Mulan (2020) || Feminist Remake and Cultural Homage

Mulan 2020 || A Movie Between Feminism and Asian Representation

If you are a big fan of Disney you probably have been waiting for Mulan for years!

After, Dumbo, Aladdin and the Lion King, among others, Disney finally prepared the very expected live action movie, and it’s a big one…

The live action Mulan finally arrived in 2020.

Originally schedule to come out in theatre in March 2020 the date was cancelled because of, well, the pandemic, have fans have been waiting ever since.

👉 It has been announced in August 2020 that Mulan will be available on Disney+ for $30 starting the 4th of September 2020.

Mulan 2020
20 years after the animated movie, the live action is scheduled for March 2020

A movie expected by fans for many years already, we already know it is going slightly feminist and a great homage to the Chinese culture and the legend of Hua Mulan.

Before going any further with the live action, a quick about Mulan’s story and the legend that inspired so many remakes.

Mulan (2020) || Hua Mulan’s legend

Mulan (2020) || The Animated Movie (1998)

Mulan (2020) || The Live Action Remake (2020)

Mulan (2020) || The Cast

Mulan (2020) || Fun Facts about Mulan 2020

Mulan (2020) || Chinese Culture and Asian Representation

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Hua Mulan’s Legend

Hero of a Chinese legend, Hua Mulan (花木兰) is a warrior from the Northern Wei Dynasty 北魏 (386-534).

The legend of Hua Mulan developed and spread in China following the poem of Guo Maoqian in the 6th century, The Ballad of Mulan (木蘭辭, mù lán shī) during the Southern and Northern Dynasty 南北朝 nán běi cháo (420–589).

Daughter of an officer, she is trained in archery, martial arts and sword fighting. Mulan decides to replace her dad in the army when the Emperor asks every man in the country to go to war.

She asks her father for his approval, which he gave her, too old to fight and facing an inevitable death if he was to go.

Disguised as a man, she is renowned for her clever strategies and won battles during the war. She spends twelve years like this before retiring to her village at the end of the war, and goes back to her weaving activity alongside her father and siblings.

the legend of Mulan

She declines a high position in the army and every merits for her accomplishments, and only asks a reliable horse to get her home.

It is only long after the end of the war that the Emperor learns about Mulan being a woman, and offered her to be his concubine. Offer she refused every time he asked.

In another version of the story, ‘Romance of the Sui and Tang‘ from a historical novel of Chu Renhuo circa 1675, Mulan does not have a happy ending.

After the war and many events in the kingdom, including the defeat and the enemy taking power, Mulan goes home only to find that her father died a long time ago and her mother remarried, and worse became the new foreign emperor’s concubine.

Mulan takes her life with her sword, her funerals are organised by the Emperor with the highest honours.

I bet you didn’t expect it to end like this! Well, Disney’s original stories are never happy. See the Sleeping Beauty and the Little Mermaid.

Anyway, talking about Disney, what about the animation movie then ?

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The Animation Movie (1998)

The story most of us grew up with, and which for many, was the first glance at an Asian country, and even more, with a completely different and unknown culture.

In 1998, Disney Animation Studio launch his latest feature film “Mulan”, inspired directly from the Chinese legend.

Mulan, an only child, has to fill in for her injured father when the Emperor asks every family to provide one man for the army to fight the Northern invaders, the Huns.

She leaves home at night to join the training camp without her family knowing. Her parents couldn’t catch up with her to take her back home without facing punishment, they prey for their ancestors to keep her safe.

Mulan 2020

This is how Mushu, a family guardian dragon and Cri-Kee, Mulan’s lucky criquet decide to go protect her themselves.

At the camp, Mulan meets Li Shang, the captain and introduce herself as Fa Ping. During a battle with the Huns and their leader Shan Yu, Mulan saves Shang’s life but injure herself.

The camp’s doctor quickly found out she is a woman and reports her to Shang. Shang is grateful to her for saving his life and decide not to punish her by death, the usual punishment for this situation.

At the end of the war, the Emperor offers Mulan a counselling position in the Kingdom but she declines, only wishing to go back home. Later on, Shang tracks her to her village and declare his love for her.

The story strays a bit from the legend, but as with any Disney story, with the inevitable happy ending.

In 2004, Disney produced Mulan 2. Preparing for their wedding, the Emperor gives Mulan and Shang an important mission : take three princesses to the other side of the country, so they can meet with their fiancés safely.

But nothing goes as planned…

The Live-Action Remake of Mulan (2020)

20 years after the animated movie, Disney finally decides to put launch its live action remake.

An event Mulan’s fans that have been waiting for ages for it!

Disney already talked about creating a Mulan live action movie in 2010, almost 10 years ago! So what happened?

Mulan 2020

After many postponed projects, rewriting, recasting… Disney announced that the start of production in 2017 and that the cast will be only from Chinese descent actors.

Disney also looking for an Asian movie director and considered many, one of whom being Ang Lee.

After lots of research and refusals, the New-Zealander Niki Caro was selected (Whale Rider, 2002).

DID YOU KNOW || There are very few female directors in Hollywood. Niki Caro is only the fifth woman director to have directed a movie with a budget of more than $100M.

With a first trailer out on the 7th of July 2019, and a second on the 5th or December 2019, we can already get a good glimpse at the movie and all the differences, which actually made a lot of people unhappy…

Watch right now the two trailers in this video👇

I can see you are just about to tell me… But WHERE is Mushu?

It was announced a few months ago already that neither Mushu not Shang will be in the movie.

It is actually for this reason that in the movie Mulan has a sister and is no longer an only child as before in the animated movie.

Two major changes are easily noticeable in the trailers: Mushu is not here (*sob*) and there is a new rival, a witch.

We were ALL used to Mushu’s presence and we LOVED him, so that is for sure a bit of a disappointment in the fan community. But he is being replaced by, guess what sacred animal? A phoenix.

Why a phoenix? You might ask.

In the Chinese culture, the phoenix is a sacred and symbolic animal. The phoenix is the Empress’ emblem, and bring peace and prosperity.

Int he Asian mythology, the phoenix is a feminine entity. Its masculine counterpart? Big surprise: the dragon.

If Disney wanted to give more exposure to the Chinese culture and traditional beliefs, then it is indeed a good start!

Sooo, second big surprise from the trailers, the new villain, the witch partner of the invaders’ leader.

The witch is in fact the big villain’s sparrowhawk who can shapeshift at will and has superpowers. Hmmm.

Mulan 2020 || The Cast

And the cast, THE cast! Only famous names.

Disney wanted to cast actors and actresses from Chinese descent ONLY. And did. We have thus a cast full of famous Asian talents.

The character of Mulan is played by Liu Yifei, a Chinese-American actress very well known in China for her roles in many TV series and collaboration with Korean, Chinese and American directors.

Disney was looking for someone with a good knowledge of martial arts and fluent in English, Liu Yifei was selected among a thousand of candidates.

Mulan’s father is played by Tzi Ma, that you probably saw in many police movies such as Rush Hour alongside Jackie Chan. Mulan’s mother is played by Rosalind Chao, best known for the multitude of movies and TV series she was in.

Mulan 2020

What about the Emperor? Jet Li. Yes you read that correctly, the one and only Jet Li will be in Mulan 2020.

Other names you probably know (if not you SHOULD), are Donnie Yen as the commander and mentor to Mulan, and Jason Scott Lee as the big villain Bori Khan (and not named Shan Yu as in the animated movie).

Gong Li is Xianniang, the shapeshifter witch partner of Khan. A name that might not sound familiar but she is one of the most famous actress in China and acted on various renowned historical movies.

Cheng Pei-Pei, big name of the Asian scene since 1964 plays the matchmaker.

Mulan 2020, the casting is not messing around!

Mulan 2020
Jet Li is the Emperor

Fun Facts About Mulan (2020)

You like fun facts? Well then you are in for a treat.

👉 In the making of the remake, Disney’s sole wish was to respect and be as accurate as possible in the representation of the Chinese culture and traditions.

That is why the phoenix and the witch were introduced, since they are recurrent characters in Chinese traditional stories and legends.

Mushu being replaced ok I get it, the witch too… But Li Shang?

👉 Disney announced in the early process of casting that the character of Li Shang will be replaced by Chen Honghui, a slightly older characters of arrogant and mean personality. Why though? 🤷‍♀️🤷‍♂️.

Loyal, Brave, True

In the trailer you would have notice the characters inscribed in Mulan father’s sword: Loyal, Brave, True

  • Loyal 忠 Zhōng
  • Brave 勇 Yǒng
  • True 真 Zhēn

👉 Those three characters are the values that defines the phoenix in the Asian mythology, and have then a core importance in our hero’s story.

Mulan’s family also have a major importance in the story and culture representation, since filial piety is a major component of the Chinese culture.

👉 Filial piety is the respect of parents and the elderly, and is a key virtue in Confucius teachings and philosophy.

Apart from the new characters and and obvious similarities to the legend, the landscapes and scenery are GORGEOUS.

The movie was mainly shot in New-Zealand, and a few scenes in mainland China.

👉 The mountains, landscapes, sunset.. ALL are real, and not generated through computer softwares as other major Hollywood movies.

Yifei Liu in the Disney film Mulan (2020) picture supplied

👉 One thing however that might and has already made people disappointed, there won’t be as many songs in the remake.

Songs has been a major concern even for producers and talks about it started as soon as the early conception of 2017. After many contradictory interviews, Niki Caro announced that there will definitely be songs. So, we’ll see I guess.

The movie will however include traditional Chinese music instruments in its soundtrack.

👉 Mulan 2020 has already been announced as one of the most expensive movie ever. When the movie was in production in New-Zealand, it was already over budget.

Disney spend no less than $290m for the making of Mulan, that’s a lot of money!

⚠️ Movie director Niki Caro is not only the fifth women to be in charge of a $100M plus budget movie, she is also the ONLY female director to have directed a movie of a $290M budget.

Historique.

👉 The team creating and setting up the movie sets is the same team as on Thor: Ragnarok. Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver are the writers, they previously worked on Jurassic World. They said they wanted to created a movie in between the original poem of The Ballad of Mulan and the animated movie.

The filming ended in November 2018, and is set on screen for the 27th of March 2020 in the USA.

Chinese Culture and Asian Representation

The importance of the movie goes way beyond his impressive budget.

Directed by a woman, cast of only Chinese descent actors, it took years to prepare for such a project and make is as respectful as possible to the Chinese culture and the original Mulan legend.

So let’s see in more details …

In the first seconds of the trailers we can see those big circular buildings, so specific to the region of Fujian in the Southeast of China.

The very first cultural element of the trailer, is an homage to the traditional Hakka architecture.

BUT. Yes there is a but.

A small issue though, since these circular houses called XXX appeared in China during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 ) when the legend of Mulan takes place in the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534).

Cultural appropriation, tribute or genuine mistake? Chinese fans took to social media to express their thoughts on the matter.

Let’s talk a little bit about the weaving. We can see Mulan working on a weaving machine in her village, another tribute to the Chinese culture.

Never heard of the Silk Road?

First discoveries of the art can let us think that the art of silk weaving was created in China as early as 3500BC. It developed continuously with the creation of new tools and techniques, it then became a major aspect of the Chinese culture and became a tradable good that helped strengthen diplomatic relationships between countries.

DID YOU KNOW || Weaving was a way for women to earn money for their family while staying home.

Tissage de la soie en Chine

In the first scene, we learn that a husband wad found for Mulan and that this marriage would bring honour to the family.

Arranged marriages were commonplace in ancient China, and people still organise them today.

Another aspect of the Chinese culture represented in the movie. It also shows Mulan’s determination to bring honour and protect her family, be it by marrying someone she doesn’t like or by going to war to save her father.

Mulan is a feminist character representing ancient China Confucian values as well as the image of a strong woman not afraid of hardships prospering in a male-only environment.

A model of strength and perseverance which is completely relevant to today’s society.

Let’s not forget either that Hollywood was repeatedly criticised for its lack of Asian characters and representation, even casting caucasian actors for Asian roles.

Mulan is a movie making history that is helping change the shape of tomorrow’s cinematographic scene.


FANCY READING OUR REVIEW – With the movie now out for us all to watch, see what our Intern Angela thought about Mulan, with our Mulan (2020) Review.

ALSO, if you want an alternative view on the movie now it’s been released, why not check out what our friend Jen thinks about it with her look at Mulan (2020).

Alternatively, if live action still isn’t your thing and you were hoping for an animated remake of Mulan, why not check out some other animated cartoons in Chinese instead? We definitely recommend Peppa Pig and Spongebob!

Mulan 2020 || FAQs

Did Mulan really exist?

Hua Mulan did exist in real life, and she became the main character of a famous legend from the Chinese mythology.

Legendary warrior from the Northern Wei dynasty (386-534), she fought many years in the emperor’s army before being discovered.

Her legend developed and spread all around China following the success of the poem named The Ballad of Mulan (木蘭辭, mù lán shī) written by Guo Maoqian during the 6th century and the reign of the Northern and Southern dynasty 南北朝 nán běi cháo (420–589).

Is Mulan 2020 out now?

It is indeed!

Why is Mulan 2020 so important?

Not only is this movie a remake expected by the fans for years, but this time the story of Mulan will be a lot closer to the original legend.

The cast is also only composed by actors and actresses of Chinese descent, a big step towards Asian representation in Hollywood.

Mulan is a feminist character representing ancient China Confucian values as well as the image of a strong woman not afraid of hardships prospering in a male-only environment.

A topic currently widely discussed.

Will Mushu be in the movie?

It might be a disappointment to a lot of people, but Mushu won’t be in this remake of Mulan.

Everyone’s favourite dragon and Mulan’s guardian was actually introduced by Walt Disney in the first animation movie, and is not a character from the original legend. That is why he won’t be in the movie.

Who plays Mulan?

Chinese-American actress name Liu Yifei 刘亦菲 (Liú Yìfēi), also known as Crystal Liu.

She played in several movies as well as TV series in the US, as well as in China and South Korea.

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