After months of excited anticipation, audiences around the world were presented with a live-action version of “Mulan” that brought more disappointment than anything else.
Setting aside actress Liu Yifei’s controversial support for the Hong Kong police, Disney thanking organizations tied to Uyghur labor camps in the credits, and the $30 price tag to stream it at home while excluding Chinese subtitles, the remake of the beloved classic was filled with ancient Chinese stereotypes seen from Western perspectives.
Here are 15 ways Disney dishonored Chinese history and culture in the new “Mulan” (WARNING: Spoilers ahead):
1. Not one of the leading creative minds behind the film were Chinese — director, producers, writers — and it shows. Chinese audiences have since claimed cultural appropriation, or at least not enough care from producers to get the history behind the movie straight.
2. The tale of Mulan is distinctly Northern Chinese, originating from the Northern Wei dynasty, but the Fujian tulou or Hakka walled village (or roundhouse) she calls home in the film is distinctly Southern Chinese. Even more, the villagers are wearing clothes of a different dynasty and a different Chinese minority.
3. “Chi” is not “the force” from “Star Wars”! Mulan’s father describes it as “the boundless energy of life itself,” which is somewhat true. It can literally mean one’s life force and is similar to the blood that flows in your body. Disney, try harder next time to not mix up epic space sagas and an epic Chinese legend.
4. The film practically opens up by showing off young Mulan’s incredible and supernatural “Kung fu” skills with absolutely no explanation whatsoever on how she learned this. She slides off a roof like a master acrobat as a child. She’s catching flying teacups at the matchmaker’s house like she’s Neo catching bullets in the “Matrix”.
5. Alright, let’s run with the chi “powers” for a second. When she’s sparring against her fellow soldiers, she scolds herself, saying she needs to “hide [her] chi.” She’s forgetting whether she’s a man or woman and whether or not she should hide her powers or not. Who knows! Mulan sure doesn’t.
6. Mishandling the witch’s character. Gong Li’s talents are wasted. There are no witches in Chinese stories, instead, there are spirits and ghosts. She wouldn’t have been persecuted for being able to do magic. So long as it benefitted the Emperor, women shamans were welcomed.
7. Why was the witch working for Bori Khan? As one of the few characters with a mysterious background and unexplained magical prowess, the witch is shoehorned into being a “slave” and dies getting shot in her bird form. What about being able to “tear [Bori Khan] to pieces before [he blinks]”? His people already don’t accept her, so why should she help them?
8. The lack of emotional depth throughout the entire movie. From the scenes when she leaves for training to become a great warrior, to the destroyed army deployed before them, to the “embracing who I am” moment — it’s all incredibly unmoving. Disney wanted to stick to the original “Ballad of Mulan,” and move away from the songs, BUT, “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” and “A Girl Worth Fighting For” were story-telling genius. The cut from a comedic song into a massacre made our jaws drop. A true transition from boys into men going to war.
9. It’s possible Disney couldn’t have picked an actress that was more emotionless than Liu Yifei. Throughout the whole movie, she expresses only two emotions: mouth open and mouth closed.
10. Disney cast one of the greatest martial arts acting legends in the world and (mostly) had him do nothing. Jet Li revealed why his character was so bland in an IMDb interview.
IMDb interviewer: “What was the biggest challenge for you with this particular character that you play?”
Jet Li: “No fighting, no physical [moving]. Cannot move too much. Then what I can do—you have emotion, you can act. The director said ‘No, you’re not Jet Li. The king sit there, understand everything—good news, bad news—no emotion at all.’ That’s quite a big one, just sit there talk, talk, talk. Funny, it’s good experiences.”
11. So Disney scrapped several beloved characters, among them being Mushu, and yet decided to throw in a tacky symbolic phoenix that apparently only Mulan can see. The phoenix, or Fenghuang, doesn’t even represent an “emissary” or ancestors in Chinese culture. It’s actually a symbol of good luck, loyalty, grace and balance. A CGI Mushu would have made more sense at least.
12. Kung fu emperor and a useless Mulan? There’s a scene where the emperor and his elite guards are walking into a trap. First, his elite guards are taken out immediately as if they let just any entry-level henchman guard literally the most important man in China. But then, the emperor defends himself using INCREDIBLE kung fu skills, taking out a few bad guys using torn flags. We’ve suddenly got a kung fu master emperor! Later, after he’s captured, he’s totally chill just tied up on a pole like it’s a normal afternoon for him. Oh, and he saves himself by catching a speeding arrow aimed at his face. Mulan who??
13. Overusing “honor.” Even Shang-Chi and the OG Mulan are making quips about the movie. Similar to when Team Avatar watched plays of their journies on Ember Island, it feels like a parody. “Honor,” “duty,” “dishonor,” and “chi” are thrown around like fancy buzz words. Because, surely, the Asians will activate when hit with these words every 10 minutes.
14. Bisexual icon Li Shang is gone. The remake didn’t want Mulan’s love interest to be her superior, which is understandable. Donnie Yen plays a great general, but if there’s a time for LGBTQ+ representation, Honghui’s character could’ve filled that role. The “sparks” between him and Mulan are like a match to a damp log. At least in the animation, Shang’s audible confusion throws some emotion and humor into his complexity.
ross butler as li shang bisexual king pic.twitter.com/KA6fFe3E22
— wani ❼ (@zachalexdempsey) September 5, 2020
15. Empowered women empower women. Again in OG Mulan, she has a “dark side of the moon” moment where she plays to her wits and, ultimately, uses it to defeat the Huns and save China. The “Woman in the fridge” trope appears here. In this case, it’s for another woman, pretending to be a man, but there really is no need for the witch to die defending Mulan. They’re both strong enough to tag-team with the emperor. Why kill her like this? Why??
Bottom line: Disney, do better. A stellar cast was wasted on this film and when given the proper time, RESEARCH, and Asian creatives, the 2020 remake could’ve brought honor to the people.
Featured Image via Walt Disney Studios