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As Disney’s mega-budget live-action remake of Mulan prepares to roll out in theaters in select markets across Asia, pro-democracy activists in several countries in the region are calling on audiences to steer clear of the movie via the growing #BoycottMulan movement.
A wave of coordinated social media activity in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Thailand over the weekend urged for filmgoers to skip the movie because of past comments made by its star, actress Liu Yifei, supporting Hong Kong’s police force.
Among the most prominent voices calling for the boycott is Hong Kong activist leader Joshua Wong. “Because Disney kowtows to Beijing, and because Liu Yifei openly and proudly endorses police brutality in Hong Kong, I urge everyone who believes in human rights to #BoycottMulan,” he wrote Friday on Twitter.
He added that Liu was “betraying” the values that Hollywood “purports to champion.”
Controversy has dogged Mulan since the heat of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests last summer, when Liu, a Chinese American, took to Chinese social media service Weibo to share an image, originally released by the state-backed People’s Daily, which read: “I support Hong Kong’s police, you can beat me up now.” In English, she added: “What a shame for Hong Kong.”
Her remarks prompted an instant backlash from the city’s pro-democracy activists, who have repeatedly accused local police of brutality, unlawful arrests and even torture.
Liu was circumspect when addressing the protests and her past comments in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter earlier this year. “I think it’s obviously a very complicated situation, and I’m not an expert. I just really hope this gets resolved soon … I think it’s just a very sensitive situation.”
Because of the tiny scale of Hong Kong’s movie box office relative to the mainland Chinese market — the city has a population of just 11 million compared to 1.3 billion in China — activists have repeatedly called on pro-democracy supporters from afar to get behind the #BoycottMulan hashtag. Since Friday, they appear to have found that backing among Thailand and Taiwan’s endemic activist communities, which have recently sought common ground under the #MilkTeaAlliance hashtag, a reference to the sweet drink that is popular across Southern China and Southeast Asia.
The protestors have deployed the hashtag to symbolize their shared pro-democratic mission and concerns over China’s growing influence over the region. In recent weeks, Thailand has been roiled by street protests as thousands of young people call for reforms of the country’s monarchy.
In July, a group of student protestors in Seoul, South Korea staged another small-scale protest against Mulan, arguing that the film and its star had come to symbolize support for political violence rather than the progressive values of the movie’s themes.
Mulan, which cost $200 million to make before marketing, released exclusively over Disney+ in the U.S. over the weekend, but it is scheduled to hit the big screen in various Asian markets on Friday. Although the boycott campaign could take a bite out of earnings in some markets, many analysts expect the film to do gangbusters business in mainland China. The film is based on a beloved Chinese legend and was shot in China and New Zealand. It also stars, alongside relative newcomer Liu, a slew of Chinese cinema icons, including Gong Li, Jet Li and Donnie Yen.
Some analysts believe that blockbuster earnings in China are far less certain, however. Despite its Chinese provenance and cast, the film was shot in English, and later dubbed into Mandarin, which could be awkward for local viewers. Grandly staged Chinese period dramas of Mulan‘s kind also haven’t been in fashion for years in Chinese cinema, where the market has shifted towards more international genres like sci-fi or the modern war epic.
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