Walt Disney Pictures has finally released the long anticipated live action adaptation of the 1998 classic, “Mulan.” The film stars an all-Asian cast, with lead actress Liu Yifei playing Fa Mulan. The film is currently streaming on Disney+ with Premier Access for $29.99 and will be available to all subscribers for free in early December.
The remake does take a different approach to the classic “Mulan” that we all knew and grew up watching. Before the release, it was confirmed that the live-action would not have musical numbers or Mushu, the infamous dragon that served as Mulan’s sidekick throughout the film. According to Niki Caro, director of the film, “the songs are brilliant … but we do honor the music from the animation in a very significant way.” Caro explains that in order to keep the realism of the film, it wouldn’t make sense to burst into a music number. Though I did miss hearing my childhood favorites, I agree with Caro’s points. Caro also explained that Mushu was not included in the adaptation because he did not spiritually represent Mulan. Instead, Mushu was replaced with a phoenix which represents justice, obedience and fidelity in Chinese culture, which “Mulan” embodied.
Along with Mushu, Li Shang, the tritagonist in the original film, was not included in the 2020 film. Mulan’s producer told Harper’s Bazaar, “I think particularly in the time of the #MeToo movement, having a commanding officer that is also the sexual love interest was very uncomfortable and we didn’t think it was appropriate.” While many fans agreed with the statement, others argued that the storyline of the original film did not depict Shang as a higher authoritative figure and it was Mulan who was interested in him.
Though Shang was not featured in the new film, Mulan had a new love interest named Honghu, her rival while she was disguised as Hua Jun. Though his feelings intensified for Mulan throughout the film, Mulan did not get the fairytale ending we were familiar with from the original narrative.
One aspect of the film I enjoyed was the martial arts and the stunts. I thought it was realistic and an accurate representation of traditional Chinese martial arts. Throughout the film, I started to notice how similar the movie was to Chinese dramas that I used to watch growing up, rather than to a Disney movie.
After the release of the film, many fans took to Twitter to boycott it. In Aug. 2019, Liu Yifei published a controversial statement supporting the Hong Kong police when the police were being accused of human rights violations and protests continued throughout Hong Kong. Joshua Wong, an activist, urges fans to boycott the film because the actress proudly and openly endorses police brutality in Hong Kong. In Feb. 2020, Yifei stated that the topic was very sensitive to her and she hopes everything gets resolved in Hong Kong.
My final thoughts about this film are that it’s alright. It did not hit all the marks in following the message of the original movie and having the characters that I would’ve loved to see come to life. As previously mentioned, I enjoyed the realism of the film and how the producers incorporated Chinese culture to accurately represent Mulan, her family and her environment. Although the movie had a full Asian cast, I wished that the production team and the director were Asian or of Chinese descent to better the representation of Asians in mainstream Hollywood. Looking past my wishes for the film and the controversies this film had prior to and after its release, after watching “Mulan,” I did feel empowered by seeing Mulan’s bravery, courage and dedication throughout the plot. If you are a diehard fan of the original “Mulan,” you won’t miss out if you decide not to watch its 2020 adaptation. For $30 with the Disney+ subscription, I do not think it is worth your time or money.