Why Do I Dislike 'Mulan' as a Chinese Woman?

During the weekend, I purchased a Disney+ membership to watch Mulan. As a Chinese woman who grew up watching Disney films, I always had a soft spot for Mulan because she is the first Chinese heroine portrayed by Disney and her story is well-known among Chinese people. I had thoroughly enjoyed the cartoon Mulan and rewatched it multiple times in high school and college. Primarily because of how well the live-action Aladdin turned out, when I discovered there was going to be a live-action Mulan movie, I had even higher expectations. 

However, after watching Mulan, I must admit, I was disappointed. I had anticipated two things. Either it would mirror how Aladdin was done (I enjoyed that film’s transition from cartoon to real actors and actresses), or it would be more solemn and focus on Mulan in war. The result was neither. Here are a few reasons why Mulan was not the film I had hoped it would be.

  1. 1. The lack of virtue

    The movie repeatedly mentioned the idea of “bringing honor to the family.” However, throughout the film, it seemed unclear what that honor was. From the start, for Mulan, the way to bring glory seemed to be marrying into the right family. Even at the end of the movie, that underlying sexist view was perpetuated in Mulan’s sister’s first sentence to Mulan that she got matched to the right family. While the movie wanted to promote women's independence and success, it failed to show the infinite possibilities girls and women have. 

    One of the reasons Mulan was so inspirational to me while growing up was because she was an average human like me. Her dedication to work through difficulties with resilience and intelligence made her even more memorable. Instead, the film portrayed Mulan as having this “chi,” which made her special ever since childhood, thereby taking away a key component to why Mulan's story was so impactful.

  2. 2. The movie was out of context and portrayed Chinese history inaccurately

    Overall, there was a lack of accurate representation of Chinese culture. At the start of the film, despite the film’s setting in the Northern Wei Dynasty, the building was from the Song Dynasty.

  3. 3. The “bugs” with the overall story

    There were many parts in the plot of the movie that I found were overly awkward. For instance, if Xianniang was so powerful, given she can shapeshift and become an eagle or bats, why could she not assassinate the emperor while pretending to be the soldier or later, the prime minister? Furthermore, she said that she wanted respect for people like her. But if that's the case, why is she serving Bori Khan, who did not respect her? 

    There were also bugs in the sense of the whole script, casting, and scenes. First, while Disney wanted to break away from stereotypical views and depict Chinese tradition, they portrayed a stereotypical view of Chinese people having small eyes. Additionally, the makeup and costumes seemed more in line with that of a Japanese Geisha than a Chinese woman from that time period. Other bugs include the fact that despite characters speaking English, Chinese can be heard in the background.

  4. 4. No Mushu

    This one is more personal. But I remembered the fun I had while watching the 1998 Mulan as the little dragon Mushu grew alongside Mulan. However, in the film, Mushu was not depicted. Instead, there is this phoenix that appeared at times. The phoenix showed up infrequently, during the scene when Mulan had her sudden understanding of what it means to be true to herself, and later, in the end, after she saves the emperor and empire. While I understand the phoenix could represent empowerment and Mulan’s awakening, the connection was not deep enough to create meaning.

This is not to say that Mulan is all bad. For starters, the scenery in the film was beautiful. The main female lead, Liu Yifei, fit the role better than I had anticipated. Many scenes in the film could be used as a phone wallpaper, demonstrating the high quality of the film. Furthermore, some of the sword scenes were quite well done. I could see that the actors tried to do it individually instead of using a stunt. Overall, there were some highlights. But as a Chinese woman, I had high expectations for the film, and in the end, it failed to meet them.