05/12/2020 22:49 GMT

'Monster Hunter' Movie Pulled From Chinese Cinemas After 'Knees' Joke Falls Flat

A line in the film appeared to reference the racist song "Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, look at these," quickly sparking a backlash.

“Monster Hunter,” Sony Pictures’ big-budget film based on Capcom’s long-running video game franchise, was pulled from China theaters because of a scene that Chinese audiences found offensive. 

The film, directed by Paul W.S. Anderson and starring his wife, Milla Jovovich, tells the tale of a military squad pulled into a world populated by monstrous behemoths. It debuted in China on Friday only to generate immediate flak.

In a controversial scene, two military men joke with each other while driving across a desert. One — played by Asian American rapper Jin Au-Yeung, better known as MC Jin — asks the other to look at his knees.

“What kind of knees are these?” he asks. “Chinese!”

The line may reference the playground chant “Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, look at these.” The rhyme has ambiguous origins but is known as a racist schoolyard jingle often sung by non-Asian children who slant their eyes upward in a caricature of Asian people. The phrase “dirty knees” carries a racist connotation to Asians and Asian Americans.

Following the outcry, the film was pulled from Chinese theaters, with refunds issued to moviegoers, according to Variety. There is no indication if or when the film will return or if its Dec. 25 release in the United States will be affected.

Daniel Ahmad, an analyst at the market research firm Niko Partners who covers the Chinese video game industry, shared a clip of the scene on Twitter and explained that the film’s Chinese subtitles only exacerbated the outcry from audiences in China.

Critics immediately lambasted “Monster Hunter” on Chinese social media network Weibo. In an unexpected escalation, the Communist Youth League of China even chimed in on the matter, tweeting an image of a massive pair of knees and referencing George Floyd, who died in May after a police officer kneeled on his neck. The post was later deleted but screenshots of it can still be found on Weibo.

The official Weibo page of Capcom distanced itself from the fiasco, pointing out that it had little to do with the movie, which was a joint effort among multiple studios in the U.S., Germany, Canada, Japan and China.

Nevertheless, Capcom’s latest entry in the game series — “Monster Hunter World” — was hit with an avalanche of negative reviews on the popular gaming platform Steam on Saturday, with many reviewers referencing the “Chinese” line in the film.