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Disney magic fails `Mulan' in China

Cultures: The Americanized version of the famous folk tale is all too American for Chinese movie audiences.

May 03, 1999|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

A Chinese dragon, however, would never do such a thing, says Lisa Niu, a 28-year-old who works for a foreign-owned telecommunications company. Having lost considerable face, he would be obliged to slink off in embarrassment.

"This is not a Chinese dragon," says Niu, while acknowledging that a dragon brazenly trying to duck responsibility is much funnier than one which is merely embarrassed. "I can tell the people who designed the dragon are from America."

Ironically, the poor turnout for "Mulan" follows a lengthy effort by Disney to get the movie shown here at all. Chinese officials held "Mulan" hostage for months because they were still angry about Disney's 1997 release of "Kundun," a Martin Scorsese movie which recounted the life of the Dalai Lama and China's occupation of Tibet.

Whatever cultural differences "Mulan" has exposed, some of the film's universal messages were not lost on the most important viewers: kids.

"I learned to be fearless and just go ahead," said Tang Xiaoyang, a 10-year-old boy who went to see the movie in a theater after a pirated copy he bought turned out to be too blurry.

"I like Mulan," he added, "even though she is a woman."

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