Only one month after the international release of Disney’s Mulan (2020) comes another film centered on the legendary Chinese heroine, this time produced by a firm from the mainland itself.
Kung Fu Mulan (originally titled 木兰：横空出世) is a 3D-animated movie produced by Gold Valley Films. Made available in local theaters on October 3, smack in the middle of China’s week-long national holiday, the film aimed to succeed where its Western-made counterparts did not.
Both of Disney’s attempts to penetrate the Chinese market were not as successful as it would have liked. Filmgoers commented that the 1998 animation lacked the traditional values that the original ballad embodied. More than 20 years later, Disney’s attempts to rectify their previous error have resulted in the live-action adopting a misunderstood version of the country’s culture.
In the wake of critics revealing Disney’s cultural misrepresentations of China, Kung Fu Mulan hoped to tell a more authentic story that would both express traditional values and resonate with audiences.
“We are rather confident about our movie, and we believe that it will surpass Disney’s new Mulan,” said Director Liao Guanghua to Chinese media outlet Southern Metropolis Daily. “Because what I made is a Mulan that completely fits the Chinese audiences’ tastes.”
Gold Valley Films’ rendition of the widely known Hua Mulan is a story that focuses on a protagonist already experienced in war. Here, Mulan is assigned to complete highly difficult missions such as an assassination, which she struggles to fulfill due to romantic developments.
Despite the reassurances offered by the film’s production crew, neither the story nor the animation level of the movie satisfied viewers. In the end, Kung Fu Mulan failed to secure a good box office performance and was pulled out of cinemas after only three days. It gathered mostly negative reactions from its viewers.
One Douban user commented, “Can this really be called a movie? The animation quality of online games is better than this. The stupidity of the plot reaches out into the clouds.”
“It really has nothing to do with Mulan,” another reviewer wrote. “The plot developed slowly. The dialogue was old-fashioned and awkward, and Mulan’s dubbing [voice] was somewhat contrived. One star for the animator.”
As of this writing, Disney’s Mulan has a 5/10 rating on popular Chinese film review aggregator Douban. Kung Fu Mulan holds an even more unpopular score of 3.2/10.
As reported by Variety, Kung Fu Mulan was Gold Valley Films’ first project that the studio made on its own, with a budget of only US$15 million. The company’s website further reveals a completion of only five total feature films, including the animated Mulan. In contrast, Disney’s Mulan was a staggering US$200 million project, the most expensive live-action film led by a female director.
At the end of the day, despite the strengths that each movie had over the other—Disney’s brand name and budget versus Gold Valley Films’ home-court advantage—neither film was able to leave a positive impression on the Chinese market.
Though Mulan’s story has been told dozens of times, it appears that only a few have ever truly lived up to her name.