From Mulan's Opening in China: As A Brand, How To Be Loyal, Brave, True?
Updated: Sep 17
After almost three years of planning and waiting, Disney’s live-action Mulan has finally been released in Chinese movie theaters this past weekend. Much to the disappointment of Disney, the $200-million movie finished the weekend in China with a disappointing $23.2 million box office.
What has Disney done wrong this time? Why has Mulan -- a female figure wildly popular in China -- failed to capture the heart and wallet of the Chinese audience?
Ironically, for a story that is centered around the virtues of loyal, brave, true, the movie failed to capture any of these values in its production.
In an attempt to impress the Chinese audience, Disney has added several cultural references that weren't in the original cartoon. We can tell from the lines and scenes that match the original poem that the production team had indeed done their research. But it is the exact effort that has made the Chinese audience feel awkward and the global audience confused. What’s more, their research is apparently insufficient in that some of the historic facts and details are just ridiculously wrong. So here’s a tip for brands: always learn who you are targeting and keep in mind that it’s impossible to please everyone. Do make a sacrifice, or you might just piss off everyone.
As though Mulan doesn’t need a male character to fall in love with, or some magic for help, Mulan the movie still doesn’t seem to be brave enough to jump out of the Disney princess awakening routine. The overly predictable plot and the unexplained magic of Chi have made the movie worse than mediocre. And for brands, while it’s a safe choice to follow the steps of the successful ones, it’s also what makes you mortal. Only by being innovative and bold to try new things (but do your research first!), can you stand out among the others and be irreplaceable. Yes, you might fail. But isn’t it better than living off your legacy?
With all those delicately designed and costumes and props, the Chinese audience still doesn’t recognize Mulan as an authentic Chinese-background movie, nor does the U.S audience accept it as a typical Hollywood blockbuster. On the contrary, the 1998 animation had made it clear that it was just another Disney princess movie based on an ancient Chinese myth, and it had never tried to play up to the Chinese audience. Today's Chinese cultural consumers are confident and sophisticated. They crave for authenticity rather than cultural pandering.