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Sunday, February 28, 1999 Published at 11:57 GMT


Mulan bridges diplomatic divide

Little interest at the box office

Disney is hoping for better relations with China following the premiere of Mulan in the homeland of its cartoon heroine.

China had blocked distribution of the cartoon epic for months, angered by Disney's release two years ago of Kundun. The movie about the life of Tibet's Dalai Lama was seen as critical of Chinese rule over Tibet and never officially screened in China.

[ image: Mulan: Based on Chinese legend]
Mulan: Based on Chinese legend
By contrast Mulan stirs clear of controversy. It relates the legend of a young Chinese woman who joins the army in place of her old, sick father during the Sui dynasty more than 1,000 years ago.

Disney had expected it to be a huge success in China when it hit the screens on 22 February.

But after months of delay, there seems to be little interest in the film among Chinese movie-goers. It seems many have seen it at home on pirated videos.

End of chilly relations

The release of Mulan marks a significant breakthrough for Disney. Speaking at a shareholders meeting this week, Disney Chairman Michael Eisner said he believed the release of Mulan signalled the end of chilly relations between Disney and China.

A visit by Chinese film officials to Hollywood earlier this week also seems to suggest that relations between Beijing and Hollywood are on the mend.

"Everything is normal now," said Zheng Quan Gang, President of the China Film Co-Production Corporation, referring to the dispute with Disney.

In a sign of the new mood, Mr Zheng also visited the Burbank headquarters of Disney Studios.

But better relations in the film industry may not be shared in the political arena.

[ image: Lucrative market for Disney]
Lucrative market for Disney
US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is in China this week amid renewed tension between the two countries.

The American Government says China is guilty of abusing human rights while China accuses the US of double standards.

With a population of more than 1.2bn, China represents one of the biggest potential markets for films and other products.

At the moment, the Chinese film market is relatively small. The annual box office take is about $250m, according to official estimates, compared with 1998 revenues of $6.95bn at American and Canadian cinemas.

China is looking to expand the film market, with new multiplex cinemas under construction boost movie distribution.

Currently, China has about 9,000 movie screens in cinemas, plus about 50,000 mobile screens that travel from village to village.

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