By Raine Lee (Vancouver)
Summary: Dishonour! Dishonour on Chinese culture! Dishonour on Mulan! Dishonour on my popcorn! Remote from the essence of the tale of Mulan and confused about how to please and appease moviegoers from both Western progressive culture and Chinese Confucian culture. Just eat your popcorn and watch this soulless, Chi-less, and slovenly mash-up of who knows what.
Mulan’s a Chinese Warrior, not a Social Justice Warrior.
Making Liu Yifei play Mulan may win the Chinese market, but the whole trope of women supporting women will no doubt leave the Chinese audience scratching their heads, as they are not well-versed in the PC or progressive culture of the West, especially not in the context of the legend of Mulan. The witch, Mulan’s enemy, siding with her simply because Mulan is a woman, also oppressed, is a very forced narrative, as the story’s core has always been about patriotism and the Confucian values of filial piety in the form of sacrifice for family. Mulan’s supposed to show such merits in spite of the fact that she’s a woman, not because of the fact that she’s a woman.
She might as well kill the emperor as well because after all, he’s a man and one with power, too, just like Bori Khan. Both are beneficiaries of the patriarchal system that oppress women. In fact, the audience is denied another one of the joys from the animated film as Captain Li Shang is replaced with Commander Tung (Donnie Yen) and Chen Honghui (Yoson An). Of course, to appease the #Metoo fury, the film contrives to have Mulan hit it off with a fellow soldier instead of her superior because, oh, abuse of power. Why a woman as strong as Mulan would be attracted to a meek Chen is beyond me as his character development is also, needless to say, very weak.
Also, this “Chi” being thrown around so casually in every other scene completely destroys the enigma that it’s supposed to be. Chi, which should barely have anything to do with Mulan in the first place, is, regardless, something to be felt through the actions of the characters that would effuse agility, integrity, and grit that come from inner cultivation. Instead, Mulan is portrayed to be born with Chi and thereby possesses inner warrior skills… and from there on out, the film bombards the audience with emphasis on Chi, but all in a fragmented manner without true context as to why it’s been bestowed, or more so imposed, upon Mulan. The open discussion of Chi at every opportunity would be the very opposite of what traditional Chinese culture values: reservedness and restraint, both features of the middle way aka the Tao. Moreover, the ribbon-kite Phoenix that follows her like a shadow is a poor excuse for Mushu that serves no purpose as Mulan is apparently already full of this mysterious Chi, so she should easily be able to protect herself even without the kite posing as a phoenix.
200 million dollars spent, and the battle scenes with supposedly one man from every household in China to fight against the Rourans, culminated in the grand total of a scarce few dorks. The martial arts scenes also require some extra lessons in cultivating the Chi of editing and framing; a hundredth of the budget used in an episode from almost any Chinese period or martial arts TV series produces more magnificent battle scenes.
The film in all its explicitness, even fails to deliver the smooth transitions and coherent dialogues of the animated version where not every character opens their mouths to stilted conversations as they philosophize while voraciously checking the thesaurus. The screenwriters remind me of the story of the blind wo/men and the elephant as they attempt to guess what best represents the mysterious and exotic Orient while also struggling to share a single vision, which renders the story choppy and disorienting.
This film has made the implicit art of story-telling into an explicit endeavour of essay-writing, where every point is spelled out or beaten to death: “Loyal, brave, true,” on repeat, “Rise up like a phoenix,” says the Emperor, and “A girl who has come to save the dynasty.” Thanks, but I have two eyes to see for myself and do not need the characters to continuously tell me what their actions or presence are supposed to mean.
This is a soulless, Chi-less, and slovenly mash-up of the animated film and the West’s current progressiveness as it lacks essential understanding of the essence of and inspiration behind the tale of Mulan.
In the film, Mulan’s hiding her identity may be the disgrace, but this rendition of the tale is what brings real dishonour to traditional Chinese culture.