‘Monster Hunter’ controversy shows why Hollywood can’t depend on China
Paraphrase Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, now * this * is cancel culture!
Sony Monster hunter was supposed to be this weekend’s big overseas launch. The Paul WS Anderson-led video game adaptation, starring Milla Jovovich and Tony Jaa, was scheduled to open this weekend in China, and has done so to a point. It was pulled almost overnight after an apparent outcry over a line of dialogue that was viewed as deeply insulting / offensive to Chinese audiences. For the time being, the plans for editing the scene and showing the modified versions of the film have been put on hold. It may be a case of an online “cancellation culture” resulting in an actual cancellation. And since the film’s release was mostly about music in China, that’s a problem.
In the footage, a white male character and an Asian character played by Jin Au-Yeung are conversing while driving. “Look at my knees! Jin shouts. “What kind of knees are they?” »Asks his co-star from the stage. “Chinese!” Jin answers. At a glance (yet to see the movie), the moment feels like any number of cheap jokes where a minority character playfully points out that he’s not white. Think Richard T. Jones flirting with Joeley Richardson in Paul WS Anderson’s opening moments Event horizon by offering her “something hot and black in your body”. However, the scene was interpreted (intentionally or not) as a reference to an infamously racist schoolyard rhyme that reads “Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, look at them”.
If you remember, the Chinese release of Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt Once upon a time … in Hollywood was shot at the last minute allegedly on Bruce Lee’s daughter making a personal appeal to the National Film Administration of China over her displeasure with her father’s comedic cameo in the film (as played by Mike Moh). It was… disturbing to say the least and kept the film from going above $ 400 million worldwide, but the melodrama directed by Quentin Tarantino had already made $ 374 million on a budget of $ 90 million. The controversy over Monster hunter is more serious.
Tencent and Sony have arguably only released the Constantin Films / Impact Pictures / Tencent / Tohomovie production for now (instead of delaying it) because A) the Chinese film market has largely recovered and B) Resident Evil: The Final Chapter earned $ 159 million of its $ 312 million global revenue in China alone at the start of 2017. Although that wasn’t going to happen here (word of mouth after an opening day of 5 , $ 3 million would have been mixed even before the outcry), the film was intended specifically to take advantage of China’s relatively robust market. Two of the world’s three largest producers in 2020 (The eight hundred and My People My Homeland) are Chinese blockbusters that have opened in recent months.
However, what few imports have played this year has not exactly been an outstanding success, as Principle did well ($ 66 million) but the likes of Mulan, Sonic the hedgehog and Bad boys for life bombed (to varying degrees). While the controversies over Once upon a time … in Hollywood and The eight hundred (which was pulled at the last minute from his initial debut in the summer of 2019 over fears he had improperly glorified previous political leadership before playing this summer to the tune of $ 469 million) was courtesy of the government Chinese, this one was actually due to the outrage of true Chinese moviegoers who flocked to social media to express their displeasure.
These could be young (?) Moviegoers potentially taking excessive offense at something that has been passed by government censorship commissions. I absolutely believe that people in a particular demographic can make jokes about their respective demographic, but I digress. This is another sign that Hollywood cannot and should not depend on China for its box office earnings. The vast majority of the big Hollywood movies that do well in China remain the same movies that are successful in North America and the rest of the world. Moreover, as we have seen with Crazy Rich Asians, The Farewell, Abominable and Mulan, films apparently designed to mark in China cannot compete with actual Chinese blockbusters.
Yes, there are some exceptions (like Resident Evil: The Final Chapter and xXx: The Return of Alex Cage) big, mid-budget bombings pretty much everywhere while scoring big enough in China to be considered a success, but A) it’s the exception not the rule and B) the new Chinese embrace of DC superhero movies / Marvel (Aquaman, Venom, Captain Marvel, Spider-Man: Far From Home, etc.) means that such a scenario is even less likely. Also of note, this is another example of the difference between making a film aimed at appeasing the Chinese government and one aimed at entertaining present-day Chinese moviegoers.
Mulan may have been super respectful, but audiences are flocking to shameless fantasies like The Wandering Earth and Mermaid and debauchery action comedies like Detective Chinatown 2 and (up to a point) Ne Zha, to say nothing of gloriously gonzo Hollywood movies like Aquaman and Venom, had little interest. Conversely, the PG-13 Monster hunter was in part destined for China without any objection from government censorship commissions to be essentially banned (for now) after the actual Chinese public protested. We’ll see how it plays out in the rest of the world, including North America where it’s still slated for a theatrical release on December 25.