Video game movie Monster Hunter is off to a bad start, losing a massive amount of ticket revenue thanks to a racist joke.
Starring Milla Jovovich and directed by Resident Evil's Paul W.S. Anderson, the action/fantasy film was pulled from Chinese cinemas during its opening weekend last week. This was a direct response to audience backlash on social media. Since theaters are open in China but mostly closed in the United States and Europe, the Chinese market is more important than ever to a blockbuster's success. So Monster Hunter shot itself in the foot by including a racially insensitive one-liner.
The scene in question is a brief throwaway line from actor/rapper Jin Au-Yeung, who quips to his companion, “Look at my knees. What kind of knees are these? Chinese.” It was widely interpreted as a riff on a racist 20th-century playground rhyme mocking Asian immigrants in America and reportedly sounded worse in the film's translated subtitles. All mainstream movies are reviewed by censors before being released in China, so it seems like this line was deemed acceptable at first, but audiences had a more negative response when the film came out.
This was enough for Monster Hunter to be pulled from theatrical release, resulting in public apologies from the director and cast and the line being removed from the movie. Meanwhile, the latest Monster Hunter game is being pelted with negative Steam reviews tying into the backlash.
In a statement to Deadline, director Anderson said he was "devastated" to learn that the line offended Chinese audiences, saying the film was "made as fun entertainment" and "it was never our intention to send a message of discrimination or disrespect to anyone." Jin Au-Yeung also responded on Instagram with an apology, saying the line was "intended to be uplifting." He added that he's spent the past 20 years using his platform as an actor/rapper to be a positive voice in the Asian-American community.
Jovovich responded to his statement saying, "I’m so sad that you feel the need to apologize. You are amazing and have always been so outspoken about your pride in your Chinese heritage. The line you improvised in the film was done to remind people of that pride, not to insult people." She claimed that no one involved in the film was aware of the rhyme's origins, highlighting its "WW2 era" history as the reason why they didn't pick up on why it might be offensive. Her pointed use of the word "improvised" also reframes the line as an off-the-cuff joke from an Asian-American actor, rather than something scripted by the film's white British writer.
The scene in question has now been deleted and won't appear in Monster Hunter's upcoming U.S. release. It's unclear whether the film will return to Chinese theaters, meaning this one line of dialogue seriously affected Monster Hunter's financial success.
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H/T to Deadline