Reflections on Mulan: Does It Bring Honor to Us All?
October 27, 2020
This review contains spoilers for the live-action adaptation of Mulan.
Growing up, Mulan was the only Chinese representation I saw on-screen, so when I heard Disney was making a live-action version, I was so excited. Finally, I would get to see the woman I had always aspired to be, and this time, she would look like me. Don’t get me wrong, I love Hermione Granger’s wit, Anne Shirley’s spirit, and Princess Leia’s resilience, but I can’t see myself as them beyond our shared values and internal traits. Mulan is different; I can see myself in her reflection.
The live-action adaptation of Mulan, directed by Niki Caro and starring Chinese actress Liu Yifei, was released on September 4th, 2020 for those who paid $29.99 to get Premier Access (early access) on Disney Plus; however, the movie will be available for regular Disney Plus subscribers on December 4th, 2020.
In the original animated movie, Mulan’s character development is one of her more prominent characteristics. She is just a normal girl trying to protect her father; she doesn’t have any special martial arts skills, and she has to work hard to become a skilled warrior. This, in my opinion, is what makes her inspirational; she shows that hard work can pay off. As a teenager trying to find myself and reach specific goals, this message is applicable to so many different aspects of my life.
The live-action lacks this development, specifically, because Mulan is shown running across roofs as a child with little training. When a character is already a natural at what they are striving towards, how does this show younger audiences that successfully fighting for what you believe in takes hard work and risks?
For the live-action, there were many character changes, additions, and removals. One of the most noticeable character cuts was of Mushu, Mulan’s dragon guardian (and a fan favorite).
Shortly before the live-action was released, Niki Caro explained in an interview with USA Today, “Mushu, beloved as that character is in the animation, was Mulan’s confidante, and part of bringing it into the live-action is to commit to the realism of her journey.”
But, how is it that Mushu has to go for the sake of realism, but a cliché guiding phoenix gets added? Where is the realism of the journey in that? At least Mushu was a dragon, which relates more to Chinese culture and folk stories.
The most surprising new character was Xian Lang, a shape-shifting witch played by Gong Li. Frankly, the addition of this character seemed to just be a poor excuse for adding another female character. Her relationship with Mulan happened too quickly, felt very forced, and had no depth; in one moment, they are enemies, but not even 15 minutes later, the witch is sacrificing her life for Mulan. This just reinforces the stereotype that the only way to be a good woman is to sacrifice yourself.
The visuals, color, and scenery of the movie were all stunning, but we, as viewers, cannot ignore that while the majority of the movie was filmed in New Zealand, some parts were filmed in Xinjiang, the region of China where Uyghur Muslims have been imprisoned in mass internment camps. This, amongst other controversies, including Liu Yifei’s comments supporting the Hong Kong police, has caused many to boycott the film.
Overall, the new live-action Mulan does not bring honor to the animated version; instead, it was a huge disappointment. There was so much potential, but rather than the ultimate, empowering, representational movie I had hoped for, it was just another example of our society’s emphasis on meaningless melodrama.