As Disney’s live-action Mulan struggles at the Chinese box office, a new film based on the same story is hoping to deal it a death blow. Kung Fu Mulan, a cg animated feature made in China, will hit theaters in the country on October 1 (or 3, according to some sources).
This isn’t unusual: the legend of Mulan has been popular in China for at least 1,500 years, and has spawned films, plays, operas, novels, and video games, each with its own spin on the story of a woman who joins in the army in the guise of a man. This year alone has seen four Mulan films. Kung Fu Mulan seems to place the emphasis on action and espionage, as the hero fights single-mindedly to improve her standing within the army.
Watch the trailer with (unofficial) English subtitles and read the official synopsis below. An official dub of the trailer can also be viewed here.
Mulan grew up in a martial arts family, has a dream to become a female warrior in the Kingdom. By forced to join the army in her father’s stead, she find a way to express herself. However, during a mission that she supposed to assassinate the Crown prince of a hostile kingdom, she never know that this decision changed her life entirely. They fell in love. From then on, she has a new goal, not to fight for her personal achievement but to bring the peace for the people of both countries. In the end she triumphed over the true villian and also understand the true meaning of being a warrior.
The film is directed by Xi Chen and produced by Gold Valley Films, a Chinese animation production house (which also has a creative center in L.A.). Although its release shortly after Disney’s Mulan can’t have been planned — Disney’s film was rescheduled multiple times in the pandemic — the promotional campaign for Kung Fu Mulan is implicitly playing up the contrast between the two. The tagline on its poster (see below) reads “Real China. Real Mulan.”
When Disney’s first version of Mulan, the 1998 animated musical, came out in China, it fared poorly. This wasn’t entirely its fault: shortly before, Disney had offended Chinese authorities with its live-action feature Kundun, and Mulan was only allowed a limited release in the country as a result. Since then, the House of Mouse has aggressively courted China, most conspicuously with the Shanghai Disney Resort, which opened in 2016.
This year’s Mulan remake was supposed to reaffirm the company’s commitment to the Chinese market. Director Niki Caro and her producers made a bid for authenticity, casting Chinese stars, working closely with Chinese advisors, and shooting parts of the film in China (a decision that later backfired). As Walt Disney Studios’ co-chairman Alan Horn told The Hollywood Reporter, “If Mulan doesn’t work in China, we have a problem.”
Well, Disney has a problem: the film has grossed just $36.3 million in China since its debut on September 11, trailing below predictions. The disappointing result may be due partly to pandemic jitters, as well as a domestic media blackout imposed on the film amid overseas controversy about its ties to the Xinjiang region (where the government allegedly imprisons Muslims). That aside, many viewers have expressed unease with the Hollywood take on a familiar legend, with some even accusing the film of cultural appropriation.
Disney’s Mulan was released in the U.S. on Disney+. A U.S. release of Kung Fu Mulan has yet to be announced.