This image released by Disney shows Liu Yifei in the title role of the film. (Photo: Agencies)
After many postponements of its theater premiere due to the coronavirus pandemic, Disney's highly anticipated Mulan, a live action update of the media giant's 1998 animated classic, hit Disney's streaming platform on the weekend.
Starting Friday, the $200 million film has been available to viewers for a $30 premium purchase on Disney Plus (with an existing subscription), before its release to all subscribers of the platform for free on Dec 4.
While it skipped the theater in the domestic US market, Disney's 2020 nonmusical iteration of its 1998 classic will grace big screens in some international destinations, including China, where its theater release has been set for Friday, Disney said.
Mulan, directed by New Zealand director Niki Caro, boasts a majority-Chinese cast including Liu Yifei, Gong Li, as well as Donnie Yen, Jet Li, Yoson An and Tzi Ma.
The film is based on the Chinese Ballad of Mulan.
Set during the Northern Wei Dynasty, it tells of a young woman who disguised herself as a man to take her aging father's position in the army.
The film promises to be a more realistic interpretation of Chinese history and culture than its animated predecessor, which took the form of musical comedy and included comic relief elements such as a speaking dragon representative of the family ancestors.
"Some American fans will be disappointed that there are no comic characters like Eddie Murphy's Mushu dragon, but Chinese audiences will appreciate the elimination of such characters since for some it trivialized and mocked an important cultural icon," said Stanley Rosen, a political-science professor at the University of Southern California and an expert on Chinese film.
"In that sense, the earlier film worked better for children, while the new film works better for adults."
Rebecca Fannin, founder of Silicon Dragon Ventures, said the movie appeared to be tailor-made for Chinese audiences, with "a Chinese heroine fighting for her country".
"There have been some issues over Hollywood studios shaping content too much to appeal to China, in fact," she said.
Despite its critical acclaim, the original Disney animated movie, which drew $304 million worldwide at the box office, did not resonate well with Chinese audiences, many of whom dismissed it as too westernized.
However, the most recent rendition, was crafted targeting the Chinese market, which has evolved to become the world's second-biggest movie market in recent years. The film places much greater emphasis on traditional Chinese values, such as duty to family, some critics said.
Rosen said the film "definitely was made to appeal to Chinese audiences, with stars Gong Li and Donnie Yen". But, it was also made for an international audience, with its theme of female empowerment and great cinematography and action scenes.
"You can't make a $200 million film, even before marketing costs, just for one market, no matter how big that market is," he said.
The film's release elicited an emotional response on Twitter, with many people praising the live-action remake for its depiction of female strength.
"This movie is filled with such incredible female fire energy given both the star of the film and director are inspiring, strong women!!" wrote the singer Christina Aguilera, who worked on the soundtracks of both the 1998 and the 2020 versions of Mulan.
Other users expressed unease about how much Disney is charging audiences for the movie premiere.