Mulan Musings

Why the 2020 character is a bummer

Photo by 张 学欢 on Unsplash

Imagine an Asian girl in the 1990’s who grew up in a patriarchal society, observing that gender roles are strongly embedded. It is so deeply embedded that when a girl prepares a meal for the first time, it is not uncommon to hear a remark “you can now be wedded to a husband” (in Filipino language, “pwede ka na mag-asawa.”)

Then imagine that same girl watching Mulan, the animated film. She sees that the princess joins the army, fails several times at training, yet strategises and perseveres. She thinks outside the box. In the end, she succeeds at her goal. The girl’s heart races, rallying for the princess, as she breaks the status quo. She thinks Mulan is awesome.

Needless to say, that girl was me and I’m probably not alone with this experience. Now we fast forward to 2020, when we have even better production technology and see Mulan portrayed by real people. Among the several critical changes they made to the animated story, there are two points that saddened me most.

In the animated film, Mulan had zero warrior skills in the beginning. She used cleverness, wit, perseverance, and trained like crazy to get to a level fit for war, just like the rest of the trainees. 2020 Mulan however, as a kid was already exceptionally gifted and endowed with fighting skills. She was the “chosen one”. Furthermore, she had a sister who was not as gifted as her. And what happens to the sister? Well, she was matched to a husband.

Instead of inspiring a girl that with hard work and perseverance, she can reach her goals, this implies “If you’re gifted, you can do great things. If you’re simply ‘average’, no need to train because your life has been predetermined for you. There are girls who are more beautiful, better in school, or at sports, and it’s too bad you’re not one of them.”

I firmly believe that people can develop themselves through training, good strategies, and support from others. Contrary to the animated Mulan, the 2020 character is just not showing that.

The other sad point for me is the scene where Mulan returns to her father after having fought in the war. In the animated film, her father discards the medals and sword and embraces his daughter. He says, “the greatest gift and honour, is having you for a daughter.”

The 2020 film eliminates this touching scene altogether. Instead, they replaced it with a non-verbal reunion between Mulan and her father, where Mulan seems to simply say “I have done my duty in bringing honour as a warrior.”

What a cold replacement for such a loving scene.

Love of movies is not something I am known for in my circle of family and friends. But if there is one movie I know, it is Mulan. Between the animated character and the live-action one, I would choose the animated any time. She brought about a lot of feelings of empowerment and inspiration and I prefer to remember her that way.

P.S. For a good analysis of the Mulan live-action film, I recommend to see this video essay.

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