Just like many other Asians, especially Chinese, I was counting down until the theatrical release of Mulan. But after watching the movie, I was confused, disappointed, and even mildly angry as to how little cultural satisfaction and national pride the movie had brought me.
Of course, I don’t know everything about Chinese culture, but I have been educating myself on where I come from. And a lot of aspects of the Disney remake do not sit right with me.
The main issue with the movie is its poorly executed anachronism. The original story of Mulan took place in the Northern Wei Dynasty (A.D. 386-534), and the battle involved was supposed to be between two nomads regimes. However, the beautiful and refined building structures in which Mulan and her fellow villagers lived appeared to be Fujian earthen buildings, which were rural dwellings mostly located in southeastern China and were built between the 12th and the 20th centuries. Furthermore, the movie introduces the concept of “Emperor,” but there was no emperor during that era at all. The territory that now belongs to mainland China was undergoing chaotic divisions and separated apart during the Northern Wei Dynasty. Essentially, the united nomads, including Rouran Khaganate that was mentioned in the movie, formed the entire state called Khanate. Therefore, there wasn’t an emperor who ruled an empire but rather a Khan being the ultimate leader.
This inconsistent timeline was very distracting from the very beginning. I couldn’t help but question the amount of background research that the director team had done prior to shooting. The movie only got more confusing from there.
The fact that they brought up “Chi” led to another unnecessary controversy. In the movie, “Chi” was presented as some sort of superpower that only men, “a true warrior,” as they said, could have the ability to manipulate. Mulan, on the other hand, was labeled as a “witch” just because she showed her beyond-average strength, courage, and persistence. Let’s put aside the sexist stereotypes for now and focus on the concept of “Chi,” a term that might be unfamiliar to lots of people.
I spent a hot minute looking up in a definition of “Chi” in the dictionary that would make sense in this context. But it turned out that “Chi” never appeared in the original story. The supernatural phenomenon of “Chi” intruded into the plot bluntly with the intention of strengthening the female character, Mulan, alone. The whole story got weird because it deviated from what the original story portrayed, regarding the belief that a brave young woman can be as competent and brilliant as—or even better than—men. Mulan didn’t need any superpower to prove that she could perform better than her fellow warriors and win the fight. Think about it, a woman with “Chi” won over a man who didn’t own “Chi.” Doesn’t that add another bias and blur the original meaning of Mulan’s fight?
I want to take a break from listing more discrepancies among the film and the original story, and raise another question: Is Mulan an over-Westernized remake from the bones? The Western society’s interpretation of the story revealed just how much it doesn’t understand, and thus stereotypes, Eastern-Asian cultures. The Chinese people didn’t solely praise Mulan for her feminine power and courage, but also for her precious personality. Her values showed traditional Chinese morality, including loyalty to the country, filial piety, and so much that goes beyond just female power.