The internet in China has exploded with excitement over Disney’s viral new “Mulan” trailer, but some have bemoaned the glaring historical and geographical inaccuracies in the short clip, calling the mashup of unrelated Chinese-looking elements disrespectful.
Most on social media were thrilled to catch their first glimpse of mainland-born Crystal Liu Yifei in the titular role. “This is the Hua Mulan of my dreams!” read one of the top comments on Disney’s official page on the Twitter-like Weibo platform, where the hashtag “Hua Mulan” has already been viewed 1.5 billion times and the hashtag “Mulan Trailer” 1.2 billion times just two days after its release. “I watched this repeatedly for an hour,” one user wrote. “When the film comes out, I’m going to make the box office explode!”
The trailer even spawned a new meme of Mulan’s exaggerated betrothal makeup, with people posting photos of themselves done up in her fever-red cheeks and yellow forehead paint.
But the general excitement has been tempered by some serious criticism. The original Mulan tale comes from a ballad about a girl born in northern China during the Northern and Southern dynasties period, around the 5th century A.D. The time period and location are key to the story, as her journey kicks off because of the forced conscription to fight invaders threatening the northern border.
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Yet the Disney trailer shows Mulan living in a round “tulou” house, a traditional communal living structure of the Hakka people unique to coastal, southern Fujian province that became widespread in the much later Ming dynasty — more than a thousand years later.
“Disney shouldn’t be so careless and just think that because tulou are beautiful, they can make Mulan live in one. She’s not Fujianese!” wrote one detractor who wondered how Mulan would manage to make it north to fight the Huns, adding: “I guess this Mulan has to take the subway out to join the army?”
Another PhD student expressed a similar sentiment in a video that has itself gone viral, racking up some 8 million views in two days. “This film is just trying to ingratiate itself to Western audiences. It’s like they thought, oh, this element is really Chinese, it’s very Oriental, so I’m going to shove it into the film to make everyone feel this is a very ‘Chinese’ film,” he said.
“This mess of mixing unrelated Oriental elements is really disrespectful of non-Western cultures and audiences,” he added. “This is not about [the producers] truly appreciating elements of a culture that is different from Hollywood’s, but using them to create something that [Americans] find comfortable and appealing.”
Such comments don’t appear to have dampened China’s overall anticipation of what many online are calling “China’s Disney princess.” The new poster, shot by the very popular Chinese fashion photographer and visual artist Chen Man, was also embraced with enormous enthusiasm, with numerous commenters saying that seeing it actually made them cry. “I don’t know why I cried, but seeing it makes me so emotionally touched and inspired!” one wrote in a common refrain.
There was quite a bit of bafflement and head-smacking in China when Liu was first cast as the title character, with many taking to social media to lambaste her acting chops — even going so far as to call her “box office poison.” But most agree that, talent or English-speaking abilities aside, her look “is definitely the one most suitable to the Chinese conception of classical Chinese beauty,” as one user put it.
Disappointment that there appears to be no sign of the beloved Mushu character also abounded. “He would have been very cute in live-action, and it’s not like Disney doesn’t have the ability to create him — why didn’t they do it?” one user wrote in a common complaint. The hashtag “There’s no Mushu dragon in Mulan” has been viewed more than 310 million times.
The reactions to “Mulan” have been much more positive than those to Disney’s decision to cast black actress Halle Bailey as Ariel in its upcoming live-action “The Little Mermaid.” Major Chinese newspaper The Global Times referred to her as “colored,” while others on social media expressed outrage and other racist sentiments — which bodes poorly for the movie’s prospects in the world’s second-largest film market.
Disney’s “The Lion King” premieres in China on Friday. The studio’s live-action versions of classic films have seen middling box office results in China so far this year, with “Aladdin” earning $53.5 million in May and “Dumbo” a mere $21.9 million in March.