The trailer for Disney’s new live-action film of Mulan was released this morning. In the trailer, Mulan rode into her town on her horse. When she got home, her mother announced that the matchmaker found her a possible spouse. Her father states that the decision has been made and that it is best for the family. Mulan responds, “Yes, I will bring honour to us all.”
The matchmaker monologues about the qualities of a lady, “quiet, composed, graceful and disciplined,” and we see Mulan being dressed for courtship throughout this speech. But it is juxtaposed with Mulan training for the army and fighting in battle still embodying these four traits.
This comes in stark contrast from the original, where the expectations of being a man were very different. As stated in the song “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You.” This adaption forgoes that differentiation of the binary sexes and shows that a woman can have all these qualities associated with womanhood and femininity and still be an accomplished warrior. This is furthered by another striking deviation from the original plot. There’s a noticeable lack of male companionship in the trailer. Even though it was announced last year that her love interest, Li Shang, will not be in the new film and that Chen Honghui will be in his place, this soldier was not seen in the trailer either.
Historically, Disney wanted Mulan to be an oppressed Asian woman who eventually eloped with a European prince; however, the director changed the theme to an independent female heroine, and it’s clear that director Niki Caro wanted to continue with this tradition of modernizing the narrative. The lack of love in the teaser trailer emphasizes the historic Hau Mulan, was a feminine hero who broke societal stigmas of women in warfare.
From what we can see, and are told this remake of Disney’s Mulan will closely follow the legend Hua Mulan is a Chinese warrior who disguised herself as a man to take her father’s place in the army due to the law that one man from each family must fight. She engaged in twelve years of combat when she denied a higher position and went home. This depiction of Mulan is said to be historically and culturally accurate in filming due to the true to race-casting for this cultural film. However, some things are questionable.
The first is that Mulan has a thicker accent than both of her parents. With this being a culturally based movie, it was noted by viewers that the parents have an “American” voice rather than a Chinese accent. Nonetheless, this is the opposite for the matchmaker whose accent is ethnically similar to Mulan.
Secondly, Mulan in the historical ballad is set in the Northern Wei Era, and calling to defend China from the Rouran invader, making her part of the Han ethnic group. The Han people would have lived in a square courtyard with houses on four sides called a siheyuan. These structures used thick wood or sometimes bricks to keep warmth in the homes due to the cold temperatures of Northeast China. Yet, the housing that is shown in both films is called a Tulou (“earthen building”) which is a traditional communal residence that is a circular arrangement of buildings surrounding a shine, more closely associated with the Hakka people in Fujian, China.
This is alarming for some because it allows questions on the cultural accuracy of the film. As Disney has a history of erasing the individuality of Non-European cultures and ethnic groups.
The first look into the remake was met with a variety of reactions, and while the opportunity to have a canon bisexual character (Li Shang), and the nostalgic musicals will be missed sorely. The trailer does a great job of establishing the Mulan remake as its own film. Whether it can avoid the pitfalls of orientalism and racist homogenization of Asian ethnic identities remains to be seen.
The live-action film of Mulan is scheduled to open March 27, 2020, in the United States and the United Kingdom.
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Keshav Kant, aka Mx. KantEven, is a med student tuned Executive Director of Off Colour!
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From consulting on films & shows, manuscript review, conducting interviews, or hosting podcasts & panels, if there is some way to bring sensitivity and authenticity to diversity, inclusion and equity conversations, Keshav will be there.