China to Show ‘Mulan,’ Seeming to End Its Dispute With Disney
After months of hesitation, Chinese officials have decided to allow a Mandarin-dubbed version of Disney’s animated feature film “Mulan” to gallop across movie screens in the lead character’s native China.
The decision signals a thaw in previously frosty relations between Beijing and the Walt Disney Co., which is eager to resume catering to the increasingly affluent and entertainment-starved Chinese.
“ ‘Mulan’ will be playing in theaters in major cities across China later this month,” shortly after the Chinese New Year, confirmed Jin Zhongqiang, an official with the Chinese government’s monopoly film importer, the China Film Corporation.
The spat between Beijing and Disney originated in 1996 with three Hollywood feature films that particularly riled Chinese propaganda officials. The films included Disney’s “Kundun,” directed by Martin Scorsese and based on a biography of Tibet’s exiled god-king, the Dalai Lama.
Censors were also displeased by Sony Pictures’ “Seven Years in Tibet,” starring Brad Pitt as the young Dalai Lama’s tutor, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s “Red Corner,” with Richard Gere playing the part of an American lawyer suffering injustices at the hands of China’s judiciary.
These films resulted in an official decision to “halt all motion picture distribution with Sony, Disney and MGM.”
“Mulan” had already been released for Chinese-speaking audiences in Hong Kong and Taiwan in a subtitled version. In cities across China, curbside hawkers have been selling pirated versions of the film for months on the video CD format popular in China.
From the start, many Chinese were galled just at the thought of Mickey Mouse’s creators appropriating and Westernizing the legend of Mulan. Chinese children are commonly taught the epic poem about a woman warrior who dresses as a man to fight the invading Hun armies in place of her sick father.
Disney’s rapprochement with Beijing was highlighted by Disney CEO Michael Eisner’s visit to China last fall, when he met with Communist propaganda chief Ding Guangen. Recently, Disney has also bought distributions rights to two Chinese films, but China film corporation denied any connection between this and “Mulan’s” screening.