September 23, 2020
In trying to remake another animated classic for modern audiences and simultaneously appease the massive multi-billion-dollar Chinese market, as well as politically-correct and hypersensitive viewers, Disney merely manages to remind us that some classics are better off just left alone
The remake of the 1998 animated classic stars Liu Yifei as the titular heroine, Mulan. Liu, who is also known in China as “Fairy Sister” exudes a chic feminine radiance that would better lend itself to the role of a Disney princess than Mulan. Mulan is not a princess. She’s the hoyden daughter of an army veteran; her character commands a degree of unkempt ruggedness, a quality sourly lacking in Liu, whose long, silky hair managed to maintain its model-esque composure even in the apogee of battle.
Liu’s acting is a whole separate issue. Her performance in Mulan is as cold and metallic as the steel blade she bore. And the casting woes don’t end there: Donnie Yen (from Ip Man) the brilliantly talented martial artist was criminally underused in this film — likely by intent, to avoid the risk of upstaging Mulan — but this was like casting Will Ferrell in a comedy, and relegating him to a role where he delivers a dry eulogy at a funeral.
The cast doesn’t get much help from the screenwriter’s room either. The dialogue in Mulan is rampant with cheesy, mundane prose such as, “You will now take the oath of the warrior; pleading fidelity to the three pillars of virtue; the enemy possesses none of these and therefore can be defeated; remember this when you meet him on the battle field. Draw swords.” You would think (hope!) that a whopping two-hundred-million-dollar Disney budget could afford some half-decent dialogue.
The story of live-action Mulan doesn’t diverge far from the original animation. As hostile invaders threaten the capital, the emperor institutes military conscription across China. Mulan’s frail war-veteran father, having no son to send off to battle, decides he will re-enlist and fight. Seeing her weak-kneed father weathered by the winds of war and barely able to unsheathe his sword from its scabbard, let alone wield it, Mulan decides that she will surreptitiously take his place in the army ranks.
Where the live-action remake varies from its animated counterpart is in Mulan’s “transition” from a fair-haired bride-to-be to a swashbuckling young man. The remake takes a vexing left turn, jettisoning a vital scene where Mulan uses her father’s sword (for the first time) to cut off her hair. In the animated film, this scene wasn’t a superfluous addendum written in on a lark. It was a pivotal moment for Mulan’s character. She was at the crossroads facing two mutually exclusive paths: one was the path laid down by her family and her culture — an arranged marriage and a future as a housewife. This was the “easy” path, as its destination was predictable and required little effort from Mulan, aside from enduring the matchmaker’s My Fair Lady treatment. The second path ran the risk of exile from her nation — or worse, execution — and where it ultimately led was unclear; its destination was hidden in the heavy fog of uncertainty. What Mulan did know was that by embarking on this uncertain road, that she would ultimately be in control of her future.
Mulan chooses the second path because she feels she must protect her father. But more than that, she feels she must be in control of her destiny. There is little doubt that if she had an older brother fit for battle, she would have devised some similar scheme, nonetheless.
The weight of her decision and the duality of the two paths that lie before her are enshrined in this one act of cutting her hair. In doing so, Mulan acknowledges she will no longer be fit for her matchmaker. She does this willingly and with bravado.
The original animation distinguishes between the two paths Mulan can choose from and highlights the importance of this choice. It doesn’t vilify one or the other but makes a realistic and honest depiction of the fact that one can be a traditional lady and tend to a household, or one can be a warrior. But not both. The Disney live-action film subscribes to the notion that these can be done simultaneously, in efforts to blur gender lines and eschew this pivotal choice in Mulan’s life. According to the live-action remake, she can effortlessly have it all. Mulan merely ties her long hair in a bun, bears her father’s military garbs and sword takes his conscription scroll and braves into battle. And here, amid the chaos and turmoil of war, no challenge or hurdle lies in front of Mulan. Imbued with “chi,” Mulan has superpowers, enabling her to effortlessly dodge arrows as they come whizzing at her, killing the rest of the troupe. Her skill with a blade is equally adept, as is her ability to soar through the air and kick arrows and spears, redirecting them into her enemies — yes, this really happens. It’s like watching your friend play a video game on the easiest difficulty setting, turn on all the cheat codes, and follow the walkthrough tutorial.
A second victim of Disney’s woke filmmaking was the role of Li Shang. In the animated film, Shang was the son of an army general and troop leader of Mulan’s regiment. While training and fighting under his tutelage, Mulan developed intimate feelings for Shang. But interpreted through the lens of the “woke” era, this power dynamic between Mulan and her superior was deemed far too salacious for modern audiences. This was yet another vexing decision from Disney, as in the animated film, the budding tension between Mulan and Shang didn’t flower into a relationship until only after Mulan had been promoted to the Emperor’s circle. Moreover, by marrying Shang, Mulan was eschewing centuries of strict cultural customs and expectations whereby her husband would be chosen for her. Instead, she was deciding her destiny — the premise of the Second Path she chose and paved for herself. And isn’t that a better feminist message?
Mulan’s live-action storyline isn’t the only area where the feminist message is obfuscated; where financial risks start, Disney’s woke and progressive proclivities end. Since its release, Mulan has been mired in controversy over Disney’s blithe whitewashing of China’s Communist Party’s ongoing perpetration of cultural genocide against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang province.
Recently, The Hollywood Reporter ran headline, “Disney Under Fire For Filming ‘Mulan’ in China’s Xinjiang Province”
The Washington Post wrote, “Why Disney’s new ‘Mulan’ is a scandal”
And the New York Times ran with, “Why Calls to Boycott ‘Mulan’ Over Concerns About China Are Growing”
The film’s credit scene drew a deluge of ire, as a result of Disney extending their gratitude and excessively thanking numerous Chinese state officials and departments, including, as reported Foreign Policy, the “Publicity Department of the Chinese Communist Party’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region Committee, as well as the Public Security Bureau in the city of Turpan and other state entities there.” As the report explains, “The Public Security Bureau is one of the main forces administering the internment camps, enforcing the surveillance and interrogation of even nominally “free” Uighurs, forcing people into slave labor, demanding that Uighurs host Han guests employed by the government to spy on them, and sterilizing Uighur women. The Publicity Department — a term that used to be more honestly translated as the Propaganda Department—justifies these atrocities. Most of these policies were well in place — and some of them known in the West—by the time the film was shot, partly in Xinjiang, in 2018.”
In the end, while Disney tried to remake another animated classic for modern audiences and simultaneously assuage and appease the massive multi-billion-dollar Chinese market as well as the politically-correct and hypersensitive American audiences, they reminded us that some classics are better off just left alone.
Originally Published on The Daily Wire