Mulan Remake – The Issues of Diversity, Politics and Faithfulness

The live action remake of Disney’s Mulan (1998) is facing great backlash from both eastern and western audiences alike for its poor quality and inauthentic portrayal of the original movie. 

Photo Credit: Disney

Despite the relatively recent release, Disney’s live-action remake Mulan (2020) is already calling for boycotts from around the world as many are unhappy with the actual movie, and even the artistry itself. When Disney announced the new project, many fans rejoiced as they were excited to see their childhood movie be brought to life, especially when Asian representation is still not the norm in Hollywood. It seemed like nothing could go wrong, with a full Asian cast and a big corporation to fund it, it had the potential to be the highlight of 2020. Yet, the pandemic, strangely enough, was not the hamartia of Mulan but rather an amalgamation of other problematic issues.

 

Hong Kong

Liu Yifei, a Chinese-born American actress, plays the role of Mulan who saves China from the Huns who attempt to invade China. She overcomes gender roles, laws and the patriarchy as she disguises herself as a man to protect her father. However, many Hong Kong activists and empathizers have brought light to the irony of Liu Yifei playing a symbol of freedom and bravery as she has actively shared her allegiance to the Hong Kong police on her official Weibo.

Her Weibo post, “What a shame for Hong Kong. I support the police, you can hit me now” caused great controversy as many civilians were arrested for pro-democracy protests held in Hong Kong. Similarly, Donnie Yen who plays Commander Tung, has also shown public support for the China’s Communist Party (CCP), which has fuelled protestors to boycott the movie.  Though discussions of boycotting the movie first started in August,  #BoycottMulan reignited following the official release in cinemas and on Disney+. 

Photo Credit: Weibo

 


Adaptation – Faithful or not?

Political issues aside, the remake may have removed one of the most integral characters of the film in order to make it more serious and relevant towards certain audiences. They removed the beloved Mushu, who mentors Mulan to become the great warrior she is, as well as removing the original songs and comedic nature. Many have accused Disney of pandering to a Chinese audience as they veered away from a Disney-esque interpretation to reflect serious Chinese values. As a successful release in China would be fundamental in a big box office, it is not particularly surprising why they chose to do this. 

However, this choice ended up backfiring as Mulan is now performing quite poorly in China. Maoyan, a movie ticketing agent, predicts that Mulan could potentially reach 291 million yuan, which fares quite low compared to Tenet’s 406 million yuan and The Eight Hundred’s 2.91 billion yuan. It also scored a mere 4.7 on Douban whereas Tenet scored a 7.8. These low scores and profits can be blamed on poor execution.

Shi Wenxue, film critic and professor at the Beijing Academy, explains that the movie fell short in a realistic telling of the epic tale. The film incorporated motifs that were obviously oriental to a Western audience, it failed to consider the authenticity of these elements to an actual Chinese audience. The movie also failed in depicting true patriotism and was rather about a blind faith between king and soldiers. By failing to express the value of patriotism, it takes away a fundamental value of the film and China itself while undermining the meaning of loyalty. This poor research and execution was one of the many issues that caused a low result of the film. These inaccuracies were not singular to the plot itself but extended to the costumes, setting and elements used. It is important to ask ourselves, how was inaccurate portrayal allowed when it capitalised off the idea of diversity?

 

Diversity

Many were super excited to hear that Mulan would have a full Asian cast, celebrating a faithful adaptation to the Disney classic. As Hollywood has had countless scandals in regards to whitewashing, fans were welcoming of the change that would be true diversity. However, this celebration may have been early as evidence of whitewashing was still rampant, just not on the big screen.

The director, screenwriter and costume designer are not Chinese themselves, nor do they have Chinese blood. The same goes for most of their staff, which explains the inconsistencies in the movie. Users of Twitter expressed their anger as they questioned why white people were directing an Asian story with Asian values. As these positions could have been given to people who could have helped elevate the movie and its values, it does pose the question if diversity simply ends at the cast. 

Costume designer, Bina Daigeler, divulged that she visited European museums with Chinese departments and visited China for three weeks for inspiration. She says she got inspired by the Tang Dynasty for their colourful style however users pointed out that Mulan was not even set in the right time. It is safe to say that three weeks is not enough to understand the rich history of China and that these historical inaccuracies invited criticisms to the film.

 

Eurocentrism?

Mulan was also released on Disney+ for $30 in response to the delays of the Coronavirus pandemic. Despite being based on a Chinese tale with Chinese actors, the movie did not have Chinese subtitles. This furthers the issue of diversity as many point out that there were a multitude of Europeans languages and accuse the platform as “Eurocentric.” However, some defend that it may be a preemptive preventive measure against privacy. Regardless, it caused irate in many Asian-American families who were excited to share the film with their families. 

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Fans who shelled out $30 to watch Disney’s “Mulan” have taken to social media to slam the live-action remake’s lack of Chinese subtitles. The film, set for a Chinese theatrical release on Sept. 11, arrived on Disney Plus last Friday but only included captions in European-origin languages. The fact that a movie based on Chinese culture excludes its language as a subtitle has unsurprisingly disappointed some Disney Plus subscribers. “Mom and dad were so excited to watch Mulan and I bit the bullet & paid $30. They don’t even have Chinese subtitles and this is literally a movie about MY CULTURE. Netflix has Chinese subtitles. More importantly, look at how Eurocentric this list is. Yes I had to look up who speaks Suomi too,” one wrote in a now-viral Facebook post, which was also shared on Twitter. The matter also sparked discussions on the Disney Plus subreddit. Some users expect the film to have Chinese subtitles for its Chinese release, but this is unclear. However, some pointed out that the absence of Chinese captions could be a preventive measure against piracy. “The only reason I could see it not being included is simply because the film is playing in China and they do not want piracy in that region to hamper ticket sales,” one user noted. The animated version, released in 1998, flopped at the Chinese box office. Now, Disney created the live-action remake with Chinese audiences in mind, reportedly commissioning film testers and working with the Chinese government to ensure a theatrical release. Based on the narrative poem the “Ballad of Mulan,” the 2020 film departs from the animated feature in several ways. Among them is the inclusion of a new villain, a witch named Xianniang. @nextshark 👈👈👈 support by following 🙏🙏🙏 #mulan #disney #disneyplus

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In the face of the Coronavirus pandemic, the movie industry has been struggling as people are less willing to go out to the cinemas. Mulan was no exception to this, yet it’s clear it was not only the pandemic that resulted in the poor results of the movie. 

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