A live-action remake of Disney’s 1998 animated film “Mulan” premiered on Disney+ on September 4, and will be available for standard Disney+ subscribers on December 4. The main message from “Mulan” is to embrace oneself and to not be what others want you to become. However, the live action film manages to make the audience feel even more confused and alienated than before.
Directed by Niki Caro, the live-action film is a retelling of the legend of “The Ballad of Mulan,” a young woman who disguised herself as a man to join her peers on the battlefield and defend her country. Mulan (Yifei Liu) is a fearless and adventurous woman. When the empire requires one man from each household to join the Imperial Army; she stands up and offers to replace her father (Tzi Ma), who is too old to fight. Through the training and fighting, Mulan learns to release her qi energy and utilizes it to defend the northern invader, the Rouran army. In the end, she becomes the greatest warrior in China and brings honor to her family.
Ironically, while Mulan is presenting this nice message, Liu posted a picture on Weibo supporting the police in Hong Kong abusing the protesters pursuing Democracy with violence. Soon #BoyscotMulan was trending on Twitter.
The question is, is Liu’s backing the police brutality an act of honor, bravery, and truth?
The antagonist of the film is the northern invader Böri Khan (Jason Scott Lee). The Rouran warrior sought revenge for his father who was killed by the Emperor (Jet Li) who crushed the Rouran to expand his empire.
Similarly, even today, the Chinese Communist Party hadn’t stopped promoting nationalism and the chauvinism of the ethnic Han. In early 2000, the Chinese government started to promote Sinicization, transforming minor ethnic communities into Han communities by adapting their original culture, custom, and lifestyle. Part of the film took place in Xinjiang, China, where the re-education camp of Uighur Muslims is located. According to a New York Times article, the camp is a prison Chinese government that used methods against the human right to convert Uighurs into Chinese, by treating them as terrorist suspects and banishing their religion and culture. A leaked document from the Chinese government and former detainees, had proved the re-education camp forced Uighurs to learn Mandarin, and even try to wash down the Uighurs ethnicity of marriage with the Han.
The film included some classic scenes For example, Mulan’s mother helping her put on make-up before meeting with the matchmaker and Mulan taking away her father’s armor at night. At the same time the film omitted many essential plotpoints, making the storyline hard to believe. After the climax of the story, when Mulan removed her disguise, embraced her female identity, and elaborated her qi she saved the troop. At this point Mulan realized they have been tricked by the Rouran and that the Emperor is in danger. Mulan, now in her true female appearance, asked for a small unit to follow her; without second thoughts the troops immediately agreed and trusted her decision: to form a small unit and follow her to the palace to save the Emperor.
Compared to the animated version, there were many scenes showing how Mulan and the troop developed a friendship through resolving problems and surviving the cruel training together. Without showing the deep trust the troops had developed for Mulan, forgiving her lies and trusting her decision all seemed too sudden.
Another impactful scene excluded from the live-action film is when Mulan cut her hair with her father’s sword preparing herself for the army. Hair symbolizes her femininity and the duty of a daughter to bring honor to the family by marriage. Without some detail and emotional scenes the film is inanity and poor in time management.
When Caro made a bold decision to take out the princess and comic-relief elements, the 2 hour film became monotonous. The well-beloved Mushu from the animated film was replaced with a phoenix, the family guardian, but other than guiding Mulan to the right track, the phoenix played a relatively unimportant role in the film.
Liu’s performance itself was unsatisfactory. As Mulan went through many emotional experiences, Liu expressed the character with unchanging blankness. For instance, hen Mulan was taking a bath and Honghui (Yoson An) suddenly appeared, Liu hadn’t shown any surprise or startled expression. Towards the end of the story, when the war is over Mulan returns home, she apologizes to her father for losing the sword, and tears of guilt and regrets burst out from her eyes. Even in a crying scene, Liu’s face was still wooden, only with tears dripping down her cheeks.
Despite the emotionless Mulan, the film was cast by many well-known Chinese actors and actresses including the legendary Wushu champion Jet Li; Tzi Ma from “The Farewell” as Haiyan; Donnie Yen, best-known from the IP Man series and Peipei Cheng, best-known from “Come Drink with Me.” These famous martial artists brought high anticipations for “Mulan” but all of them were minor characters and never had a chance to show their skillful fighting techniques.
Yet, Caro added purposeless characters that confused the viewers. For example, consider Mulan’s younger sister, who had no personality other than being afraid of spiders. Her existence reduced the importance of Mulan to be a perfect daughter and bring honor to the family by marriage. Another character who had little impact was Xianniang, the powerful witch who had the same power as Mulan but used it for the opposite purpose. By adding unimportant characters, Caro only confused the viewers and weakened Mulan’s unique character.
Overall, the live-action remake not only failed to bring entertainment during the pandemic but it also failed to deliver the original message of “The Ballad of Mulan.” The concept of qi energy is what makes Mulan powerful and great in the live-action film. However, the message of Mulan’s original story tells people to be what they want and to not be told how to live by others, only when you have qi. In the animated film, in which Mulan is just an ordinary person, she challenged herself both physically and mentally to become a great warrior.
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