By Philip J. Cunningham
Hopes for the future of the film business are tightly focused on China at the moment. Not only does the most populous country boast tens of thousands of screens, hundreds of millions of moviegoers and people with ample money to spend, but also theatrical releases which are helping bring back life to normal in China like nowhere else in the world.
It’s been a long dry season for film distributors around the world, and the market is still moribund in the COVID-19-challenged United States, and much of Europe, so all eyes are on the East.
Will people start going to the cinema again?
There are plenty of reasons not to go to see a movie. Bad weather, bad reviews, bad trailers, bad advertising. Too much sex and violence, or too little of the same. Same old actors, tired formulas, too much commercialism. Perhaps the topic is off-putting, or it’s enticing, but tried and tested, the latest derivative in a long line of sequels, re-makes and cannibalized content.
Movies aren’t cheap anymore; maybe the tickets cost way more than you want to pay.
And did I mention the pandemic? While generally bad for business, it has spurred growth in streaming services and online entertainment for the small screen. Crowding into a windowless theater may feel like an unnecessary risk due to lingering contagion concerns.
But of all the good reasons not to see a movie, taking cease and desist orders from a handful of self-proclaimed “woke” activists in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region who were suckled at the breast of US imperialism and continue to pay homage to the Mike Pompeos and Marco Rubios of the world is not one of them.
If the rabble-rousing “democrats” in Hong Kong say don’t go, most Chinese would be inclined to say the movie deserves a good look.
Amid all this, Mulan has been released theatrically on the Chinese mainland where it will thrive, survive or die based on popular tastes, word-of-mouth and artistic merit.
Either people will like it or they won’t.
But the film, which is the sort of product that normally would do robust business in Hong Kong due to its resonant tale, star cast and slick production values, has instead become a political piñata. It’s been open season on the warrior woman flick ever since Mulan star Liu Yifei shared a post about a mainland reporter who was beaten and humiliated by a mob of protesters at Hong Kong airport. In reaction to the shocking television coverage of Global Times reporter Fu Guohao being harassed by a mean-spirited mob of vigilantes during the height of the 2019 protests, Liu reposted a People’s Daily link quoting the hapless Fu: “I support Hong Kong police. You can beat me now.” And she added, in English: “What a shame for Hong Kong.”
Non-native speakers of English might think she was shaming Hong Kong when she was only evoking a sense of pity. But a poor grasp of grammar did not stop Hong Kong hotheads from excoriating Liu, and using her “what a shame” post as a bogus pretext for an attention-seeking boycott.
It is ironic that Hong Kong, which has long prided itself for nurturing and cherishing free speech and cultural freedom, and is the proud home of one of the most legendary and prolific film industries, is now the locus of an immature and dishonest movement to pressure people to not see a movie simply because a few hardened activists have taken issue with a comment made by the movie’s protagonist.
It’s comical to see the erstwhile street-fighters play the role of soft, easily offended victims, as if Liu’s tiny post triggered them beyond repair. Their spurious and perfidious call extends overseas as well, including Asian markets, where theatrical release is now possible due to the lifting of lockdowns and quarantines.
A murky “Milk Tea” alliance is being touted by precocious youth in Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and Taiwan to solidify cross-border bonds among people who don’t know better. As such, activists in vibrant film markets such as greater Bangkok are parroting calls for a boycott of the film.
Mulan is a make-believe story about a mythological woman warrior hailing from China’s northern frontier. In its latest incarnation as a Disney production, it is a family fare, which is to say, war without blood and romance without sex set amidst beautiful backdrops.
A lavishly crafted milquetoast of a movie that some viewers will enjoy, others won’t.
No one has to like Mulan, it may well be a muddled, mediocre film, but what’s to hate about it? Movies take a lot of hard work and serious money to make and even then, there’s no guarantee for success, even for Hollywood. It’s still hit or miss until the lights dim and film begins to play.
The boycott is a joke. Nobody likes being told what films to see or not to see. Call it crass opportunism, call it “rebels” desperate for a cause; Mulan is being used as a publicity gimmick for a flailing street movement that seeks to grab attention as grab can. It’s become a proxy battlefield and a smokescreen for harried Hong Kong “heroes” racing for the exits, busy planning their exodus to the West.
–The Daily Mail-China Daily News Exchange Item