Following Disney’s long-chain of live-action remakes, Mulan is set to debut, once again, on the silver screen in March 2020. However, following the initial teaser release, a series of mixed reactions have taken place, bemoaning the loss of Mushu, General Shang, and other iconic characters that have come to shape our childhood. On the other hand, there are those that praise its historical accuracy and hope that it will finally do the legendary tale justice.
Here’s a little context for you: back in 1998, the original animated Mulan movie flopped in Chinese box offices, and to this day, is generally regarded as a caricature of Chinese culture made for the entertainment of an American audience. In the past years, Disney has gone through extra-lengths for cultural accuracy in hits such as “Frozen” and “Moana”; Mulan is no different, but perhaps more complex. The ballad of Hwa Mulan, the inspiration behind the movie, dates back to the 6th century, but Mulan herself is said to have been around as early as 380 AD, according to the legend that is. While the animated version is not necessarily popular with the Chinese public, the tale of Mulan, the girl that took her aged father’s place in the army, is a story that is dear to the hearts of the Chinese people. It is a centerpiece to one of the richest cultures in the world, so it is no wonder that Disney must tread lightly, in its attempt to win over the hearts of the Chinese public.
Due to the oral origins of the original tale, there are numerous variations to the story of Mulan, such as having a pair of younger siblings to taking her own life when asked to become a concubine for the emperor. This may explain the addition of the sister seen in the trailer, though the new sorceress is not a character that had been previously associated to Mulan, that has even been suspected of having been an actual person, due to lack of fantastical elements in her legend, but has not raised any red flags thus far. The character of Disney Mulan herself, was not so different from the tale, save for the fact that she was already a skilled fighter before enlisting, and the animated version was regarded as too “individualistic” and disregarded Confucius philosophy. Like the new movie, there is no love interest, no talking dragon, and no musical numbers, though there is a pretty epic orchestral rendition of “Reflection” featured in the trailer.
Personally, though I grew up watching Mulan in a mainly Chinese household, I do believe Disney is now doing the right thing in redeeming itself, even if it comes with the loss of beloved scenes and characters. Having a replica of the 1998 version, like Disney had done with Lion King, would be rather redundant, and only serve to tarnish Disney’s name in what is the now the second largest cinematic market in the world. There is so much to offer from the legend of Mulan, that the international audience hasn’t seen yet, which is what I’m counting on the Studio to portray.
Nevertheless, the controversies don’t end there. Following the casting of what was luckily a non-white-washed cast, Liu Yifei, playing Mulan, was first met with praises for symbolizing Asian representation, but now has turned bitter in the public-eye. Back in August, the actress had tweeted about her support towards the Hong Kong police, following months of violence and unrest between police and protesters in Hong Kong. For anyone who somehow isn’t aware of the political situation: it’s tense. Though backed by a lot of national support, international audiences have been calling to boycott the movie, claiming that Liu supports police brutality, or favors her career over calling out what is wrong.
This, is where it gets tricky. While it is entirely possible that the actress does support China’s view on Hong Kong, it is also worth mentioning that almost every Chinese entertainer has posted very similar things in support of China, and all right around the same time. Even non-Chinese entertainers have involved themselves in huge criticism by supporting either side of the situation. Past Chinese singers and actors who have openly defied China’s stance on HK have been black-listed or at the very least, lost a huge part of their Chinese audience, even if they received love from international ones. We must consider that this is their own country we are talking about, where they live, and yes, their main source of income. While I do not speak for Liu specifically, it is hard to be neutral in such a dilemma, especially when we don’t know what is going on behind the scenes.
I, for one, will be going to watch the movie, and though you are not obliged to do the same, it shouldn’t stop you from watching the trailer below: