For the fans of Disney’s animated classics, the musical adventure film Mulan stands out uniquely because of its strong feminist message. Based on the Chinese folk song The Ballad of Mulan, the movie is a retelling of the legend of Hua Mulan (called Fa Mulan in the Disney animation), who fights in the army in the place of her aged father by disguising herself as a man.
The movie depicted how an ordinary girl like Mulan fought alongside men and became a war hero through her wits and hard work. Her struggle between being what society expected her to be and being her true self was reflected throughout the movie, portraying the gender barriers women face from a young age.
When Disney announced the live-action remake of the much-beloved classic, fans were excited as well as uncertain about whether the depiction would do the original movie justice. However, mired in one controversy after another, the movie was as anticlimactic as it could get, to say the least. There are so many things wrong with this rendition that one might just as well say that the remake delivered a message which is problematic poles apart from what the story originally intended.
Mulan's live-action spectacle roughly follows the story-line of the original movie, with some significant changes that disappointed audiences who grew up watching the animated movie. Mushu, the Fa family’s demoted guardian, and Mulan’s comical sidekick dragon, was missing from the film, only to be replaced by a phoenix that served no meaningful purpose in the movie.
The writers inaccurately denoted the Chinese phoenix, which is immortal and does not get reborn from fire, unlike its Western counterparts. Such factual errors were likely to happen as there were no Chinese writers in the team. Much to the dismay of the fans, beloved general Shang Li was completely missing from the movies, as well as Mulan’s grandmother. Instead, Mulan now has a sister who serves as much purpose in the movie as their family’s guardian phoenix.
The starkest difference that could be seen in the new Mulan movie is that Mulan is no longer an ordinary girl who rises to the top through her hard work. Instead, she is a prodigy with almost supernatural powers. The opening scene showed her jumping from roof to roof, chasing a chicken, and then perfectly landing on her feet without a single scratch. Her parents were seen talking about their neighbours calling her a witch, worried that this will prevent her from getting married happily. Mulan’s father goes on to advise his daughter to hide her ‘chi’, which, according to the movie, was only to be used by men.
After Mulan runs off to the war, she is seen to be fitting in and fighting alongside men without any difficulty at all. Such a notion is rather problematic. This is because the prime message that the animated movie tried to denote was that no matter how ordinary a person is, it is always possible to raise the heights of greatness through the constant endeavour. One does not necessarily need to have the extreme physical strength to be a good warrior. However, the new Mulan was depicted as a warrior who excelled at her counterparts merely based on her extraordinary physical strength. This is a rather troublesome notion since it implies that unless someone is born with exceptional talents, one should remain content with who they are like her sister was satisfied with being matched and married off.
Besides, the movie failed to portray Mulan’s constant struggle with discovering her true self, shifting the focus to the virtue of truthfulness. Rather, Mulan was shown to be a rather yielding personality, who does her part to uphold the patriarchy.
Before the official release, the movie caused quite the stir with rumours and controversies which led to a worldwide call for boycotting, with the viral hashtag #BoycottMulan. The lead actress was seen to share a tweet in support of the police brutality in Hong Kong. The end credits explicitly thanked the publicity department of the CPC Xinjiang Uighur autonomous region committee, where the Government of China is imprisoning Uighur Muslims in mass concentration camps.
To sum it up, Disney could have done a far better job concerning this movie. It will be an understatement to say that the movie fell short of expectations as the intended message got completely sidetracked.
The writer is a current student at the University of Dhaka.
She can be reached at [email protected]