What Boycott? ‘Mulan’ Becomes 2020’s Top Box Office Earner

Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal asks people to boycott "Mulan" at a movie theater in Bangkok on Sept. 3, 2020. Photo: NetiwitC / Twitter

BANGKOK — Box office report on Wednesday said Disney’s “Mulan” grossed almost 50 million baht in less than a week after it opened to Thai cinemas, securing its place as the biggest silver screen earner this year. 

Major Cineplex and SF Cinema, the two dominating theaters in the country, posted on social media that the live-action remake was their highest-earning weekend opening in 2020, in spite of the attempts by some activists to boycott the film to show solidarity with the protests in Hong Kong.

But student activist Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, one of the figures behind the boycott movement, said his campaign already made a dent in the film’s ticket sales. 

“It’s not that the boycott didn’t succeed. If we didn’t call for a boycott, the film would get even more money,” Netiwit said by phone Wednesday. “Don’t jump to conclusions yet.”

Netiwit, 23, also said that he believed younger, socially aware Thais were boycotting the film, while “older people bringing their small kids” were the ones filling up the theater seats. “I’m not angry at them, since it’s hard to change older people’s minds,” he said.

Netiwit and his friends called for a boycott of “Mulan” on the grounds that the leading actress, Liu Yifei, wrote messages in support of the Hong Kong police in August 2019, when several police officers were mobbed and beaten by the pro-democracy protesters. 

A similar call to ban the film was made by Hong Kong activists, namely Joshua Wong. The campaign was given extensive coverage by multiple Western news agencies. 

The revelation that filming took place in Xinjiang also drew wrath from critics of the Chinese government, since it is believed that up to a million Muslim Uighurs are being locked up by the Chinese authorities in “reeducation camps.” 

Netiwit described Xinjiang as a region “where Uighyurs are being abused and separated from their families.”

“It’s like shooting a movie where Oct. 6 took place,” the activist said, referring to the 1976 massacre of student activists at Thammasat University. “How can you take it?” 

He added, “This film has elements of being pro-China while China is doing harmful things worldwide. We have to boycott it.” 

According to Box Office Mojo, the film has grossed 47.4 million baht as of Wednesday, netting 41.9 million over the opening weekend Sept. 3.

During this weekend, 60 percent of its income, or 26.38 million, were from audiences in Greater Bangkok and Chiang Mai alone, according to the Bangkok Critics Assembly. In the same provinces, Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” netted 18.2 million during its opening weekend Aug. 27 to 30. 

“Earnings of 50 million only seem a lot comparatively, because for many months this year theaters weren’t open,” Netiwit said, referring to the closure of theaters in late March through May amid the coronavirus pandemic.

To compare, the largest box office opening in 2019 was also a live-action Disney film: “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” which netted 115.9 milion baht in its opening weekend of Oct. 17 to 20, and grossed 225.5 million nationwide. 

Currently, movie theaters do not allow people to sit in more than groups of two to comply with anti-coronavirus measures. 

Comments on Netiwit’s post calling people to boycott Mulan varied in attitude.

“I hope this movie goes bankrupt so Disney can finally get woke,” user Surat Kilpongsa wrote. 

“Work is about work. If you don’t want to watch it yourself, don’t prevent others from doing it. I’m going to see it because it’s Disney, not because I’m considering what the actors did off-screen,” Win Gawin commented. 

“I want to compare it with Aladdin to see if it’s good,” user Pit Khunnatampong wrote.

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