Actors clarify there was no intent to evoke offensive rhyme.

The producers of Monster Hunter, the live-action adaptation of the video game series of the same name, no doubt had high hopes for the film in China, since the games have a large and loyal fanbase there. Instead, Monster Hunter’s Chinese theatrical debut has been as disastrous as could be imagined.

The film ran into trouble almost immediately as a contingent of Chinese moviegoers and social media users took offense at a scene in which a character played by Chinese-American actor Jin Au-Yeung (also known as MC Jin) refers to himself as having “Chi-knees,” which some say references a taunting English-language rhyme of “Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, look at these.”

In less than a day, Monster Hunter was pulled from Chinese theaters, who were told not to screen the movie until a “new version” of the film can be provided, ostensibly with the scene, or at least the line, removed. While that’s yet to happen, the change isn’t going to be made just for the Chinese market, as Deadline reports that the line will be removed for all versions of the film, regardless of where in the world they’re shown.

Monster Hunter

The movie is yet to open in the U.S. or Japan, and differing descriptions of the scene were initially reported. Looking at a leaked version of the scene shows Jin and a Caucasian actor, portraying an Australian character, crossing a desert in jeep, with the Australian driving and Jin sitting behind him manning a large gun. After getting the driver’s attention, Jin says “Look at my knees. What kind of knees are these?” The driver gives him a confused look and makes no response, followed by Jin flashing a smile and confidently saying “Chi-knees!”

There doesn’t appear to be any racial tension between the two characters, nor any sort of power dynamic of one exerting authority over the other. It would make an odd spot for filmmakers to try to slip in a slam against Chinese people, and the film’s leading star, Milla Jovovich, even says that the line was something that Jin came up with himself.

Jin recently addressed the issue through his Instagram account, showing that he in no way expected the negative reaction the scene has gotten in China, and, in fact, was hoping for the exact opposite.

His statement includes:

I wanted to address this controversy going on right now about a line that my character says in the movie that’s being perceived as racist.

Let me give you some context. It’s two soldiers, one from China, one from Australia, in a vehicle in the desert, and they’re essentially just cracking jokes with each other. So the one from China says, “Look at my knees, what kind of knees are these? Chi-knees!”

That’s the scene. 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 that 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 like is eating at me. But I will say, at the same time, for anybody that misunderstood or thought it was meant to be belittling, I sincerely apologize. I do.

Jovovich’s response to Jin’s statement similarly asserted that there was no intent to belittle or insult Chinese moviegoers, as the star said:

“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. We should have researched the historical origin of it and that’s 100% on us, but you didn’t do ANYTHING wrong. None of us had ever heard the ‘dirty knees’ reference. You included. It was our fault for not doing our due diligence and finding the WW2 era rhyme that’s caused this uproar.”

Jovovich’s account implies that the decision-makers on the movie’s controversial line, including Jin himself, were unaware of the very existence of the “Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, look at these” rhyme. That’s not particularly hard to believe, given that racial taunts, like all types of language, evolve with time, and there are now far more common slurs used to taunt people of Asian descent. The movie’s line seems even less connected to the rhyme since neither Jin nor the Australian soldier tug at the corners of their eyes to narrow them, as that offensive pantomiming was a key point of the rhyme’s taunt (which ultimately was supposed to end with the speaker flashing their breasts when they say “look at these”).

Taking all that into consideration, it really does seem like Monster Hunter’s “Chi-knees” line was simply meant as a pun on how the last syllable of “Chinese” is pronounced like “knees” (making the pun applicable to a huge number of other nationalities), which ended up by coincidence sharing a reference to “knees” with the rhyme. Still, part of the modern reality of trying to make a blockbuster in the modern, global film industry is having to take all sorts of sensibilities into consideration, and another is not being able to easily hide content from one region when it’s viewable in others, and so the Monster Hunter scene is getting reworked for the whole world.

Sources: Instagram/iammcjin via Hachima Kiko, YouTube/CrazyJean魔怔人李傑瀚 via Eurogamer, Deadline
Top image: YouTube/Sony Pictures Entertainment
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