Disney: Mulan (2020)

Screenshot from Mulan (2020) starring Liu Yifei. Copyright of Walt Disney Pictures.

Hi! It’s Annie!

Over the weekend I was surprised by my family with watching this movie right in the middle of deciding whether or not I was going to watch it. I am a giant fan of the original ‘Mulan’ movie, it is quite possibly one of my favorite movies of all time. I also am not at all a fan of Disney feeling the need to do all of these live action reboots. In my opinion, even if they are somewhat enjoyable, they end up feeling useless and lacking in creativity at the end of the day. But that doesn’t even begin to describe where this movie went wrong. There’s a lot wrong about this movie before you even watch it; so in the interest of this review leading to some sort of recommendation on whether or not you should watch this movie, I should mention at least some of the arguments surrounding whether or not this movie deserves a boycott.

The Boycott:

Firstly, Disney jumped through hoops to please the Chinese Communist Party in the making of this movie. It was filmed where there are Muslim concentration camps. You have to go into this movie knowing that many argue that this was meant to be a Chinese propaganda film, not to necessarily express the culture or the people. Pleasing the government is what’s going to make them money, so that’s what they did because that’s what they care about. Liu Yifei and another actor in this film also faced backlash for siding with Beijing against Hong Kong. I’ve heard some people point out that freedom of speech in China as an actor is way different than what people seem to think it is. Actors, especially ones going out into the world to represent China, are often pressured by the government into saying certain things. What she said she stood for wasn’t pretty, but just because she said it doesn’t mean anything in regards to whether or not she actually stands for it. Lastly, I should point out that this film has little to no Asian creatives of any sort behind the scenes. Yes, it’s good that all the actors are Asian, but there were no people actually a part of this culture writing this movie and it shows. Many people worry, when it comes to this film doing badly, that Hollywood will think that this film failing means western audiences aren’t interested in seeing Asian culture. Even if the true case is that the movie was just bad and controversial. All of the things above that I just mentioned are important things to think of before you make the decision on whether or not to spend your money here. I’m going to tell you right now, it probably isn’t worth it. I’m also not the be-all, end-all, of information regarding all of the reasons to boycott this movie, nor am I the first person you should ask about it. Please do your own research and listen to Asian voices regarding this issue.

LIGHT SPOILER WARNING: Not that you’re actually going to watch the movie now that you’ve read the above paragraph.

The Bad:

  • No Mushu. I know a lot of people wanted Mushu in here but I didn’t really see why. I wanted a more realistic approach to the tale of Mulan, so I wasn’t really looking for a Mushu in here. Instead, the fact that Mushu isn’t here is almost baffling. There’s a random Pheonix that appears sometimes and doesn’t have much to do with the story and a shape-shifting bird woman who also doesn’t really make sense in the context of the movie because she’s the only one shown with this ability. They don’t even explore why she has this ability. Literally anything weird about the movie is explained as “chi”. The more they do this, the more you become certain that the writers have absolutely no idea what “chi” even is. This will come up again.
  • Chi. There it is! What the heck is chi in the context of this movie and why is it even there? One of the great things about the character of Mulan in the original movie is that she’s a normal woman learning at the same speed as everyone else and she just wants to save her father. When she progresses or fights well it’s because she shows that women can be just as strong and work just as hard as men do. In this, all of her achievements are attributed to her chi. This is why the movie thinks she’s a good fighter, this is why the movie thinks she’s brave. It’s because she’s some sort of chosen one rather than a strong woman and warrior. This idea of chi is very inconsistent in what it’s actually used for and it isn’t ever explained to the audience either. I will again express my belief that the white writers chose a random Chinese idea that was somewhat popular and wrote it into the script without actually doing research on it first.
  • The westernization. This was so apparent throughout this entire movie. From the way they spoke, to the words they used, to the way the characters acted around each other. Watching this movie was really interesting after having watched so many C-dramas lately that are actually written by Chinese people. Everything here just felt off and I realized that it was because Asian people didn’t actually write this script or the dialogue in it. This movie felt more like it was trying to pander to its western audience than it felt like it was actually trying to teach us anything cultural. Each culture has a different way of communicating. Some cultures are more outgoing than others. Every culture has progressed differently so we’re bound to be different. The way I talk to my friends in public is going to be very different than the way someone half-way around the world talks to their friends in public. Researching and recognizing this before you visit that country, never mind before you make a film about said country, should be common practice as a way to be respectful. I guess that tells you what you need to know about the writers of this movie.
  • The girl power. I am really sick of movies claiming to be feminist and advertising that way, only for them to feel the need to give a woman a reason to be great as if we can’t be on our own. There must be some sort of reason that a woman is more powerful than a man. I already talked about this when I talked about chi, but I want to take a second to talk about the hawk lady. All of Mulan’s conversations with the witch are about how men treat them. Even if it’s supposed to draw attention to the inequality of the time, it also means that this movie fails to pass the Bechdel test. This movie that was advertised as feminist doesn’t pass the Bechdel test even though they put another female character in this movie specifically for Mulan to talk to. I’m not saying that every film that passes the Bechdel test is great for women, or every film that doesn’t is horrible. The original ‘Mulan’ doesn’t pass the Bechdel test. But the original ‘Mulan’ doesn’t largely because Mulan spends most of the movie surrounded by men while pretending to be a man. This movie doesn’t have that excuse because they added in this new character. And when the witch woman dies, it isn’t emotional because she dies for the sake of woman-kind rather than the movie actually taking a moment to give her some sort of personality trait that isn’t just “feminist”. We want multi-dimensional characters for women! Them being only “feminist” and nothing else isn’t going to cut it!
  • The side characters. Everyone but maybe Mulan and her father are one-dimensional. The movie doesn’t know what to spend time on, so it goes off on several tangents and basically leaves all of its side characters to rot. They might as well have all had the same personality because there was no depth or exploration of the characters to be had here.
  • Same plot. The base plot of this movie is exactly the same as the original movie. They didn’t even try to really change it too much, and it leaves you sitting there wondering why you’re watching the movie. The original animated ‘Mulan’ does this plot so much better, so if you’re going to watch what’s virtually the same plot you might as well turn this off and watch the other ‘Mulan’ that’s also on Disney Plus. If you’re interested in watching a more culturally accurate version of ‘Mulan’, there are many adaptations to choose from that were actually made in China and created by Asians. This movie is a very useless watch.

The Good:

  • The imagery. If this movie has nothing else, you can at least say that it’s beautiful. Many of the scenes feel like paintings and the movie itself is shot very well. It’s very pretty to look at while you aren’t enjoying it that much.
  • The acting. For the very little that each actor was given character-wise, each actor manages to stand out in some way. Every actor gives a piece of themselves to their performance and does an excellent job at doing so. The acting is charismatic, fun to watch, and makes you wish that the movie was better so the actors would have been given proper material to work with. They carry the movie on their backs and each and every one of them deserved so much better writing than what they got.
  • The swordsmanship. There is a specific scene where actor Donnie Yen is moving so fast with his sword that they had to shoot the scene in slow motion. It was one of the most beautiful scenes in the entire movie. If you can find that scene by itself on Youtube or something, it is definitely worth the watch.
  • No Li Shang. Don’t get me wrong, I love Li Shang. He is one of my favorite Disney characters of all time, but there is nothing he would have been able to do for this movie. There is another character they have as Mulan’s love interest that fits the narrative much better, and really makes you wonder what would have happened if the writing was better and he was given more to work with as a character. Disney cited the reasons for taking Li Shang out as not wanting Mulan to have a romantic relationship with an unbalanced power dynamic. I actually really respect this decision. If only they could have done more with the new character and this movie in general.

So, is it good?

No, not really. You probably could tell from what I wrote about the good in this movie that I didn’t like it that much. There’s really not much to say here. There’s so much rightful backlash about this movie and really, it makes you wonder what would happen if we actually had a more diverse Hollywood. Also, if it was more popular and normalized to watch movies and content that are made in other countries. When it comes to our media in America, we can be really self-centered. I didn’t have high expectations for this movie, because I really don’t for any Disney live-action films. I’m just going to tell you to skip it and not pay the ridiculous thirty dollars. Watch the original again or watch an adaptation of it from China. Both experiences would probably be much better. Disney is coming out with ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ next year and that actually has many Asian creatives working behind the scenes on it. Hopefully that will be better, especially because it’s an original idea. (And YAY Kelly Marie Tran!) And can we stop with the live action remakes? Please???

See you across the pond!

Sincerely, Annie

One thought on “Disney: Mulan (2020)

  1. I hear you right there about these rampant live action remakes. I knew there was some fiascos with getting the CCP involved, but I didn’t know they filmed it near places where there were Uyghur concentration camps. That really hurts knowing that. I’ll just stick with Mulan: Rise of a Warrior as far as live action remakes are concerned and that one is authentically Chinese.

    Out of curiosity, did you see my other comments?


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