China vs. Disney: The Battle for Mulan

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China is moving to take back one of its own — even if it is legend. Mulan is the Middle Kingdom's gender-bending heroine, its Joan of Arc. The character from folktale is a daughter who disguises herself as a male soldier to take her father's place in the conscription army. The problem for the Chinese is that, since 1998, the definitive version of the story has been Disney's.

Indeed, because of the animated Disney film, the character Mulan has become one of the most recognizable symbols of Chinese culture worldwide. Baby girls adopted from China have been named Mulan by their American parents. Disney has staged musical versions of the movie Mulan from Mexico to the Philippines. And posing for a photo with Mulan is a must for hordes of tourists at Hong Kong Disneyland.

Although it was too American for audiences in China (where it performed abysmally), Disney's Mulan was a smash hit in the rest of the world, where it reeled in $300 million. That didn't sit well with some Chinese, including Guo Shu, executive president of Starlight International Media Group, an entertainment company based in Beijing. "We commit ourselves to be a media with a sense of national responsibility," she told the state-run People's Daily. "Now that foreigners can produce a popular movie out of the story Hua Mulan, why can't we Chinese present its own to the world?"

In 2006, she announced the production of a Chinese Mulan, and now that version has opened to reclaim the global Mulan-mania. On Nov. 27, the $12 million, mainland-funded live-action war epic premiered in mainland China, Singapore and Malaysia. It will hit screens in Hong Kong this week, and negotiations are on the table for release dates in the U.S. and Europe...

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