One Chinese friend agreed that the American creativity showcased in a movie like Kung Fu Panda goes over way better with Chinese audiences because it’s brand new, rather than co-opting “sacred” Chinese tradition.

I can’t help but wonder if the current political situation doesn’t impart a bit of negative energy to an American film release in China. (It certainly doesn’t help!) But clearly, this movie has been a huge, expensive fail for Disney.

I’m just glad that I can go to the movies in Shanghai again, finally. Going to see Tenet this Saturday! (Chinese friends say this one is good.)


Update: SupChina had the same idea, and wrote a much more informative piece on this topic, published the same day! Check it out: Why Chinese viewers hate Disney’s ‘Mulan’

Share

John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.

Comments

  1. I’m still a bit wary of going to movies. I’m out in the ‘burbs now where “we don’t need no stinkin’ masks”, but at least MA is doing better than the rest of the country. I’m going through some TV series since I got a rowing machine (already put on the “Covid 19” so I need to lose weight). Have you see “Raised by Wolves” yet? Looks good, and I like Ridley Scott as a director ever since Alien.

  2. People just like to hate things, if Kung Fu Panda came out these days it would (imho) likely receive a similar treatment.

    p.s. but yes, I’m sure that using a story that already existed didn’t help
    p.p.s I watched the first 20 minutes and I actually liked the setting in the tulou

  3. I don’t know…. Kung Fu Panda is still pretty beloved. I see it in ads a lot these days. It’s being used to promote some English school.

  4. Over the years I noted that the Chinese nationals I discussed film with shared a similar outlook on Hollywood films. They preferred films that defied and exceeded expectations as opposed to films that accommodated. As a filmmaker Christopher Nolan does everything in his power to do the first rather than the latter. From the previews and reviews nothing appears “safe” about Tenet.

Leave a Reply