“Mulan” Received Well at the Box Office But Not Critically

No matter how their projects turn out, this pair always has such nice chemistry off-screen as decade-old friends. Behind the Story vids below.

This movie has been hyped. Hyped because of the theme songs (Stefanie Sun trumps all in terms of popularity in China), hyped because it was Mulan, one of the most famous heroines in Chinese culture, and hyped because it was Vicky Zhao Wei, who is just loved and unlike most Chinese celebs, not just within China’s boundaries.

And the sales reflected that. In six days the movie earned 50 million yuan its first six days, not the highest China’s seen, but  a solid success and the Chen Kun-Zhao Wei pairing was proclaimed a box office guarantee since their first on-screen pairing  Painted Skin, also was a hit. But all those factors doesn’t mean good movie. Basically, this is a post for everyone looking forward to this movie to go in with low expectations.  Because while this movie has drummed up more overseas interest than other Chinese films this year, simply because of the name “Mulan” (thanks Disney!) this is not even close to being one of the better Chinese films of this year, or even of the holiday season. Expectations should have been low from the start since the director is Jingle Ma.

Chen Kun changes his hair style more often than any other Chinese actor I can think of. And it looked great in Behind the Story, hence all the Behind the Story pics.

The general  reviews have indicated that this film was “lacking”. At douban.com the rating is 6.4 which equates to “not really good but watchable”. If you want to read an English review  Twitch has one, so does a A Nutshell Review. Consensus: acting’s pretty good – the directing is weird.

It’s always mystified me that A-list stars Chen Kun and Zhao Wei would choose to work with the director who butchered the other most famous cross-dressing feminist story in Chinese culture – Butterfly Lovers. That was panned critically AND was a box office bomb. It’s like Jingle Ma got rewarded for failure with a bigger cast, a bigger budget, and really good theme songs and singers, and an even more famous,at least internationally, Chinese classic to screw up.

It’s not to say Jingle Ma hasn’t had his share of good movies. He’s a rather famous Hong Kong director with a long career, and I really enjoyed one or two of his films like Fly Me to Polaris and Tokyo Raiders. But he’s no John Woo. He’s not consistent and his movies are a hit and miss, and frankly,  more misses. He seems to make fun films better than serious ones, but serious was the direction he took Mulan, or at least tried to take it. There’s nothing in his resume that indicated he would make a good historical, culturally-significant epic and I just don’t understand why he was chosen for this film at all.  Again, refer back to Butterfly Lovers.

So both idarklight and I are rather perplexed at all the news and interest about this movie. We had assumed it would be really average if not terrible a long time ago. It’s an wonderful story and  likable enough cast. But…there’s just so many other, better Chinese movies to watch, and tons more films to look forward to.

Big Mulan and Little Mulan

In the meantime, it’s not an entire loss – promotions of the cast are always fun like  Behind the Story interviews (btw – Hunan TV funded this film).  In the first part below- the little girl sings the Henan Opera version of Mulan (cut for those who don’t want to watch the whole show). That was the first performance I ever saw in a CCTV Chinese New Year’s Gala, many years ago, sung by another little girl whose probably quite grown up now. It was enchanting, and I loved Mulan ever since, before the Disney version, although my love for Mulan grew after seeing the Disney version because that version rocked too.

Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 All videos thanks to iChenkun @ yt.

So will this top the Disney Mulan? Probably no, not even close. Zhao Wei fans shouldn’t feel bad though…it’d be really hard for anyone to top the amazing Lea Salonga, animated Mulan’s singing voice.

But Mulan is not a Disney movie. Nor is it a Jingle Ma movie. It’s a legend, perhaps a reality, but it’s something in every Chinese girl’s heart, and the hearts of some non-Chinese as well (again, thanks Disney!).  Even if this movie sucks, there will be more versions of it to come as China’s entertainment sector grows bigger and people want to explore it more in medium of film and television. And I’ll be looking forward to the future adaptations.

19 thoughts on ““Mulan” Received Well at the Box Office But Not Critically

  1. wow. the rant.. haha.
    I will still give the movie a try. I wasn’t expecting much when I saw the trailer.. VITAS come on. I think Chinese Americans had too high of expectations since the Disney Mulan was so popular. I’m not sure if this movie was for international audiences.

  2. That’s what this post was for. To trample on people’s expectations. I don’t think we did a good job though. People still seem to be really eager to watch it.

    I don’t think I’ll ever watch this, even if my ultimate bias Chen Kun is in it.

  3. I just watched Hua Mulan, and I give it a 6/10. Chen Kun and Zhao Wei were naturally amazing, but the directing, editing and overall polish sucked.
    I really didn’t like how when a scene was over there would be a flash of light. Also the storyline was too rushed and lacked buildup between the two leads.

    I grew so used to disney’s happy endings that I was so crushed that the ending was sad.. Ugh now I’m in a bad mood.

    But LOL VITAS? Really?

  4. Then you’re criticizing the movie system, not China’s directing skill, and you’re suggesting a more state-controlled system than is already in place.

    For China, as a whole, to selectively pick and choose who gets what movie to reflect a certain “image”, that’d be so dictator-like it’d be mocked and run through the western media with so much negativity before movies ever made it to the US. The film industry in China, like most places, is largely propelled by large corporations. Sometimes they make faulty choices. But I don’t blame them for not running their business on “how can we make this appeal to audiences abroad”. China’s movie industry can only grow by catering to Chinese. It’s up to Chinese Americans to look for the good movies, not just watch the ones with already famous stories.

    As for the hypocrisy – This post was is one of those exceptions where we felt it necessary to criticize. This Mulan movie got so much buzz and so much unwarranted attention from netizens abroad, that idarklight asked me to write a post about it, to take down everyone’s expectations a notch, and to furthermore, point out there are more movies in China than just “Mulan”, better movies. I guess it was too subtle. This post ended up being quite the waste of time, especially when I had really hard exams to take.

    Thus, is it any wonder that I got mad at that waste of time when you from your comment suggested what you got from the post, was entirely the opposite point that idarklight and I wanted to project.

    As for the tone of my first comment to you, you shouldn’t really take it to heart. Like I said, I was pissed – your comment was grating. Even in my less stressed state, it stills reads gratingly. What I should have probably done was privatize the post before I replied, then replied after exams were done when I wasn’t so annoyed. You probably didn’t mean your comment to come out so negative either. But what’s done is done.

    But really I applaud China for finally focusing on their Chinese audience, in China. Back when the directors all looked to go into the American market with those stupid wuxia films – that was more demeaning, and the films ended up badly anyway. It’s up to Chinese Americans to look for the good Chinese movies, not just watch the ones with famous stories, and then generalize it based on that.

  5. ^P.S. My previous comment did not come off the way it’s supposed to, but that was the idea behind the rant. Anyways, Cfensi got pissed off before she could give me the opportunity to explain myself. And even if she decides to dislike and give another round of criticism towards my new comment, that’s her prerogative.

  6. Nowhere in my previous statements did I say that I dislike, hate, and am absolutely ashamed of China. I always knew that there were faults with it (duh) and I point it out, but that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in its progress.

    What I was trying to get through, however, was the fact that the products usually marketed outside of China, are usually done with poor taste. Name the last 3 blockbusters for foreigners made by China and you will see what I mean. There ARE good films made in China, and I don’t dispute that fact, but there are equally bad choices made for films targeted for mainstream/international appeal. And it’s ESPECIALLY bad when a film like MULAN, which is practically the emblem of China…or what foreigners deem as the emblem, come forward as such an awkward film, done with a lackluster director, etc. Same goes for Painted, and the same goes for all the films with Zhang Ziyi in it.

    I want the best for China as well, so I want the best of its facet shown. Entertainment, like I’ve stated in previous responses, is the best way to get closer to another culture. When China comes up with ideas for movies that has international appeal, I wish it would consider that the movie should be GOOD. Not lukewarm, not lacking, GOOD. And every time they tried to make it so, it vastly disappointed.

    I’m not one of those people who will never see things for what it is. Maybe what I say has no influence, but if enough of us combine our forces (through movie reviews, etc.), then eventually China will have to start paying attention because it sheds a negative light on their entertainment industry.

    Anyhow, I understand your concerns with my statement, but I will have to disagree with how you saw my comment. Thanks for your generous criticism, however. Obviously you do not do what you preach.

  7. Also I’d like to make a point here on your comment that China needs criticism to grow. Yes, but not from Chinese Americans, but rather Chinese people. I don’t see what our criticism abroad really does to help the growth of

    China. Chinese Americans are not in an environment where they really know what’s going on in China. It’s not pervasively spread like Korean entertainment. Therefore one criticism and Chinese Americans begin generalizing, and dismiss it as a whole.

    Whereas in China, everyone is flooded with Chinese entertainment obviously, and they know what’s really going on. That there are good artists, good films.

    Chinese Americans already have huge inferiority complexes and tons of prejudices against Chinese entertainment, and criticism only turns people off from exploring it more. I’d like to point out the good first, so that people actually can get into it and then judge for themselves.

  8. This post has been deprivatized and again comments are open. If anyone wants to discuss it further feel free.

    I’m rather too tired to get into that mode again, but I do have to comment this:

    Criticism is perfectly fine- generalizing the entire Chinese entertainment industry based off one thing has always been a pet peeve of mine, because normally people haven’t really seen enough of it to judge. In this particular case, the entire point of the article was to say that this movie does not represent the Chinese film industry and that people should not be turned off by this one high-profile movie because there’s been so many well-directed films lately.

    It was a post that idarklight really wanted me to write, so to see that overlooked by someone who I respected was troubling. If even you, Ivana B. Anonymous did not read, or did not get that, then there’s something terribly wrong with my writing. It’s too convoluted, too long, too something.

    And in this case – if you are talking about mainland – it’s not quite even. It’s HK. The terribly directed Painted Skin was also directed by a first-time HK director. Which is not to knock HK directors, because there are really good ones, both old and new like Teddy Chan and Pang Ho-cheung. You’re looking in the wrong places if you’re looking at Painted Skin and Mulan though.

  9. @Ivana B. Anonymous

    Wow did someone just spit in your bean curd? Did the chip on your shoulder get too big? What’s with the negativity? I had to go look at your IP just to see if it was the same person who said she had “grown” and became proud of what her culture had instead of one of the Chinese Americans who write China off based on one negative product.

    This movie doesn’t and should not represent China’s progress. Jingle Ma is an old HK director. He’s not even one of the better old HK directors. He just got lucky and got the Mulan project. There’s tons of emerging Chinese directors …did you even read the post?

    I’ve said several times that there’s been several movies directed by first-time Chinese directors just in the past year that were great. Ning Hao, Ding Sheng, the guy who directed One Night in Supermarket, the Heaven Eternal Earth Everlasting director, etc, etc. The list goes on, and on. Browse through the movie category on this site.

    And you know what? Even if China wasn’t making all these great films you just IGNORED it’s no shame to be making films that aren’t as good as America. America’s film industry has been there continuously for over 60 years. China’s was completely INDIE like…8 years ago. And America’s the biggest film industry in the world.

    And furthermore…it’s not like Disney slapped their movie together. Disney painstakingly sent teams of people to China to study drawing Chinese historical sites and objects for this film. They hired Chinese consultants to teach them about Chinese culture, and so to portray it as accurately as possible. A Chinese person was the supervising animator for Shang.

    So if you’ll excuse me…I’m going back to my studying. This message is for anyone who shares the same sentiment. Don’t come to this site to if you just want to tell me your judgments on the progress in the entertainment industry in China based on one bad film when it’s surrounded by great releases. Try to do a little more research.

  10. I don’t get what’s so special about Stephanie Sun — she’s just an overrated singer, in my honest opinion (don’t kill me!). Compared with the epicness that is Jane, she is just good at best. You just can’t compare.

    As for Zhao Wei…to be honest, I don’t see the appeal in her either. I’ve watched in WZGG, and various other movies/dramas but never saw that much in her to make me think she’s a great actress. I haven’t seen Red Cliff yet, though, if that would make a difference in my opinion. Her acting in that dead bore movie Painted was mediocre as well.

    In general, besides the fact that Jane Zhang sang the theme for this film, and Vitas is in it, and it’s my most favorite Chinese legend, there’s nothing else to recommend. Frankly, that’s disappointing. I was hoping for this movie to change my mind about China’s progress, but it still has a long way to go in terms of good directing.

    P.S. It makes me really angry as well to know that Americans can make a Chinese legend better than its original country. That’s just so…pathetic.

  11. I’m slightly perplexed too because Vicki used to be box office poison (or something like that)… guess she overcame that?

  12. @cfensi
    they could’ve gave SYZ the Mulan Star song and called it a theme song…I seriously don’t understand the point of having a theme song that you play after the other theme song. Really, who’s going to stay that long?

    Disney’s Mulan was excellently done. I don’t see why anyone should bash it. While Disney animations show their mistakes and biases, they make wonderful animations and stories that do their job – Pocahontas II failed because it deviated from its purpose as an animated feature.

  13. Hm. Thanks for the heads-up about going to watch the movie with low expectations. I adore the Disney movie (I agree with you SO MUCH about the Mulan’s Decision scene — just the music gives me chills), but I’ll try to avoid drawing comparisons when watching this Mulan.

    Great post, by the way. Very well written and tied together. :)

  14. @idarklight –

    Stefanie Sun is legend. Jane may be one day…but Stefanie Sun – she deserves top spot. There’s no possible way Jane could have the main theme over her. Who fits what is not a factor.


    The trailer is not always better than the movie. In this case, the movie was just poorly done.

    But this one kicked ass:

    Some of the most beautifully animated, and storyboarded sequences I’ve ever seen. Not to mention the score. Guh.

    After watching that again, I’m now pissed at Jingle Ma. The story of Mulan could have been done with such artistry. There are tons of rising Chinese directors – why him?

  15. @cfensi
    me, too. It was a girl in red on a pedestal, surrounded by a bunch of little kids. And I remember asking my grandmother what that song was later…but I can’t find the video of that anywhere.

    Being biased, I have to say I was disappointed with the matching of singer and songstresses. Stephanie Sun simply cannot pull of the force of the song as well with the graininess of her voice. She would’ve done well with Mulan Star, and Jane could’ve definitely done better with Mulan Love.

  16. I love the chemistry between Chen Kun and Zhao Wei! Plus, I just hear the theme song … wow … just … wow! Stefanie Sun is amazing! &the trailer looked good, but then again the trailer always look better then the actual movie. Still want to watch this movie even if it’s not as great.

  17. She’s so adorable (the little girl)… I’m a little perplexed, though. My memory tells me that the girl who sung Mulan on the New Year Gala was a girl older than her but still a girl…but when I looked it up last time, it was sung by a grown woman.

    I love that song. It was my favorite opera piece as a child.

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