the knee bill – Release

This post comes from the daily newsletter of the Culture department of Release, sent free of charge every evening.

No lesson seems to have been learned from the flop of the live version of Mulan made in China. After the Disney blockbuster, accused of cultural appropriation, the new victim of the Chinese box office is the American film Monster Hunter, released there on December 4 and retired from screens the next day. In this adaptation by Paul WS Anderson (that of Resident Evil, not the Paul Thomas Anderson of Phantom Thread) of a video game where Milla Jovovich has to smash a giant bug, a line of dialogue has aroused the anger of Chinese spectators and Internet users. An Asian soldier, played by actor and rapper MC Jin, jokes about his legs to one of his comrades as they ride through the desert. In English : «What kind of knees are these ? Chinese» – the pun based on the sound between knees (“Les genoux” in French) and Chinese, the nationality. What spark a storm on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, with the offending excerpt filmed on the sly and outraged comments accusing the film of racism, demanding its withdrawal, reimbursement (made) and public apologies. Occupying a quarter of Chinese screens when it was released, Monster Hunter disappeared before a possible reassembly for its release and Constantin Film, the German co-producer, cracked a statement declaring that there was absolutely “no intention to discriminate, insult or offend anyone of Chinese origin“. In a questionable referral of signs, the Chinese Communist Youth League posted online a photo, then removed, of George Floyd, suffocated to death below a policeman’s knee with the caption “What are those knees?»

It’s yet another war of words where the most nationalistic Chinese Internet users ignite as soon as the country’s image is at stake – as with airlines or hotels identifying Taiwan as a distinct country. It is also a war of nuance, knowing that the Chinese subtitles of the incriminated sentence wanted to drown it with a “There is gold under my knees” – reference to a Chinese proverb according to which men do not bend easily. But Anderson, also screenwriter of the film, and the Chinese co-producer Tencent have forgotten the other humiliating connotation of “Chinese knees”: a racist refrain that we learn in Anglo-Saxon schoolyards. “Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees“. Or maybe they wanted to subvert it in the mouth of MC Jin, also the first Asian-American rapper to have signed with labels like EMI or Universal. In these times of famine for American blockbusters, where the Chinese market has become more than vital ($ 9 billion in revenue in 2019), it would probably be better to avoid such crude cultural misunderstandings and such carelessness on the part of the co-producers, preferably before the start of a film with a budget of $ 60 million. We especially expect the reaction of a still silent MC Jin, whose favorite gimmick, on stage, in Mandarin, sums up the situation well: «Aiyā». In French: “Oh!”

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