Paul WS Anderson's much-hyped Monster Hunter movie hasn't had the best of starts. Its release was kicked around following the COVID-19 pandemic which has thrown the world of cinema into complete disarray, and when it did eventually launch (in China, one of its biggest potential markets) it caused a storm thanks to a joke which is considered offensive in that country.
The offending scene saw Asian-American actor Jin Au-Yeung uttering the line “Look at my knees!”, to which another character replies: “What kind of knees are these?” Jin responds switch “Chi-nese!”
The line references the playground taunt "Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees - look at these", which has traditionally been used to mock Asian people. However, according to Variety, the Chinese subtitles added to the offence by making Jin's character say an entirely different Chinese saying: “Men have gold under their knees, and only kneel to the heavens and their mother.”
Anderson has now issued a public apology to Deadline for the offence caused by the scene:
I am absolutely devastated that a line from our movie, Monster Hunter, has offended some audience members in China. I apologise for any anxiety or upset that this line and its interpretation caused. Monster Hunter was made as fun entertainment and I am mortified that anything within it has caused unintentional offence. We have respectfully removed the line from the movie. It was never our intention to send a message of discrimination or disrespect to anyone. To the contrary — at its heart our movie is about unity.
Jin Au-Yeung – also known as MC Jin – has issued his own statement via Instagram:
Monster Hunter movie was recently released in China and there has been severe controversy due to a line my character says. It’s unfortunate that it has escalated to this level, especially since the line was intended to be uplifting.
I felt a need to address this situation because what is at stake is not my career but something even more dear to my heart - my roots. I’ve spent the last 20 years using my platform to embrace and be a positive voice for my community. I am and will always be proud of my heritage.
To my Chinese fans, I appreciate all your support and understanding during this time.
In the video post attached to the statement, Jin states that he never intended to invoke the racist taunt:
It's a pun and the way I portrayed the character and the emotion of it is, this is a moment for him to proudly proclaim that he is a Chinese soldier, not just his knees, but his arms, his head, his heart. And this has nothing to do with that stupid 'Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees,' whatever the heck that is, has nothing to do with it. If anything, why I'm so frustrated and it's eating at my heart is that I felt this was a scene that was supposed to be a moment for Chinese people to be like, 'Yes! There's a Chinese soldier!' That's all. So for it to be flipped upside down like this, it really, really, really is eating at me. But I will say, at the same time, for anybody that misunderstood or thought that it was meant to be belittling, I sincerely apologize, I do.
Co-star Milla Jovovich – who plays the film's protagonist – replied to his post with the following comment, which reveals that it was Jin himself who improvised the line:
I’m so sad that you feel the need to apologise. 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. We should have researched the historical origin of it and that’s 100 per cent on us, but you didn’t do ANYTHING wrong. None of us had ever heard the ‘dirty knees’ reference. You included.
It was an unfortunate mistake and the Chinese translation didn’t help. We adore you Jin and are so proud to have worked with you on this fun and exciting project and I hope you don’t let this get you down man. It was our fault for not doing our due diligence and finding the WW2 era rhyme that’s caused this uproar. We love you Jin.
The line will be removed from all versions of the film. According to reports, the movie took around $5.3m last Friday before it was pulled from Chinese cinemas, and it's not known if the Chinese government will allow the film to return to general distribution, even with the offending line taken out.
It's not all bad news, however – it has been reported that the movie will launch in North America earlier than planned. It was intended to release on Christmas day, but will now arrive on December 18th.