Qi was already in ancient China an image of the flowing life force. “Mulan”, the main character of the same name in Disney’s new live-action film, has an abundance of it, but must first find herself before she can channel her powers and use them to her advantage. When the time comes, you may well begrudge the neat heroine, but you’re still amazed at what this prophetic girl from Disney uses her talents for: To crush her enemies on the battlefield.
“Mulan” is the story of a young woman who is guided by three military virtues, in that order:
loyalty, courage and loyalty.
These three words, deeply engraved on the sword of the family, are what she beats around the ears of her enemies – and the audience. A visually extremely appealing film spectacle unfolds in a mixture of action movie, adventure and war movie.
The story of Mulan, which is told in breathtakingly beautiful fashion over long distances, lasts just under two hours. And with every minute of running time the feeling grows:
Disney is serious about this. Deadly serious.
The great warrior Mulan
Mulan (convincingly played by Liu Yifei) grows up in a family without male descendants. On behalf of her idealized father, the young woman goes to war and calls herself Hua Jun.
The plot is loosely based on an old folk ballad from China that originated around 500 years before Christ, but was not recorded in writing for posterity until several centuries later. But with this the parallels to the animated version will soon end. Not only the animals as secondary figures (like the small dragon Mushu) were left out. Even a man to fall in love has no place in the new film adaptation.
One would have liked to watch this film together with Sigmund Freud.
A beautiful sword for terrible things
The real film adaptation of Mulan was influenced by female producers. Director Niki Caro teamed up with the Australian camerawoman Mandy Walker for this, while Elizabeth Martin wrote the script together with Laura Hynek and Amanda Silver.
With Mulan they created a woman who during the felt half of the film beats up the men around her, no matter if friend or foe, with phallic symbols like sticks and swords.
To ensure that the global public does not misunderstand Mulan as a woman shotgun, the “little soldier” dressed as a man is allowed to look over tourist landscapes again and again with worriedly faithful dachshund eyes. And even at moonlight at night, swimming without uniform in an idyllic lake.
Strangely enough, Mulan refrains from cutting her magnificent long hair shorter before or after joining the Imperial Army. This despite the fact that as a woman in the army she is threatened with the death penalty. But admittedly, her hair mane will later provide another of the many great visual moments when Mulan, in the middle of a gallop on horseback, lets her soldier’s clothes float to the ground in slow motion and pulls flowing hair into battle, thus turning the fortunes of war in favor of emperor, country, family and honor.
When Mulan holds her father’s sword in her tender hands for the first time, which has been in the family for generations, all she can think of to say is: “What a beautiful sword”. It’s the father who adds: “Yes, it’s nice, too. But it’s made for terrible things!”
Perhaps this naivety of the main character is one of the reasons why the Internet has not yet discussed this film as a feminist manifesto on the Internet, unlike Wonder Woman (2017). Even though both are coming-of-age films in which young female heroes are moved by fundamental questions.
No blood. But also no humor
No blood flows in Mulan. But the evil enemies die like flies in winter.
One does indeed make a righteous effort to mitigate the horrors of death. For example, a warrior is killed by a wagon, but then crawls out from under it again. Elegantly solved is the biggest mass death in the film: An avalanche takes over the job of the Grim Reaper and prepares a white blanket of innocence over the grave of the enemies. Mulan laconically states: “With the right lever, you can easily move a thousand kilograms of weight”.
Younger children, who are allowed to stream the film at home with their parents, will be deeply relieved about the erasure of the enemy soldiers. Because their leader, he listens to the creepy name Böri Khan, commands an army that looks like Hell’s Angels were cast for it. Not exactly the kind of people one would wish to see one’s own children or grandchildren meet in their (nightmare) dreams.
I wonder if little girls dream of being like Mulan once, because of this feature film? If so, it is to be hoped that as young women they will fight for their values and more equality with sharp words. Not with swords.
“Mulan” sabbing at Mickey Mouse’s leg
Disney, the “Mouse House”, as the company is affectionately called in the US trade press, enters several minefields with Mulan.
Not that this is the first time that Hollywood is cooperating with China or producing a feature film in China. The animated original version of “Mulan” from 1999 already testified to the efforts to open up the local market.
Animation film was a flop back then in China: too American to excite the domestic audience. In the meantime, a lot has been learned and a lot has happened in Los Angeles:
The opening credits of Disney at Mulan, note the area behind the castle! | © Disney / YouTube
Since 2016, the Shanghai Disney Resort has been located there. And when 2018 for 71.3 billion the competitor 21st. Century Fox was taken over by Disney – the shareholders of Disney in China first had to give their OK.
Family films for all ages?
The Disney brand, previously an unwritten law, stands for family films.
If – as in the Star Wars franchise, which is also part of the group – something used to blow up with a huge bang in a Disney movie, this happened either in distant galaxies or in comedies. People have never been harmed. The opponents were witches or sorcerers, mostly embittered by life and always gave the faint impression that they were like they are because they could not love.
You only had to kiss the frog, or Snow White and her sisters, and the world was back to normal.
The opening credits of Disney (before Mulan) | © Disney / YouTube
It’s not the same with Mulan. Although the film disguises itself as a fairy tale, it clearly conveys messages that you don’t want to hear everywhere. The most important of these: the strongest wins.
Who are you? Hua Jun, a warrior!
Mulan was accompanied by protests both in the western world and in China. They were disturbed by the fact that the story was filmed in the Xinjiang region, among other places, because according to human rights organisations, the Chinese government apparently runs camps there in which Muslim Uighurs are held.
At the same time, the leading actress and native Chinese Liu Yifei confessed her sympathy for the police on the Chinese social media platform Weibo and opposed the democracy movement in Hong Kong, which led to further, fierce boycott calls against the film.
Perhaps it would be a better idea for Disney, as a specialist in family-friendly entertainment, to focus more on animated films again.
In one of the most beautiful scenes from a dramaturgical point of view Mulan meets her older alter ego, her adversary Xian Lang (Gong Li). This one keeps asking Mulan, “Who are you?”
Mulan always answers the same way and as if she were a robot: “I am Hua Jun, a warrior of the imperial army! To which you reply to Xian Lang after the third identical answer: “Then you will die! Because you’re pretending to be something you’re not!”
The birthplace of Mickey Mouse will have to decide what kind of films to stand for in the future as a global entertainment company. As the story of Mulan teaches us, qi must be channelled. Showering without getting wet is not possible even in the otherwise above-average innovative film business, which is spoiled by special effects.
Mulan can be seen on Disney+ as a paid stream.
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