I must confess that I’m a bit skeptical of Disney’s live-action adaptation of Mulan for a variety of reasons ranging from loving the original animated film to how the new movie will handle things like the cultural stuff and replacing Mushu.
After watching the new Mulan trailer, most of my worries have been appeased but a major new one has come up.
But firstly, the good stuff. Mulan tells the same story we all know – Hua Mulan dresses up as a man so she can fight against invaders in order to save her father (and China) while bringing honour to her family – but holy hell it looks stunning.
There’s no singing, but this Mulan makes up for it with a clear reverence for the real-life story of Hua Mulan and Chinese culture. There’s also a stunning new orchestral rendition of the classic tune, ‘Reflection’, from the animated film, which should appease skeptics that the music in the live-action adaptation won’t live up to expectations.
As for the magical elements, there’s sadly no Mushu but he’s been replaced with a phoenix. This thematically makes more sense in this take of Mulan as phoenixes are the female counterpart to dragons and they represent rebirth, which perfectly ties in with the story.
Oh there’s also a magical witch in there played by Gong Li, which is a little odd yet it works.
Mulan looks and feels fantastic… but the big problem I have is the use of the Chinese language. Or more specifically, the lack thereof.
Despite all the efforts in casting Chinese actors, all of whom are native Chinese speakers, everyone speaks English. Seeing so many great-looking scenes that pay respect to the original Chinese history be doused in accented English is quite disorientating.
Stuff like Mulan reciting the Chinese characters on her father’s sword in English don’t sit very well with me (who comes from a Chinese background) and it feels a bit disingenuous that Chinese actors are being told to speak English in order to tell this story.
Here’s hoping that the filmmakers made a Chinese-speaking version of Mulan (with subtitles) come March 2020 because all those efforts in maintaining authenticity and cultural respect go straight out the window when you’re getting your Chinese actors to tell a Chinese story in broken English.
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