Kung Fu Mulan, a new animated movie version of the Mulan story, was released in China just this weekend. The new movie was produced by a company in China, written and directed by Chinese filmmakers, with traditional values designed to appeal more to mainland audiences after Disney's $200 million live-action version crashed and burned at the Chinese box office.
As Variety reported, Gold Valley Film released its feature animation "Kung Fu Mulan" over the National Day holiday from Oct. 3, where it will compete with fellow animation Jiang Ziya: Legend of Deification, the patriotic epic My People, My Homeland, and Peter Chan Ho Sun's volleyball drama Leap, which stars Gong Li.
"When Disney's animated 'Mulan' came out in 1998 and global audiences thought it was a great story, Chinese people were really happily surprised. But many of us also felt that the character you see in that story is more of an American girl than a Chinese girl," explained Karen Luo, executive producer and head of international operations at Gold Valley. "We wanted to make a story that was more suitable for Chinese aesthetic tastes and forms of expression. Although our budget is nowhere near the ballpark of Disney's new 'Mulan,' we have great confidence."
"In many versions, Mulan's slogan is 'I will bring honor to my family,' but we wanted to explore what she herself wants beyond that sense of responsibility," Luo said. "Young people here today really value individuality, so we emphasized that."
Gold Valley COO Allen Tsang also told Variety that it's outdated to think young Chinese would be attracted to old-school rhetoric about "duty" and "honor."
"Americans feel that we want to see the most traditional version of 'Mulan,' but when you look at [recent blockbuster animations]' Nezha' or 'Monkey King: Hero is Back' it's clear that what we want is to update old stories and connect them more to what's contemporary and the modern lives of young people."
Tsang stressed that in Nezha, last summer's breakout animated hit that earned $720 million to become China's second highest-grossing film of all time. The main character is a character from Chinese folklore who made the very modern declaration: "I choose my own life; it isn't up to fate."
Mulan's Individuality and Patriotism
Kung Fu Mulan expresses heroine "jiaguo qinghuai," or patriotic "pride in one's homeland" as part of her individualism. "Jiaguo quinghuai" is a key catchphrase of the National Day holiday and the new breed of nationalistic blockbusters emerging in China. Mulan here expresses her individuality by choosing to put her country first. Luo said. "For Americans, what you want to do is just a question of your own desires. But in China, it's not the case — what you want to do is tied up into your responsibilities to others and your pride in your homeland."
"It's not so different from what drives American superheroes who fight space invaders or supernatural beings, but really just want to protect their home and country," Tsang said. "Jiaguo qinghuai," however, is a bit more nuanced, as it stems from the Confucian idea that there are parallel relationships between a person and their family and a family and the state, encouraging a sort of voluntary, patriotic self-sacrifice. The term has appeared in many government reports on the country's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chinese Animation Arrives at the Box Office
With the box office success of Nezha last summer, blockbuster Chinese animated movies have finally arrived. China hopes that its films can rival Dreamworks and Pixar movies at the box office, home products outpacing Hollywood fare. This weekend's release of Zhang Ziya: Legend of Deification, made by the same studio, looks set to be a huge hit as well. It remains to be seen whether Kung Fu Mulan will be as big a hit at the box office, but the push is on to make Chinese animation the frontrunner of China's push for homegrown fare along with the push to make more Science Fiction movies that promote Chinese pride.