Is the Mulan Live Action Reboot Even Mulan Any More?

Live Action Mulan

Mulan is one of my favorite Disney films. In this age of reboots and remakes, when it was announced that Mulan would get a live-action version, I was ecstatic. However, the more I hear about the live action Mulan, the more I’m convinced that it’s not going to be Mulan.

There were some fears that the live action Mulan would be whitewashed when an anonymous open letter was published on Angry Asian Man indicating that Disney bought a spec script where the love interest was white. These fears were put to rest when the official casting calls went out, which requires at least two of the roles, including Mulan, to speak fluent Mandarin. Then Liu Yifei was cast as Mulan, and people started to breathe sighs of relief.

However, the casting calls caused another uproar when Li Shang, Mulan’s commander in the army and love interest, was not on it. Instead, it appears that Mulan’s love interest is someone named Chen Honghui, who by all accounts has the potential to be a jerk. The uproar resurfaced this week when casting calls appeared to be confirmed. Donnie Yen was cast as Commander Tung, who is mentioned in Chen’s character description. Neither of these characters is in the original animated version.

Live Action Mulan ShangPeople are upset for a few reasons. First of all, Shang has largely been adopted by LGBTQ+ fans as being bisexual, largely because…well, he kind of is. I mean, you could argue this point (and I know people do), but he seems just as fond of Mulan-as-Ping as he does of Mulan. It’s all subtext, of course, but sadly most of the time subtext is all the queer community has. There’s no reason to remove Shang from the film, really, other than to remove any queer coding his presence causes. Like, oh, no, Disney accidentally made a pretty awesome, possibly bisexual character. Gotta nip that in the bud.

Doubling down on all of that is Chen’s description.

Basically, Chen is used to being the best at everything he does, and he identifies Mulan as his chief rival. It is specifically stated that he has a mean, bullying streak, so it’s not that far off to assume he treats Mulan like dirt right up until the minute he realizes she’s a girl. This idea of “pulling pigtails” is something that needs to be killed with fire. If the live action Mulan is anything like the animated one (which is seeming less and less likely the more news that comes out), Mulan is exactly the same pretending to a boy that she is as a girl; her personality doesn’t change. Shang trusted Mulan-as-Ping and was only hard on her because he had to think about the unit and she was, at first, not suited for it. For Chen, it sounds like he doesn’t like Mulan until he finds out she’s got boobs, and that just makes me angry.

Live Action MulanNext, of course, is the incredibly sad news that the live action Mulan will not have any songs. While director Niki Caro promised that it would be a “big, girly martial arts epic. […] extremely muscular and thrilling and entertaining and moving”, she did confirm that as of right now, there are no plans to make this a musical. I mean, I guess it’s not the end of the world. Yeah, Beauty and the Beast was practically a shot-for-shot remake, but Cinderella didn’t really have a lot of songs, so it’s not like there’s no precedent for this. It is disappointing though, because Mulan has some of the best songs. Is there anyone out there who wouldn’t finish the line if you suddenly stood up and sung Let’s get down to business…?

Lastly, aside from Donnie Yen’s Commander Tung, we know of at least two additional new characters who were not in the animated film. Last week it was revealed that the villain in the live action Mulan would not be Shan Yu, leader of the Huns. Instead, Gong Li was cast as the villain, who is described as a powerful witch. I’m unsure of why they made this change, since even in the poem, Mulan joined the army to save China from invaders. Now, I’m all for more female roles, and we could definitely use more nuanced female villains, but I don’t really see the point of this change. It makes the story more mystical than it’s supposed to be, although I guess considering we also had a talking dragon, perhaps I shouldn’t quibble too much over this.

It was also announced that Xana Tang was cast as Mulan’s sister, who is not in the original Disney version but is in the actual legend.

No Shang, no Huns, no songs… At this point, can we really even call this Mulan? If Disney is going to go this far from the animated film, why don’t you nix the idea of Chen as the love interest and have Mulan end the movie without a man? Or, better yet, introduce warrior princess Xianniang from the original poem and have her and Mulan ride off into the sunset together. I would be totally on board with either of those changes.

Author: Jamie Sugah

Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.


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