When women warriors dare not speak: China, Hong Kong and Disney’s Mulan Film


A comment by the female star of the Disney film Mulan, supporting Hong Kong police crackdown on democratic protests has led to a massive boycott of the film in Hong Kong.

An upcoming film about a filial daughter who fights against the odds to make it in a man’s world is now fighting against the odds to avoid falling victim to a massive boycott because the star had the temerity to express her point of view. This was an unpopular point of view, at least in Hong Kong, where calls for a boycott of Mulan ring the loudest. Conversely, that criticism immediately gained some two million “likes” on the Chinese mainland, where only half the story of the Hong Kong protests is being told. 

The box office stakes are high on both sides of the Hong Kong-mainland divide, and Disney, which has high hopes for Mulan in the Asia market and globally, will have to artfully thread the needle eye of public opinion as it prepares for the release of the live action film in March. Now that publicity for the film has been unwittingly hitched to partisan politics, it will require an extraordinary effort to maintain support on both sides of the Shenzhen River that divides the former British colony from the Chinese mainland.

It started when Mulan star and lead actor, Liu Yifei, made a flippant comment on a social post last summer, stating her support for the Hong Kong police in the early days of the Hong Kong-China conflict. The reaction on social networks was fast and unforgiving; the entire film, representing years of work and millions of dollars investment was suddenly stigmatized by a single remark. Specifically, it put the film at risk of bombing in Hong Kong, a geographically small, but in this case at least, an economically and culturally significant film market. 

The controversy arose at a time when Hong Kong airport was besieged by angry protesters against Chinese policy to impose a new extradition law in Hong Kong. A reporter named Fu Guohao, in Hong Kong at the behest of the Chinese state-run Global Times, was forced to undergo a humiliating interrogation and taunting by protesters at the airport who felt the police were hostile to their protest. Fu was ganged-up on by a youthful, quick-fisted mob that suspected him of affiliation with the Hong Kong police, based on the shirt he was wearing. The beleaguered mainlander cried out, “I support the Hong Kong police. You can beat me up now.”

The video, shared widely on television and the internet, showed Fu Guohao being showered with abuse. It looked to be a set-up, at least in the way he played to the camera, but he took some hard knocks and the video went viral.

The Chinese-American star “Crystal” Liu Yifei, who played Mulan in the film, added her voice to the kerfuffle, as did millions of others, posting her reaction to the incident online. What’s more, she made her comment in reaction to the provocative video on a People’s Daily-linked site.

“I, too, support the Hong Kong police. You can all attack me now.”

And attack they did. Liu has been a photogenic lightning rod of anger for Hong Kong protesters ever since, racking up hateful posts on the internet for one hundred days running with no end in sight.

The gentle-looking Liu Yifei, perhaps still feeling a bit in character as a woman warrior after playing Mulan, shared her indignation about the injustice of the August 18, 2019 mob action against the Global Times reporter with the English words, “What a shame for Hong Kong!”

The Asia-pacific Journal – Japan Focus for more

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