Hollywood aims to win hearts of Chinese moviegoers by introducing Chinese legendary figure but risks another ‘Mulan’: experts
Published: Apr 07, 2021 09:36 PM
A new superhero Monkey Prince from DC comic Photo: Sina Weibo

A new superhero Monkey Prince from DC comic Photo: Sina Weibo

Following Marvel's move to film a live-action movie based on "Monkey King," the legendary hero of Chinese mythology Journey to the West, DC comics also announced on Tuesday that Monkey Prince, a new DC character with Asian heritage, will debut on May 11 through comic book stores and digital platforms. 

Hollywood is trying to win the hearts of Chinese moviegoers by playing the nostalgic card of using Chinese legendary figures, but they risk suffering the same poor result as Disney's Mulan if they fail to express Chinese culture, Chinese film experts noted.  

The hashtag "DC produced a new superhero Monkey Prince" began trending on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo on Wednesday. Many Chinese netizens said they only see "Monkey King" as their true hero instead of "Monkey Prince," and expressed their dissatisfaction with the character's "unhandsome" appearance and "stereotyped Asian face." Some complained that DC was "stealing Chinese culture" to earn money in China.

"Journey to the West is a public copyright book, and the image of Monkey King has been recreated in various versions all over the world. We cannot say that DC and Marvel's move is cultural plagiarism or theft," Shi Wenxue, a film critic based in Beijing, told the Global Times on Wednesday. 

"I personally think this is a successful case of cultural export, which we should be proud of," said Xiao Fuqiu, a film critic based in Shanghai, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

According to Shi, DC and Marvel picked the classic figure of Monkey King due to the large number of adaptations of Journey to the West in the current Chinese film and television market.

A new superhero Monkey Prince from DC comic Photo: Sina Weibo

A new superhero Monkey Prince from DC comic Photo: Sina Weibo

"Hollywood still values the Chinese market, but there are differences in cultural integration. In their eyes, the expression of Chinese elements can be mixed while we Chinese do not accept that. That's the reason why we felt uncomfortable, embarrassed and even offended when seeing Mulan including the role's makeup and the scene filmed in tulou," said Shi.

To seize the hearts of Chinese audiences, there should be respect and understanding of Chinese elements without arbitrarily matching or combining them at will, and they also need to tell a story that conforms to the logic of the characters, Shi suggested. 

Hollywood's interest in the Chinese market can be seen in the choice of Chloe Zhao to direct Marvel's Eternals and John Woo to film a movie themed Monkey King, the production of Shang-Chi, and the creation of DC's Monkey Prince. But the Chinese culture expressed by Hollywood filmmakers might not live up to the expectations of Chinese audiences, Xiao said.

"I personally think that DC can put aside the burden of trying to please Chinese audiences and create movies according to the rules of pure artistic creation. Perhaps then they will achieve unexpected results, as with the animation film Mulan in 1998," Xiao said.