Movies

Mulan opens weak in China with $31m at box office

LOS ANGELES – The Walt Disney Co’s live-action remake of Mulan pulled in US$23.2 million (S$31.7m) over the weekend at box offices in China, a slow start for the big-budget epic about a Chinese folk hero in its most important theatrical market.

The debut for Mulan fell short of director Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, which grossed US$29.8 million in China a week earlier. Unlike Tenet, Mulan was tailored to draw big audiences in the country.

But Mulan, which cost US$200 million to produce, was hit by political controversy and received mixed reviews in China. It had been set to debut in March until it was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, which has limited moviegoing worldwide.

“That’s a disappointing debut,” said Jeff Bock, senior media analyst at Exhibitor Relations Co.

“Disney made this film for Chinese audiences and they saw it pretty much fall flat.” 

Mulan provoked a backlash on overseas social media, and calls for a boycott over its star Liu Yifei’s support of Hong Kong police and for being partly filmed in the Xinjiang region, where China’s clampdown on ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims has been criticised by some governments and rights groups.

Chinese authorities also told major media outlets not to cover the film’s release in the wake of the uproar.

Total worldwide box office receipts for Mulan reached US$37.6 million through Sunday for the seven territories where the film is playing.

Disney is trying to turn a profit on Mulan through an unusual release strategy because the pandemic has left many theatres shuttered.

The company made Mulan available for online viewing in the US and other countries where the Disney+ streaming service is available. 

But the film has at least one ardent fan – China’s firebrand foreign ministry. 

Its spokesman Zhao Lijian on Friday dismissed all the controversy, saying it was “very normal” to thank the Xinjiang government for its help and shrugging off criticism by “some so-called human rights organisations”.

He went on to applaud Chinese-American actress Liu as “the contemporary Mulan” and “a true child of China”. 
At cinemas in Beijing, several moviegoers were oblivious to the international outcry. 

“Mulan is a household name. Different people may have different ways of understanding this story,” said Hu Xia, 46, who saw the movie with her son. “This time, I think they were successful.” 

Another moviegoer, 30-year-old Alvin Ye, praised the movie for its portrayal of an extraordinary woman. 

Nationalistic tabloid Global Times offered another defence against overseas critics, in typically unvarnished language, describing attacks on the film as “depravity”. - REUTERS/AFP

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