Disney Brought Dishonour To Us All: A Film Review of Disney’s Live Action Mulan

Oh boy. Oh brother. Where do I even begin with this… this nonsense? There will be spoilers, and I say that as if I give a shit.

Okay, usually I would do a bit of research, reading, and maybe even talk to some friends before I review something but fuck it, I am only going to put in about the same amount of effort that had apparently been invested into this movie (i.e. minimal). I am Chinese and I am also a fan of Disney films, and I am very easy to please. Do you know how easy it is to please me? I’ll tell you. I actually don’t hate most of Disney’s naked money-grabbing live action remakes that they’ve been pushing out in recent years. That’s the truth. I’ll pay money just to watch diluted versions of their classical animated canon because I am that kind of patsy who is in his 30’s and am utterly, shamelessly susceptible to nostalgia. And I would venture to say that Disney would have done a much better job by me if they had simply stuck to the same playbook they used for Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. Remake it shot by shot. Play us the same catchy songs. That way at least, they would just be revisiting the original gauche liberties they took with Chinese culture back in 1998. But nooo, they have elected instead to abandon their old mistakes in order to commit new hate crimes against the Chinese people. How is it that there are way more Chinese people involved in this new version of Mulan and we still end up with a less culturally-reverent movie?

Firstly, Mulan is no longer just an ordinary woman doing extraordinary things. She is now a superhero. Yeap, they just straight up gave her superpowers. The film summed up these special abilities Mulan displays as “qi” but it’s really just the ability to use wire-fu. But in Gong Li’s witch character’s case, qi allows her to literally turn into a freaking hawk. Or eagle. Or whatever bird of prey she is suppose to be (I’m not looking it up). That’s right, her qi allows her to be a goddamn animagus. And sometimes, she can turn into a whole flock of smaller birds too. And possess people. Like folding her whole ass body into the body of another person. How the fuck she does all that? “Qi”. I can’t believe I am saying this but the Kung Fu Panda films actually have a more accurate representation of what qi is.

And Disney is really flooring the pedal on the soulless corporate token feminism that they saddled nuBelle and nuJasmine with. The use of qi in Mulan is conflated with witchcraft. That’s Gong Li’s whole backstory. The reason she helps a bunch of nomadic Rouran invaders to conquer China in the movie is because she was exiled for being a qi-using witch (and not, as I initially surmised, for robbing Rita Repulsa’s wardrobe or wearing that breastplate that looks like a giant spiky clam eating her boobs). Witchcraft is apparently against ancient Chinese law or something. And Mulan is supposedly in danger of being shunned like Gong Li if she is discovered having these special qi powers. Now, we Chinese really didn’t have the same history with witches as countries with a Judeo-Christian background, and the use of sorcery in Chinese folklore and belief is not even gendered. So it is baffling to me why this whole misogyny-against-witches thing from Western culture got shoehorned into what is suppose to be historical fiction about a badass soldier woman. There is enough regular sexism in Chinese history without trying to invoke the Salem witch trials here.

They also replaced Mulan’s talking animal dragon sidekick with a mute and conspicuously CGI guardian phoenix. There is a lot of symbolism associated with the Chinese phoenix (what we call fenghuang) and one of the things it represents is femininity. That I approve of, actually, but a fenghuang is not a phoenix, which I suspect the filmmakers aren’t aware of when they also used the bloody bird to symbolise Mulan rising up after being brought low. Now, the western phoenix is all about that jazz—rebirth, renewal, reincarnation in flames—but that is NOT at all what the fenghuang symbolises. In fact, it represents the empress, so for most of the movie, I actually wondered if Mulan is going to marry Emperor Jet Li eventually, or kill him and take his place because he is the fucking patriarchy incarnate. The Rourans were certainly more egalitarian—they employ Gong Li after all, while Mulan has to crossdress to even join the Emperor’s army.

They tried to invoke a few of the gags from the original animated movie surrounding Mulan’s difficulties in pretending to be a man in an all-male army camp, but they fell flat because the tone of this new Mulan movie is far more sombre. All the gaiety that the original songs brought to the story are either missing in this movie or reduced to wispy wordless leitmotifs. I don’t know what they did to Donnie Yen, Jet Li and Gong Li but their line deliveries are so painfully wooden that they should be checked for termites. Perhaps it came from them being thanklessly saddled with fortune cookie dialogues that do not reflect how Chinese people communicate at all—that is when they aren’t forcing in lines from the animated Mulan inorganically to remind us over and over again how much we prefer the original. My wife and I burst out laughing multiple times while watching this film at moments that were totally meant to be heartfelt and serious. The worst (and thus, most hilarious) moment was after the Huns Rourans were buried under an avalanche they stupidly triggered themselves, and Donnie Yen declared, “We won the battle!” as if they did anything when in fact, the bad guy army just basically committed suicide on a massive scale.

Speaking of suicide, why would the Emperor just walk right into an obvious trap with a tiny retinue? The head Rouran chieftain went like, “let’s settle this mano a mano in this construction site” and Emperor Jet Li just obliges him? Dude, your subjects died for you to keep you safe! What the fuck, man? Not cool.

None of the battle tactics employed by either side made sense either. There is a point when Donnie Yen moved his entire (outnumbered) army out of a defensible fort to meet the proto-Mongol Rouran army (consisting mostly of cavalry) on a flat plain. Students of Chinese history might recall what happened when Yang Guozhong ordered his troops to leave the almost impregnable Tong Pass to meet An Lushan on an open field (spoiler alert: it was a Bad Idea). And one striking thing about Chinese battles in history was the huge size of the armies fielded, and they usually number in the thousands or tens of thousands, but the armies in Mulan are comically small. They make the fights look like Ren Fair enactments in which the participants are practicing social distancing. Do you know how dumb a flanking manoeuvre looks with just half a dozen horsemen? I do now.

Now, I can forgive a lot if they actually gave us some competent martial arts choreography, and I’m not gonna lie, that was what I was banking on when they said that this Mulan is not going to be a musical—but if you are looking for a good kung fu flick, Mulan is not it either. The fights are disappointingly short and choppy, and for all the racket they raised around Mulan’s qi powers, she mostly uses it to execute scorpion kicks repeatedly to fling spears, arrows, whatnots at her opponents. Seems like she took Bruce Lee’s advice to heart and practiced that one kick 10,000 times. Presumably because it looks pretty.

You may notice I have not mentioned much about the guyliner-wearing Shan Yu knock off Bori Khan, or the love interest guy who replaced Li Shang. That’s because there is nothing about them worth mentioning. They can gobble each others’ butts for all I care. The only character I don’t hate is Cricket, because he is precious and must be protected at all cost.

This movie was written and directed by a bunch of white people and it really, really shows. Don’t go see it. Go rewatch the original animated Mulan film and enjoy it with my Chinese blessings. Heck, go watch Kung Fu Panda 1, 2 and 3. They are actually more respectful of Chinese lore and tropes than this fiery slab of shit. I don’t know how they did it, but I am super impressed that they somehow managed to perpetrate cultural appropriation with a cast full of Chinese people.

Ratings: 1/5 Naga Pearls

If you like what you are reading, maybe you can Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com to keep this Naga caffeinated!

Published by A Naga of the Nusantara

A Naga is a divine dragon from Eastern Hindu-Buddhist tradition. The Nusantara is made up of nusa (island) and antara (between) and describes the Southeast Asian archipelago that includes Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Papua New Guinea. This particular Naga is Malaysian, born and bred. He loves reading and hoarding books, and enjoys bothering humans with what he thinks of them.

61 thoughts on “Disney Brought Dishonour To Us All: A Film Review of Disney’s Live Action Mulan

  1. I respect the dishonor comments. Though I enjoyed watching the film, I am glad we share the same ground of protecting Cricket. He was just so adorable especially on how they introduced him and I almost cried when I thought he died hnghh

    He is also my favorite character in the live action film. Such a pure character.

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  2. Ummmm, exactly where is the cricket on the movie??! I think you just watched the trailer, and looked at the ceiling to make this review.

    Your review is totally unfair. I think the movie had a nice visuals. Not like LotR or GoT levels, but at least they were able to recreate the vastness of the walled city of the emperor.

    Anyway, I think you should review your review. For live action movies Disney did, by far, only cinderella and maleficent did great (for me). After failing for most of their remakes, Mulan will be their redemption.

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  3. “I don’t know what they did to Donnie Yen, Jet Li and Gong Li but their line deliveries are so painfully wooden that they should be checked for termites.” Lollll I’m ded. I recently rewatched the animated movie and am still living on the high. Will be giving this a miss then.

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  4. @HC: Cricket is the name of one of the soldiers in the movie. There isn’t an actual cricket.

    I am beginning to question if YOU paid attention to the movie.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow. I get your frustration considering you are Chinese. And I absolutely agree that the movie would’ve been better if they stuck to the storyline of the animated version.

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  6. It’s funny you mentioned the original Mulan is more respectful of Chinese story tropes bc this movie apparently had CCP approval

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  7. Can I just say your writing brought tears to my eyes and I couldn’t stop giggling reading this highly entertaining review!

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  8. I noped out of seeing this movie as soon as the white director said she wanted to make it “gritty and realistic” and red flags flooded the landscape, but I just want to say that your review has healed my soul, cleared my skin and made my crops flourish. What a journey!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I will like to correct the author. 凤凰 is actually refer to the male and female of the species. 凤 is the female and symbol of feminism. 凰 is male.

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  10. @Andy Kor: Thanks for your input. I am aware of that distinction but practically speaking, the fenghuang (鳳凰) is mostly considered to be a feminine entity when paired with the masculine dragon, both in the context of marriage and with royalty.

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  11. Such a good review!!!

    if u want to watch a really good chinese drama (subbed) that stays true to the original martial arts and chinese culture without all this weird Qi stuff and with amazing fighting scenes id recommend The Heiress, where the female lead Una You Jingru (dressed as a male for most of it) a. carries another actress herself in Ep 24 b. does her own fighting scenes and stunts c. looks really convincing as a guy to the point of wearing that olden-day wig thingy (apparently she shaved part of her hairline for believability).

    I have to go rewatch my good chinese drama now to cleanse my eyes after watching some of the Disney film.

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  12. Sounds more like satire reading through this whole thing. In any case, it’s probably a good thing I’m voting with my wallet and won’t be wasting a dozen bucks seeing this in the cinema, based on all the word-of-mouth surrounding it. If anything, we can always stream online as an alternative.

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  13. I couldn’t get past the pic of Mulan with wavy hair, but not all wavy, mind you, only the ends. Like they had been set in curlers and blow-dried. Or was it roasted over the campfire? That was enough whitewashing for me to not watch this crud. Oh wait, wasn’t she even supposed to be a man?

    Liked by 1 person

  14. i know is not a musical movie but somehow i was still hoping to hear the theme song “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You”. Hope i am not the only one

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  15. Just take it for what it is. I personally enjoyed it and was not expecting an entirely similar remake. Mulan was originally a poem and it’s how you interpret it. Some phrases they used were kind of weird and would have been much suited in Chinese but it’s really not that bad.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. The movie is so bad… but as my friend observes: “hearing a lot of displeasure from Asian voices, and a lot of praise from white ones.” ha ha

    Liked by 1 person

  17. “So it is baffling to me why this whole misogyny-against-witches thing from Western culture got shoehorned into what is suppose to be historical fiction about a badass soldier woman.”

    That’s how Western corporate culture works. It’s done the trick in Europe for hundreds of years, so it should work on Chinese culture as well.

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  18. Try the Chinese Mulan movie with Viki Zhao and Chen Kun, Sounds like it was a lot cooler and sexier than this one.

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  19. @Andy Kor Uh, no. 凤 is male, 凰 is female. But the author is right, sometimes 凤凰 is regarded as a female bird, when 龙 comes into play.

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  20. If ya wanna watch a culturaly accurate film, then you should click play on some Chinese cultural documentary that’s filtered and approved by the CCP. Get real! The first thing you should point out in disapproval is the fact that there’s next to zero chance ancient Chinese people speak such good English!

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  21. What? are you like a director now? make sure you are before posting this crap. Such a bad sense of taste.

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  22. @fuckyouchineseknowitall wow you are defending a chinese movie yet when an actual chinese think that it’s bad, you suddenly become racist and think that anyone has to be a director to be able to make a critique? dont be retarded.

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  23. Ditto on whatever has been said here. I paid, we watched, we stopped at the middle and watched the cartoon instead. Waste of money if you really want this watch this… p2p it instead

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  24. I have not seen either movie, but I have read this glorious review. It is a thing of pure unsullied beauty, and as soon as I finish mopping spewed coffee from my keyboard I shall read it again. I may even watch both movies simply to fully appreciate the mastery of your review. And have myself checked for termites.

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  25. Spot on! Movie’s such a disaster. The one thing I want to point out, though, is that out here in the West we don’t have a Judeo-Christian culture, just a Christian culture. Judaism is very separate from Christianity despite what most people think and we don’t benefit from Christian hegemony at all.

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  26. You don’t have an idea how Latinos idolize Chinese culture I was waiting for this film and don’t pretend to be rude to the actress but they lack of those good dramatic faces you see in the real Chinese dramas that I watch sub to Spanish growing up when I was trying to understand how to throw a flying kick, Lol
    As for the rest of historic accuracy I have no idea I have to read and learn more but I feel like this live action film lacks of the good facial expression of Chinese dramas that I used to watch in Español.
    I looove Chinese culture and the animated version of Mulan will always be my favorite Disney movie.

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  27. I DON’T CARE ABOUT WHAT YOU’RE SAYING. BUT MANY PEOPLE LIKE IT, SPECIALLY ME… IF YOU WANT, MAKE A NEW VERSION OFF MULAN, MAKE A MOVIE… LIKE,.. DZUHHH.. NONSENSE….

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  28. Heh. Not watching it in Cinemas cause it’s Disney. Die evil mouse die.
    Probably will pirate the damn thing when its out.
    Wish they’ll stop flogging this dead Mulan horse though. If they really wanted to do a story about an asian woman general/warrior, there’s so many historically significant ones instead of rehashing this children’s tale. And badly at that.

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  29. I don’t watch many movies, and I haven’t watched this one. I also don’t know this reviewer. But what I can tell you is that this movie has been politicized. A LOT of Hong Kong, Taiwan, and overseas Chinese (mostly the younger ones) wanted to destroy this movie because the main actress and Donnie Yuan voices support for the HK police and China during the riots in 2019. So, a review that is so outrageously negative, ending with urging people to NOT go watch the movie, is suspect in my book.

    I haven’t seen the movies, but have no issues with a movie – targeted at kids – to not contain intense fight scenes. After all, this is not “Kill Zone.” The fight scenes should be catered toward kids and not blood-thirsty adult viewers!

    Being a Chinese, I also have no issue with the movie not depicting “Qi” accurately and making the “fenghuan” more like the western pheonix. We are not studying Chinese literature here. Given the growing global anti-Chinese sentiment stirred up by Trump, if the movie is to sell, it will have to be westernized significantly. I highly doubt if the kids watching this movie really cares about what “qi” is. They just want to have a good time!

    I WILL be seeing this movie. I may end up agreeing with some of what this reviewer said. I urge everyone to find out themselves by watching it.

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  30. Mulan is a legend, stretch it a little, she’s as fictitious as Bagheera in Jungle Book. So if they can make a jaguar talk (and a bear sing), why is there so much talk about “qi” in Mulan. Have you watched Chinese productions on “Buddha palm” or legend of condor heros where two persons can ride a small bird? Why can they get away with that for so many years, yet Mulan needs to be scrutinize?

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  31. I love your review and, well, honestly probably won’t watch this movie for a bunch of reasons.

    I just want to ask if you could please not use the term “Judeo-Christian” in the future. That term only serves to color Jewish thought, culture, history, and contributions though a Christian lens and erase Judaism. Thanks!

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  32. Rubbish and blind writer… This movie is not even 50% as close as what you wrote…

    I don’t wanna speak ill about it… Please watch it for yourself…

    It’s educational, empowering, creative twist to a nostalgic film

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  33. You have this movie categorized as “fantasy” and all you do is rail on how unrealistic it is. As a fantasy film, I find most of your commentary irrelevant.

    You might need to re-think your writing skills or your categorization, or both.

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  34. Quoting from the article: “I am only going to put in about the same amount of effort that had apparently been invested into this movie (i.e. minimal). I am Chinese and I am also a fan of Disney films, and I am very easy to please. Do you know how easy it is to please me? ” You raise a lot of interesting and nuanced points in this article, that directly contradict you saying (1) you are easily pleased, and (2) you put the minimal amount of time in your review. Don’t lie just for the attention here. Your review and taste is valuable, and should be treated as such.

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  35. I don’t know much about Chinese symbolism. But in my oppinion the Mulan 2020 was stiff and try too hard to make it a ‘serious’ version of Mulan. I agree much of your points.

    And i totally hate Gong Li character, The Witch. Looks like the director is trying hard to put feminism, women’s power elements in the movie. I think Mulan character alone can represent women as a whole.

    Like

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