The Legend of Mulan: Disney’s 2020 Take

Jul 21, 2019 | China, News, Pop

Will Disney be opening 2020 by pandering to China’s nationalistic values?

It’s hard to imagine that the original Disney animation Mulan was released in 1998 – right around the time when Asian markets were reeling from the DOTCOM bubble bursting and general economic sluggishness in the region.

But then again, Disney is known for squeezing as much hope as it can from whatever climate it finds itself in. With Eddie Murphy voicing the lovable dragon Mushu, and Broadway’s Lea Salonga bringing the arias for Mulan’s singing parts, it’s not difficult to understand why Disney’s teaser for the live-action adaptation of the beloved 1998 classic is causing heads to roll.

While no one is really complaining about the result of the year-long search for an actress to play Mulan, people can’t help but wonder: what happened to Mushu, and the original vibe of the story that gave a generation of Disney viewers a lot of hope back in the day?

Who is the Real Mulan?

The story of Mulan actually came from “The Ballad of Mulan” (Ode of Mulan), a fifth or sixth century CE poem. The poem was written during the time when China as we know it was divided into northern and southern regions. The rules of the north were from non-Han ethnic groups. The poem goes in this manner: Tsiek tsiek and again tsiek tsiek,/Mulan weaves, facing the door./You don’t hear the shuttle’s sound,/You only hear Daughter’s sighs./They ask Daughter who’s in her heart,/They as Daughter who’s on her mind./”No one is on Daughter’s heart,/No one is on Daughter’s mind./Last night I saw the draft posters,/The Khan is calling many troops,/The army list is in twelve scrolls.

Liu Yifei: The new Face of Mulan  

The live action-film will definitely pose a lot of challenges to the now embattled Liu Yifei, who is also known as “Fairy Sister” to some of her fans because of her youthful and dreamy looks. Admittedly, she says that she doesn’t want to be just another face on the silver screen, as she wants to “be able to deliver the right emotions for the characters you play. This makes you more attractive on the screen. That’s why I focus more on acting than my appearance.”

Critics are already panning the role she will be playing because of the largely drab and non-humorous tone that the preview gave off. In less than two minutes, it was understood that the live-action adaptation would have none of the original 1998 magic, as the story is now closer to the mood of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon than the original Disney animation. Critics are also pointing out that Disney is now bowing to the “nationalistic values” that the Chinese government echoes to its citizenry on a regular basis: unquestioned loyalty and eternal allegiance to the Emperor.

The Bottomline: old vs. new Mulan

What’s my take on the new Mulan? I find it largely uninspiring, mainly because it diverted from the original vein of the animation. The fantasy elements of the original were important, regardless of the commercial success of Mulan back in 1998. You don’t measure the success of any film or animation by its commercial success, you look at how it was put together. I would come close to saying that Mulan’s “growing up” project was laudable and was able to create that universal feeling of alienation that is felt by all teenagers.

Of course, there were still key differences that prevented people from saying “Hey, this is exactly like my life.” The presence of Imperial drafts to join the army definitely brought people back to the historical aspects of the animation. And then there was Eddie Murphy, or should I say, Mushu. Mushu the ancient dragon was a poor bodyguard, but he played the perfect foil to Mulan’s initial recklessness in the film. He wanted so badly for Mulan to succeed, but at the same time, like Jiminy Cricket, he knew that youthfulness is a power that you can’t just control: you have to let it happen, before you can even understand it.

‘Better Days’ Shines Light on China School Bullying Tops Box Office

A harrowing drama about school bullying has struck a strong personal chord with Chinese cinema audiences and soared to the top of the box office, after authorities belatedly gave it the go-ahead.

Taylor Swift Kick Off China ‘Singles’ Day’ Followed by $30 Billion in Sales

Chinese consumers spent a record amount on Alibaba platforms Monday during the annual “Singles’ Day” buying spree, the world’s biggest 24-hour shopping event, which kicked off this year with a glitzy show by US singer Taylor Swift.

The Ultimate Surf Camps in Asia

Want to learn how to surf in Asia? These amazing surf camps will help you conquer waves.

Live Organ Harvesting in China

Is China harvesting organs from live prisoners?

Tokyo Comic Con 2019 to Kick off in November

Tokyo’s Comic Convention of 2019 is underway and the Makuhari Messe complex in Chiba, Tokyo is officially the venue for these three days of excitement and fun.

Google: Battle with China’s Search Market

Google appoints new chief Stanley Chen in China, how does Google plan to retake China’s search market?

Top Enchanting Malaysian Dishes to Try

Malaysian food is often creamy, spicy, and flavorful – a testament to the diversity of this strong nation.

Ashin Wirathu and the Fires of Ethnic Hate

When does Buddhism cease to be a religion of peace, and becomes a fuse for ethnic cleansing?

Asia: The Best of West Goes to the East

Famous Celebrities Who are Making It Big in China

The Constant Battle Against Asia’s Air Pollution

How is Asia grappling with ever-increasing levels of toxic smog in its busiest cities?

AFP Launches 2019 Kate Webb Prize for Asian Journalists

Agence France-Presse has launched the 2019 Kate Webb Prize to recognise exceptional Asian journalists doing difficult and dangerous work across the region.

Yakuza: The Rise, Demise, and Evolution of Japan’s Notorious Gangsters

Considered as the most feared crime syndicates from Japan, a closer look at the yakuza – how they came to be and where are they now.