Kung Fu Mulan, the Chinese-produced animated Mulan movie, has been pulled from movie theatres in China just three days after release because it flopped so badly.
The Chinese box office is ruthless – movies that open with low box office takings are often yanked from the theatres two or three days after release. The film opened on October 3rd, a few days into China's "Golden Week" holiday that celebrated National Day. The holiday week is considered a major box office opportunity for homegrown movies, next to Chinese New Year.
Kung Fu Mulan, which opened last weekend, was touted by its studio Gold Valley Films, as more culturally authentic than Disney's recent live-action version. They said they believed Chinese audiences would find it more appealing than the Disney movie. Billed on its poster as "real China, real Mulan," the $15 million animated film ended up being an even bigger bomb at the box office than the Disney version. According to Chinese box office tallies, it only made US$1.19 million by October 5th before it was taken out of theatres. The other animated movie Jiang Ziya: Legend of Deification, which opened the same weekend, had already made US$171 million by then.
Death by Online Reviews and Low Attendance
Kung Fu Mulan was widely panned on Chinese social media review site Douban, which has become the country's equivalent of Rotten Tomatoes and Cinemascore. "Someone else made a Mulan film, [people] cry out that they smeared Chinese culture. Now Chinese people make a Mulan like this. I have nothing to say," read one Douban post. Other posts have not been any more positive. Other users criticized the movie for its low production quality. People who post on Douban tend to be merciless when they don't like a movie.
Gold Valley Films told the Chinese media that they were pulling the film from the theatres because they did not have enough resources to get the kind of publicity needed to compete with other films released during the holiday.
Back in December, the movie's director Liao Guang Hua said, "We are rather confident about our movie, and we believe that it will surpass Disney's new Mulan because what I made is a Mulan that completely fits Chinese audiences' tastes."
The audiences have panned Kung Fu Mulan for its ridiculous storyline, including the romance, and especially criticised its crude animation. Some even called the film "a disgrace to Chinese animation." In the movie, Mulan falls in love with the prince she was supposed to assassinate and ends up marrying him. This is a variation on the romance subplot (not present in the original ballad) where Mulan falls in love with a fellow soldier and officer. The romantic subplot was originally introduced in the first talkie movie of the Mulan story back in 1939. In this new animated version, Mulan is shown as a talented martial arts fighter, a trope present in many of the movies, rather than the ridiculous version of "chi" in the new Disney version giving her superpowers.
Commenters said that despite the huge success of Coloroom Studios' Nezha last year and the same studio's Zhang Ziya: Legend of Deification this week, the box office faceplant of Kung Fu Mulan proves that Chinese animation still has a long way to go before it reaches the heights of titles from Pixar, Dreamworks or Japan. Gold Valley Films is a little-known animation studio that previously made animated movies that looked like Disney knock-offs. After their pre-release boasts about Kung Fu Mulan's prospects, there might be a lot of Schadenfreude in its bombing at the box office.
Mulan: 2020's Movie Bad Luck Charm
In case you were wondering, Disney's live-action Mulan, which was made for over $200 million, has so far made $41 million in China. There were actually three other China-produced live-action Mulan movies released on China's streaming services in 2020 around the same time period Disney's was released in theatres. None of them was particularly good. Mulan seems to be the artistic and cultural hot potato that studios have gotten burned on this year.