Disclaimer: This article was written with days of intimate care and research. Although I very much enjoyed this film and found a deep takeaway from its message, I in no way affiliate or align with the dangerous remarks made by star Yifei Liu regarding the police brutality in Hong Kong. I do not support the social media remarks made by star Donnie Yen on the end of British colonial rule over Hong Kong. I do not support filming in religious territories, landmarks and buildings. My support is not for these actions but for a stride in representation. Understandably, if you do not feel represented or empowered by this film, it is not yours to claim. All too often we face the issue of separating art from its actors, singers, producers, directors, etc. This is one of those off-putting scenarios. In this body of writing, I speak on behalf of myself and my lens of the world. Please know that if you felt fear or hurt by unjust actions surrounding this film, my sincerest wishes of peace and warmth are with you.
Reflection of Greatness
Mulan was originally set to release on March 27th, 2020. Due to the ever-persistent COVID-19, it was given a fresh release date and dropped via Disney+ on September 4th, 2020. Before it was pushed back, a lot of the first looks, music, and promotional material had already hit the internet. Even the world premiere occurred (in a limited capacity) long before the movie was available to watch. The staggered marketing lead up to the film was worrisome for Disney. On top of that, racist terms like “the China Virus” were rampantly being thrown-around by Trump and his associates, causing a potentially uncomfortable rift between movie-goers and Mulan. The film seemed to have more things working against it than for it.
The decision to wait on releasing Mulan was a smart one. Positioning it to stream on the Disney+ platform has great potential for success, but only the fans carry it across the finish line. Why is it important to support a film like Mulan for a one-time purchase of $29.99 (insert groan here from people who would without question spend that on a Marvel movie)? Let me explain…
10. The Most Expensive Live-action Disney Film Ever
Making a movie of this caliber and doing it right cost Disney a pretty penny, 200 million to be exact. Whether you’re a fan of the live-action remakes or not, there’s importance surrounding their continuation. In order for these stories to span generations, they must be retooled, reshared, and reinvented. If we want these characters will be common ground with our future grandchildren, we must show our support. If the pandemic never occurred, this film would have easily made back its budget, as for now, only time will tell.
9. The Same Price As Going to the Movies
At a glance, $29.99 may seem steep for a movie night in, until you consider what a movie night out costs. Here are a few of the most popular nationwide theaters across America and what they charge for a single adult ticket: AMC $13.69/ticket, Cinemark $12.25 – $14.50/ticket, Cineplex $10.99 – $12.99/ticket, and Regal 11.00 – $12.50/ticket. Most Disney+ subscribers are families of three or more. If you do the math, Disney+ is saving you money and you get to keep the film on your account, too. Once you buy it via Disney+ Premier, it’s yours for good.
8. All of the Extras
Buying Mulan isn’t just a one-and-done viewing experience. With your one-time purchase, you get access to music videos (from Christina Aguilera and Yifei Liu), concept videos, and featurettes about the training and lore behind the original story of Hua Mulan. Also, yours to keep on your account.
7. A True Attempt At Course Correction
Some of the Disney live-action remakes stick their landing. Others fumble for footing. Mulan lands almost among Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and Jungle Book aka the best of the bunch. It struggles to convey all of the authenticity of the animated classic, but it’s so alive with the creativity of a real-life, grounded interpretation.
6. Sheer Wow Factor
To say that the scope of the film is impressive would be an understatement. The natural beauty depicted throughout this is inspiring. The color story is vivid. The action flows, but it’s accompanied by a lot of emotional beats that don’t feel forced in any capacity. Disney’s most visually beautiful live-action film to date, bar none.
5. Easter Eggs
From the moment the film began and I saw the Shanghai Disneyland Enchanted Storybook Castle in the opening sequence, I knew that there would be a lot of details to watch for. Listen to the score and script alike carefully for nods to our favorite Mulan songs from the animated feature film. Bonus points if you can point out a cameo from Ming-Na Wen, the voice of the animated Mulan.
4. A New Cast of Characters
Warning: this is minor spoiler territory. Li Gong plays the enchanting Xianniang, a powerful, shape-shifting witch who acts as natural a foil to Mulan (Yifei Liu) throughout the film. She tentatively takes the role of Hayabusa, Shan Yu’s pet falcon from 1998’s Mulan. In regards to Shan Yu himself, he’s replaced with the villainous Böri Khan (Jason Scott Lee). They are more or less… very similar, except that Khan was based on an actual person.
Li Shang is nixed from the film entirely (insert sob here). Instead, we have two new characters who share his role. Commander Tung (Donnie Yen) is Mulan’s superior who leads the Imperial Regiment. Honghui (Yoson An) is a soldier that gets off on the wrong foot with Mulan in disguise, but begins to develop a friendship (or seemingly more) as the story unfolds.
Although it is sad for so many to lose Li Shang in this version, there is something icky about Mulan trying to be entangled with such high ranking personnel. She did not get her merits from being involved with powerful men. By altering her original relationship, it leaves less room for haters to make this equation. On a more uplifting note, I was pleased to see that Cri-Kee wasn’t entirely removed from the film. He just has a new… form. You won’t miss him.
3. Tries to Strengthen Historical Accuracies
The legend of Hua Mulan dates back to the fifth century. Her earliest mention was an original text called The Ballad of Mulan. Disney’s 2020 iteration wastes no time drawing parallels. Within the first twenty minutes of the film, Mulan tells her family of two rabbits she observed while horse riding. This moment was a nod to the end of the original story’s ending.
“How could we have fought side by side with you for ten years and not have known you were a woman!” Mulan replied, “They say the male rabbit likes to hop and leap, while the female rabbit prefers to sit still. But in times of danger, when two rabbits scurry by, who can tell male from female?”– The Ballad of Mulan
With hundreds of iterations this story in existence, the basic plot beats seem to stay the same. Mulan’s father is drafted to war, he is too weak to fight, so she takes his place and saves China. In some versions, Mulan has a sibling, which Disney has added to the mix this time around. In others, she fights alongside her troops for over a decade before revealing her true self, which does not work so great for a 116-minute film.
Although western culture might have gotten a good laugh out of Eddie Murphy’s Mushu, many Chinese audiences did not share that sentiment. The character was deemed to be disrespectful as dragons are symbols for good strength and wisdom. Also to top it off and name him Mushu? How did no one find that offensive during production? It’s like telling the story of an American woman pre-1948, not allowed to enter the military. She disguises herself with her bald eagle sidekick named “Cheeseburger” and together they take down the enemy. Even that poor analogy is still not quite as off-putting as the characterization of Mushu. 2020’s Mulan replaces him with a phoenix, a symbol of femininity and power that guides our titular character through her journey.
This iteration also focuses on Mulan’s natural abilities to tap into her qi, which transforms her into the ultimate warrior. The roots of this film are certainly planted in immense research. Any changes that were made to the animated film’s premise were implemeted to elevate the storyline. In doing so though, the creative team sometimes works against itself in terms of accuracy.
Focusing on Mulan’s qi makes her less of a working class citizen who uses her wits to be as “good as the boys”. This rendition feels more like she had superpowers like Elsa or Rapunzel. The removal of the Huns is a racially and historically sound choice, but the sorceress Xianniang in some ways feels as western as Mushu. In Chinese folklore the shaman/shamaness is a person of respect and admiration. She would have been respected by Böri Khan, but that was not the case. The idea of a spell-binding witch is untrue to lore and feels like an “ooh-ahh” visual grab, more than an ode to culture.
All too many of the positive changes made to Mulan are counteracted with thoughtless big blockbuster-motivated antics. Whether or not this movie did more right than wrong culturally is up to each viewer to decide for themselves. It’s a mixed bag.
2. Protest Against Those Who Use the Phrase “China Virus”
I don’t have to tell you who uses this phrase and I don’t have to tell you why it is offensive. But I will tell you that supporting communities that are affected by such disgusting language is a form of protest. 2020 is the year of finding how you can effectively protest and change the world in your own way. Buying a film in no means will not solve racism, but it will aid in securing a spot in cinema for those who are directly defamed by such derogatory and untrue jargon.
1. Representation Matters
I’ll say it once, I’ll say it a million times. Everyone deserves to be empowered by seeing themselves on screen. Mulan is a Chinese hero, the entire cast is composed of Chinese actors. How many movies with an entirely Asian cast can you name on two hands? Not enough. Asian children can see themselves in Mulan. All children can see themselves in Mulan. If you do not see yourself in Mulan that is understandable, too. Any side you stand on we can agree, having heroes that look like everyone is not a want for the future, it’s a necessity.
While being a steadfast hero, Mulan is also regarded as one of Disney’s thirteen official princesses. Instead of being lead by love or a personal dream, she more relies on her pillars of morals, standing for loyalty, bravery, truth, and family.
The film is brought to us by director and visionary Niki Caro. Three out of four script writers were women. The development producer, cinematographer, casting director, costume designer, all women. This cast is charged with feminine talent and that is such an empowering message for audiences to walk away with. Representation does not just mean on-screen. It means behind the screen, in the writer’s room, on the red carpet, in press junkets, and lastly, at the bank. Equal pay matters. Women being able to write for women matters. And films that speak to women matter. While all of that is wonderful, I cant hide the truth, could this film have benefitted from more Chinese talent behind the lens? Make no mistake, the answer is “yes”.
“Yet here I stand, proof that there is a place for people like us!”
Paying for Mulan is paying for a step in the right direction. From a social standpoint, this is not a perfect film, but if we don’t show up for these stories, we endanger their future. In the shortest terms possible, I enjoyed it. This movie is a lot of fun for a fair price. Long live the legend of Hua Mulan, and don’t ask me if you can watch it on my account.
What did you like best about the live-action Mulan? Let us know in a comment below.
Mulan is streaming now with Disney+ Premier Access