ON THE SLATE

“Mulan” (2020)

BY MATTHEW HOANG STAFF WRITER

The story of Mulan has been a beloved Disney classic for over two decades. Both the original animated film, released in 1998, and last month’s remake follow a similar premise to the folk tale of Mulan. Once again, Disney has decided to retell a story that they already told 22 years ago — and retell it terribly. This year’s “Mulan” may be the worst remake Disney has done thus far.

According to legend, Mulan is a young woman from ancient Imperial China who disguises herself as a man to take her father’s place in the Chinese army. 

The story follows many of the same plot points as the original animated film, with the exception of the addition of a couple of supporting characters and the villains. The villains are arguably the best change to this movie. 

One of the villains, Xianniang, is a shapeshifting witch, whose actress Gong Li infuses with enough menace and pathos that she steals the scene from Böri Khan, an underdeveloped imitation of the original animated villain Shan Yu — although the way Xianniang’s arc abruptly ends leaves fans disappointed.

Fourth Estate / Billy Ferguson

 

The main criticism I have with this film is with Mulan herself. Specifically, the fact that no one, not even her experienced mentor, can tell she is a woman. This was a flaw in the original too, but it is even more glaring in this one. Mulan does little to hide the fact that she is a woman. Her face is clearly of a feminine structure and her “man” voice is her doing her best Batman impression. Of course, perhaps we can’t fault Mulan — maybe these elite warriors just haven’t seen a woman in awhile and forgot what one looked like.

The film also lacks many of the feminist themes that made the original so inspiring. In the animation, Mulan started off as weak as the other soldiers but, through intense training, she rose alongside them. It demonstrated that women are just as physically and mentally capable as men of being a hero. But this time Mulan starts off with superhuman abilities that require no training and is already superior to the men. Actress Liu Yifei also plays the role with less emotion than in the animation, making the character seem underdeveloped. 

Before concluding it would be remiss of me not to mention the controversies surrounding this film’s release. In 2019, “Mulan” faced the first of its boycotts after Yifei made a post on the Chinese social media site Weibo that seemed pro-Hong Kong police. The Chinese region of Hong Kong then and now is embroiled in protests over civil liberties. Amid these protests, the city’s police force has been accused of brutality and misconduct in regard to tactics used against protesters. 

“Mulan” was also filmed partly in the province of Xinjiang, where over a million of Uighur Muslims are currently being detained in re-education camps by the Chinese government. During the credits, the film gave thanks to the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau, the government entity linked to the re-education campaign. The facilities have been accused by some, including the Human Rights Watch, of being concentration camps. 

In addition, despite the accurate representation for Chinese roles, there has been criticism over the lack of diversity behind the camera. The screenwriters, director, costume designer and most of the film’s crew were predominantly white. 

While to certain viewers none of this may seem important, as an Asian American, all of this plus the flat characters makes for another disappointing Disney remake.